Diss-tinctive bid to boost market town

It is unfortunate, perhaps, that the name of one of Norfolk's leading market towns should be synonymous with a youth term for an insult.

It is unfortunate, perhaps, that the name of one of Norfolk's leading market towns should be synonymous with a youth term for an insult.

More so, indeed, that the first 75pc of its name serves as a prefix that turns many of the English language's joyous adjectives into dismally pessimistic words.

But forget your disadvantageous, disgusting, disgraceful and downright disheartening dislike of the word - for Diss could soon be rebranded as “Diss-tinctive”.

In a bid to generate tourism for the town that once so enchanted John Betjeman, civic leaders are about to submit a bid for £100,000 of funding to improve Diss and cement its position as one of Britain's three Cittàslow towns.

Currently the town is most famous for its Scrooge image - hitting national headlines in 2003 when it was claimed only £5 had been raised for Christmas lights - but now officials want to give it a more “diss-tinguished” feel.

If the bid to Leader for funding is successful, the town's Cittàslow committee will then spend £17,000 designing and placing signs, maps, trails and flags throughout the town.

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Gary Alexander, who heads up the town's community partnership, said it was important both residents and visitors understand that Diss is “another kind of place” with different values and an alternative approach.

Dr Alexander said: “We want to create a public image of a town that's coming up in the world, something that both tourists and local people will be interested in.

“We want to highlight points of interest, such as the Mere, the farmers' market and Fair Green, and promote the town generally as an exciting place to live in and visit.”

The rest of the £100,000 funding, if successful, will go towards having a permanent Cittàslow officer to run projects in the town, provide small grants to people adapting to the slow food principles, and help protect the area's clay buildings.

One project will see local businesses willing to use a trading name that puns the word Diss match-funded. Examples given include a Diss Graceful clothes shop, Diss Affection dating agency and Diss Comfort furniture store.

On the same theme, the idea is taking hold in the town that Diss should be branded as Diss-tinctive, an idea thought up by town clerk Deborah Sarson and a local design agency currently building a new website for the town.

Tony Palmer, a district councillor and chairman of the Diss Cittàslow Committee, said: “Diss-tinctive signposting will hopefully just be the start of things. We are also going to investigate twinning with European towns in the Cittàslow network and have plenty of other ideas up our sleeves for developing the town.”

TEN DISS-TINCTIVE THINGS ABOUT DISS:

t The Mere, an Ice Age lake covering six acres in the centre of town, rumoured to be about 21m deep, making it one of the deepest natural lakes in Britain.

t Gaze & Son auctioneers, a large auction house in town that hosts popular antique and specialist sales most Fridays.

t John Skelton, poet laureate and tutor to Henry VIII, who retired from court in 1504, returning to Diss and becoming rector of the town.

t The town's Christmas lights, which three years ago became infamous after local businesses were claimed to have spent £5 on them, and despite best efforts have not improved much since.

t Local hero Bill Punton, who took Diss Town FC to victory in the 1994 FA Vase competition, having previously played for Newcastle and Norwich and managed Yarmouth Town for 21 years.

t Tesco opened one of Britain's first eco-friendly supermarkets in the town last year - complete with a series of wind turbines that keep the store open during the regular power cuts currently hitting the town centre.

t Recent poet laureate John Betjeman fell in love with the town in the early 1960s, making a documentary about it for the BBC and becoming patron of the Diss Society.

t The town now has Cittàslow status, one of three towns in Britain to be given an international mark of approval for its slow pace of life and quality of local food, along with Aylsham and Ludlow in Shropshire.

t Highly rated Birmingham City central defender Matthew Upson hails from Diss, and is expected to make one of the biggest moves in the current transfer window.

t The town sign, a large, multicoloured and ornate emblem for Diss on the edge of the Mere which attracts hundreds of photographers each year.