Why it's so vital for people to have their say on Thetford's future
- Credit: Canva/Breckland Council
Thetford is about to undergo a significant regeneration project. A task many have attempted before. But newly appointed designer Wayne Hemingway has set out what could be in store if the community gets behind it.
Residents, business owners and community groups have until Sunday, February 28, to have their say on what they think makes Thetford, Thetford.
The survey, ‘Let’s talk about Thetford’, by Hemingway Design, has been extended for a further week to give the community one last opportunity to play a crucial part in the project, with hopes of creating a new vision for the town.
For many years Thetford has been somewhat overlooked and for those unfamiliar with the town, is seen only as a pit stop along the A11.
But with the 5,000 home Kingsfleet development underway and the regeneration of the Abbey Estate, along with Thetford's natural beauty, the river through the town centre, Thetford Forest and a rich heritage, it has more to offer than you might think.
Now Mr Hemingway, commissioned by Breckland Council, has been tasked to create a 'place brand' to put Thetford back on the map as destination for tourists, businesses and families to live.
But after years of surveys and consultations with the view of improving the town, Norfolk County Councillor for Thetford West, Terry Jermy, said he understands why there may be “a degree of cynicism”.
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He said: “I was born in Thetford and I love living in Thetford. You have got an amazing river corridor, various pieces of open space, and really interesting heritage, so from that point of view we have an awful lot going for us.
“But as a councillor what I get frustrated with the most, is around the concept of initiative fatigue
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“I can understand why people get frustrated and annoyed when they see large scale consultations or rebranding exercises when they don’t see these minor things being addressed.
“There are lots of the issues in Thetford but they are not rocket science. There is so much we could do which is relatively cheap and simple and would make a huge difference to our town.
“That said, residents and businesses 100pc need to engage with the consultation and people should grasp the opportunity to put their point of view across.”
Roy Brame, vice-chairman of Breckland Council, said it is people's attitudes which need to change in order to make Thetford a better place.
He said: “They are professionals and they know what they are doing. So I will hope it will make a difference to the town. But I also hope it will make a difference to peoples’ attitudes, that would be marvellous.
“The only thing you ever see on Facebook is negativity.
“But it has got to be the residents of Thetford who want this place to be better.
“Mr Hemingway did a marvellous job in the other market towns. If they get it right, this could be the start of Thetford being the place to live. Norfolk's Jewel.”
But Mr Hemingway says the project will only be a success if the community get involved with the survey and give their honest views and ideas.
On a previous project in York, the designer said 6,000 people filled out a survey which resulted in big changes for the city.
He said: “York is famous for its history. But that association was holding it back in terms of, it was just seen as a place where you went as a tourist.
“Yet it also had some amazing industry. Things like, it has a very strong science sector, the closest to developing a cure for malaria. It had been the first to do amazing social housing, with one of the best examples of social housing in the world. The other thing was, it prioritised the human experience. It has done so much for human rights.
“It realised that it needed to tell this story and make sure everything it was doing reflected things other than just history. Because history was holding it back."
Following the survey, York was able to come up with a set of values which included putting people first, always making history and pioneering with purpose.
Mr Hemingway continued: “With that we said everything you do as a place should try and hit all three of those those values, or at least two.
“As a result of that, they looked at a massive regeneration scheme and they said ‘actually it doesn’t hit any of our values, we need to revisit it’.
“We also talked a long time about cars in the city centre and the debate whether it is good or bad. This came from what people were saying so we worked with them on it. From 2023 York will become Britain's first car free city centre.
“That is a massive example, but this can apply to much smaller decisions as well.
“So, for Thetford, it’s about making sure decisions are made with an understanding of what Thetford is as a place and who Thetford people are as a community.
“These values are written down; they are clear and can be referred to. Then you don't get this toing and froing and ill-considered decisions which leads to the fatigue you talked about.
“Our job is not to come in and stamp what Thetford is on the town. How could we possibly do that?
“Our job is to use our experience of gathering what people say and pulling that together and then playing it back to everybody and saying, ‘have we got this right?’.
“Vibrant places have a vibrant community who are political with small p. That doesn’t mean you support a political party, but they are political in terms of they are active.
“So here is your chance to get stuck in.”
From decisions about housing developments or park benches, Mr Hemingway says the project aims to bring cohesion to the town using “core values”, which will be decided from the survey results and consultations within the community.
Mayor of Thetford, Mark Robinson, added: "Thetford has tremendous potential over the coming years to reinvent itself and secure new investment, while cherishing and promoting our current strengths, our heritage and natural environment.
"The feedback I have received from residents is that residents, businesses and community groups have been energised and inspired by the survey, giving everyone the opportunity to share their views on this landmark project and the town we all love.
“We are not only utilising the skills and experience of our local government partners, residents and businesses within this project, but we also have the innovative support from Wayne Hemingway and his team, who have successfully helped towns and cities across the UK create their own authentic identity.
“With a sudden surge of new feedback coming into the online survey, I am delighted Breckland Council and Hemingway Design have now extended the survey closing date to February 28th to ensure everyone in Thetford has the opportunity to have their say and share what Thetford means to them.
"From local residents, students, visitors, businesses to sports clubs and community organisations, everyone has a chance to influence the future and I urge everyone to get involved."
To fill out survey visit the site here, https://hemingwaydesign.typeform.com/to/gMfb4Xfr.