What has Breckland's Market Towns Initiative achieved?
- Credit: Victoria Pertusa
Breckland is anchored by its five market towns, but how best to support them after Covid’s hit to the high street? Noah Vickers reports.
One way in which the district council has been working to boost the towns, even before the pandemic, has been through the Market Towns Initiative (MTI). What began as a grants scheme has now evolved into a more strategically focused pot of cash, led by suggestions from each of the towns’ district councillors.
Breckland council leader Sam Chapman-Allen said: “We have ringfenced £750,000 over three years to deliver projects which support our local high streets and enable our towns and their surrounding villages to thrive.
“We recognise that each of our five market towns have unique strengths and challenges and so the £150,000 allocated to each town will be spent on custom solutions to these situations.
“Ultimately, the projects will enhance each town and the district as a whole, bringing benefits for our residents while encouraging shoppers and visitors to the area to use local businesses and attractions.”
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But how has the MTI benefited your town, and what might be still to come?
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In Attleborough, a BDC spokesperson said a future focus of the funding would be on improving the town’s leisure offer.
Like the other four towns, Attleborough has enjoyed MTI-funded street cleaning, thanks to a council-owned vacuum cleaning vehicle called the Glutton.
In Dereham, a new set of 14 ‘wayfinding’ signs are soon expected to fill the town, with the signs’ locations following the recommendations of a report produced by an MTI-funded consultancy. The signs have been designed by the aboutDereham partnership in collaboration with the town’s heritage trust, and will help tell Dereham’s story to visitors.
In April, the MTI paid for a ‘spring clean’ in the town’s Nelson Place shopping precinct. Litter was picked and benches, bollards and bike racks were all given a fresh coat of paint.
And in recent weeks, MTI funds have allowed the Dereham Community Crafters to fill the Market Place with wonderful knitted creations, to the delight of residents.
In Swaffham, the MTI has enabled the town to become a green example for its neighbours, through the Sustainable Swaffham programme.
The MTI has funded the renovation of the iconic buttercross, as well as providing new lighting, street furniture, commercial electric sockets for market stalls, and electric car charging points - making Swaffham the easiest place in Norfolk to charge an electric vehicle, the council claims.
The initial green schemes will be followed up with further developments in the future, with the next focus expected to be on sustainable transport and green connectivity.
Funds have also provided the town centre with free Wi-Fi.
A scheme will soon launch in the town to encourage businesses to allow residents to refill their water bottles, in an effort to cut plastic pollution.
In Thetford, the town council was awarded about £4,500 to deliver two arts projects. The first saw the boarded-up windows at the back of the Guildhall painted with historic characters who point visitors towards the nearby Dad's Army Museum.
The second art project saw a Dad's Army mural painted by local artist Mark Harper on a wall at the back of the Carnegie Rooms, linking the market place with the Carnegie building and signposting people to the museum and riverside areas.
More recently, the MTI has provided new street lighting along Spring Walk and a clean-up of the street furniture in and around Riverside Walk.
On the town’s Butten Island, table tennis and chess tables have been installed, with new street lighting expected there soon too.
In Watton, funding was allocated in 2018 for new market stalls (to be shared with Swaffham) and a 5km park run.
A BDC spokesperson said the council was in discussion with partners about options to regenerate the town centre, in line with Watton’s neighbourhood plan.