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Heritage, high street and community life - this town has it all

PUBLISHED: 16:50 21 June 2019 | UPDATED: 16:50 21 June 2019

Head baker at Merv's Hot Bread Kitchen in Wymondham, Merv Ayers, preparing fresh strawberry tarts in the kitchen. Photo: Bethany Wales

Head baker at Merv's Hot Bread Kitchen in Wymondham, Merv Ayers, preparing fresh strawberry tarts in the kitchen. Photo: Bethany Wales

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Our series exploring life in Norfolk's towns moves on to Wymondham. Bethany Wales reports.

The Market Cross is a distinctive feature of Wymondham, located in the centre of the town. Photo: Bethany WalesThe Market Cross is a distinctive feature of Wymondham, located in the centre of the town. Photo: Bethany Wales

A place with a strong sense of heritage, independent high street and excellent access to Norwich, it is not surprising that people told us they were proud to live in Wymondham.

Our Wymondham survey, completed by more than 60 people, revealed a community proud of its home - with 70pc of respondents saying they were either proud or extremely proud to live in the town.

They listed reasons such as the thriving events calendar, the independent high street and abundance of peaceful town walks.

One respondent described Wymondham as a "pretty, historically interesting place with busy, sprawling outskirts but lovely thriving centre", and another pointed to the way the town had maintained its unique character, despite its proximity to Norwich.

Wymondham Abbey has been listed as one of the town's top attractions by survery respondents. Photo: Kyle IversonWymondham Abbey has been listed as one of the town's top attractions by survery respondents. Photo: Kyle Iverson

People reported feeling a strong connection to the town's heritage - in particular the Abbey, with its 900 years of history, the award-winning Green Dragon pub and the characteristic Tudor architecture peppered throughout the centre.

As with any town, Wymondham has its own cast of colourful characters and many people got in touch to share stories about one of its best loved, a cyclist known as Doreen, whose decorated bike and flamboyant dress are famous among locals.

This sense of community might go some way to explaining why people in the town feel so safe - with fewer than 30pc of respondents stating they were concerned about crime, reflecting the low rates recorded by the Home Office in the past three years.

Sexual and violent crime accounted for most reports in the town, and although this might sound alarming, it is worth noting that this category includes minor domestic incidents and verbal assaults.

The Doreen Appreciation Society is a group paying tribute to one of Wymondham's best known faces. Photo: SubmittedThe Doreen Appreciation Society is a group paying tribute to one of Wymondham's best known faces. Photo: Submitted

One person wrote: "Wymondham is the kind of place you can forget to lock your car at night. Lived here 30 years and never felt unsafe."

South Norfolk is one of the fastest developing districts in the UK, and Wymondham has attracted its fair share of new builds.

One of the main concerns raised was development, with approximately three quarters of responses listing rapid growth as a bad thing for the town.

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Despite this, people moving to the area reported feeling welcome.

Sean Reilly, who moved to the town with his family in 2009, said: "The people here were very welcoming and there are some very active social projects established by local churches, and the churches themselves are quite busy and very welcoming indeed."

More than half of our survey responses said Wymondham was an attractive place for business, although many believed this could be maximised by better parking in the town centre.

Wymondham has preserved a unique tradition of independent shops and cafés, and has mainly avoided the influx of national chains.

Merv's Hot Bread Kitchen on Market Street has featured on many survery respondent's top of Wymondham lists. Photo: Bethany WalesMerv's Hot Bread Kitchen on Market Street has featured on many survery respondent's top of Wymondham lists. Photo: Bethany Wales

A firm contender for most commended spot in our Wymondham survey was bakery Merv's Hot Bread Kitchen, which has been tempting hungry patrons into its shop on Market Street for more than 30 years.

Owner and head baker Merv Ayers said the business had experienced a swell of custom in the past five years, which he attributed to word of mouth and a core of loyal regulars.

The secret? According to Merv it is: "Fresh ingredients, local produce and smiling staff."

However, alongside praise for the town's high street, many survey respondents said they would like to see businesses opening on Sundays to allow people who worked weekdays to enjoy the scene.

The Wymondham Heritage Museum, site of 'the vilest prison in England'. Photo: SubmittedThe Wymondham Heritage Museum, site of 'the vilest prison in England'. Photo: Submitted

But many business owners in the town do not believe opening every day would result in more sales. Jo Sutherland, who has owned home store Marmalade Tree in Market Place for 15 years, said: "It's tough on the high street, even during the week. "The feedback we got at the time was that no cafés were open to stop off at after shopping and that was putting people off coming in. Wymondham has some beautiful historical features, like the Market Cross, which could be better utilised with outside seating so people could sit and have a coffee in the sunshine. We need to use those unique attributes to encourage people to stay in town rather than heading into Norwich."

Ms Sutherland said events such as Wymondham Vintage Day, which is having a year off in 2019, encouraged a surge in business.

Across the road at Puffs Toy Shop, Richard Harding said: "Part of the problem is that people are not used to things being open on Sundays so don't bother coming into town. It would take everyone agreeing to open at the weekend to change that."

One business looking to buck the trend is The Coffee Shop café on Market Street, with owner Michelle Filby hoping to introduce Sunday hours in the coming year.

Flowers planted for Wymondham in Bloom 2019 at the Green Dragon pub. Photo: SubmittedFlowers planted for Wymondham in Bloom 2019 at the Green Dragon pub. Photo: Submitted

She said the biggest challenge would be convincing her small team of seven to embrace the extra hours.

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