Pressing issue facing our town high streets

Watton town centre. Picture: Matthew Usher

Watton town centre. Picture: Matthew Usher - Credit: Matthew Usher

There's a conversation that is being repeated in towns across Norfolk and Suffolk.

It involves the difficult question of how to keep our town high streets vibrant and thriving in a world where more and more people are turning to the internet to do their shopping.

Of course, that's not the only reason why we are seeing shops and banks turn their backs on our market towns.

The reasons are myriad, but involve a range of issues like high rents, a lack of time to shop locally, parking and public transport.

It's not a major inconvenience for people who drive, work in other towns or cities with more amenities, or have good access to the internet and have that alternative to shop online.

But for people who do not drive or have internet access it can have a huge impact when local businesses and shops close their doors.

The cost of broadband, if you can even get it in your area, is quite high for those on a limited income, and then you have to be able to operate technology like tablets or computers.

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There's still a community, often older members of our society, at the heart of our towns which relies on the shops on the high street.

Since becoming the Eastern Daily Press' content editor for the south and west patch in the summer, it has become clearer than ever that one of the biggest issues facing towns like Swaffham, Watton, Thetford and Diss, among many more, is the health of their high streets.

The reality is it's tough out there, particularly for local independent retailers.

But it's not all doom and gloom and there are steps that towns are taking to boost their traders.

Offering free parking is big incentive to shoppers. If they can pop in without paying to park then it gives smaller places the edge over larger towns or cities like Norwich, where the traffic is poor and parking is expensive.

Perhaps one of the most positive drives to support trade is when town councils organise events to give people even more of a reason to visit.

Most towns now recognise the benefit of holding a Christmas lights switch-on event, but other initiatives are continuing to bring visitors at other times of the year, such as Wymondham Vintage Day, Swaffham's Dad's Army Day or the Diss Heritage Transport Fayre.