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North Walsham turns itself into ‘cybertown’ to harness power of the internet

PUBLISHED: 06:30 28 February 2013

North Walsham Market Cross in Market Place.

North Walsham Market Cross in Market Place.

Archant

Traders in North Walsham are set to fight back against the sales-sapping internet by harnessing its power and becoming a pioneering “cybertown”.

A call has gone out to every business in the town - from shops, manufacturers, pubs and hairdressers, to a man with a van - urging them to sign up for a new North Walsham website aimed at tempting customers with special offers.

Supporters hope north Norfolk shoppers who now regularly turn to their computers when planning a purchase or looking for a service, will routinely visit the North Walsham website to check out local deals.

They will be able to select a category - such as food or clothing - and click their way through to any offers available in North Walsham. Details of each business, plus a map showing its location, would be advertised alongside its offers, and there would also be links to its own website and social media accounts.

If tempted, shoppers would be able to print out a voucher with deal details and take it along to the business to collect and pay for it.

The site will cost each business £10 a month to join. Set-up costs have been covered by the North Walsham Town Team, launched as part of the national Mary Portas initiative, using some of a £10,000 Portas grant.

High streets across Britain have been badly hit by the switch to internet sales with customers increasingly browsing in their local shops before going home to hunt for and buy identical items online.

Mair Stockdale, chairman of North Walsham Chamber of Business, which is backing the idea, said they now wanted to turn the tables and use the internet to their advantage.

“It’s very exciting and new. If you don’t do something, you will just sit there watching footfall in the town drop and drop,” said Mrs Stockdale.

”Hopefully it will bring more people into town to collect the things they’ve seen and to do more shopping.”

The chamber is working with software developer Kent Laws and his business Net Effect on the project. Mr Laws, 42, from Northrepps, has tailor-made software for the town based on a programme he designed for small travel firms wishing to join forces on the internet to advertise holiday offers.

He said the North Walsham site would be ready to go live in about two months.

Mr Laws will explain the idea at two events, open to all, at The Atrium, Spenser Avenue, North Walsham, on March 5 and 6 at 6pm.

But Mrs Stockdale said the town’s self-help efforts were being badly hindered by North Norfolk District Council’s refusal to see the vital importance of keeping free car parking in North Walsham to further encourage shoppers.

Rhodri Oliver, NNDC cabinet member with responsibility for car parking, said he would be meeting chamber representatives to discuss their concerns.

But he added that car parking brought in £2m a year. Even a “cost-neutral” parking policy would mean an extra £50 on a Band D council taxpayer’s bill.

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