Norfolk and north Suffolk’s market towns

Norfolk towns are bucking the trend by offering a mix of independent shops as well as much-loved high street favourites.

More than 40pc of UK towns have lost their individual identity and become clone towns, according to a survey conducted for Civic Voice by YouGov.

But a survey carried out by the EDP has shown that many of Norfolk and north Suffolk's towns have remained unique and kept their own individuality.

Downham Market, Stalham and Watton are all examples of market towns with a strong offering of independent shops.

A glance down Downham Market's high street revealed that 19 out of 20 shops were independent stores and the same was true for Stalham.

And last year, Watton was rated as a 'home town' by the New Economics Foundation (NEF), reinforcing its reputation as a unique shopping attraction.

But not all of the region's towns are managing to hold onto their individual identity.

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Our survey revealed that just a handful of stores in Diss high street were independent and that 78pc of those questioned in the town felt that chain stores dominate the landscape.

Meanwhile, Norwich city centre is a tale of two stories. On one hand it has got its shopping malls and high street with some of the big national names including House of Fraser, Marks and Spencer and John Lewis but it also has a strong independent offering in Norwich Lanes, Timberhill and the Royal Arcade, helping it to cement its spot in the top 10 of UK shopping destinations.

The chief executive of Norfolk Chamber of Commerce, Caroline Williams, said: 'Norfolk's high streets are better than a lot but people do need to support their independent stores. They are the ones that are going to find it the most difficult over the next few years.

'When independent shops go, that's when areas start looking the same. It's a case of 'use them or lose them'.'

Paul Dobson, professor of business strategy and public policy and head of Norwich Business School at the UEA, said: 'I've seen other towns and cities where chain stores dominate the area. We are blessed in this area that we have got a large number of independent retailers that are unique – Jarrold and Roys for example are part of the fabric of the area and if you step off the high street there is a surprising array of independent stores. It shows a vibrancy in the retail sector in this area.'

Beccles

To look at the high street in Beccles, it appears to be a thriving town. Although many shop owners regarded business as being steady over the last 18 months, the main hub is buzzing with people.

There are well known and well loved chains which do have their place in the town and the supermarkets are nicely spread out around the outskirts, so not to infringe on the independents. There are many independent retailers in the town and a strong sense of community between them. In the EDP survey, it was found that the town had a good mix of independent and chain stores with a third of people questioned describing it as a 'clone town'.

Dereham

The high street is full of variety but it is not until you really look at it closely that you realise that the independent shops far outweigh the chains.

In other parts of the town, particularly the new shopping centre, the chains dominate but the high street itself has a great mix of shops, each offering something different for the consumer.

Even though there are a few clothes shops they target different markets – the more mature shopper, the teenager, the fashion follower and the more designer dresser.

Other shops include the fantastic Aladdin's cave that is Dereham DIY, a toy shop, sweet shop, gaming shop and furniture shop. This stretch of town is definitely not clone although other parts of Dereham cannot boast the same claim.

Our survey revealed that nearly two thirds were independent stores but that 50pc of those asked believed it to be a 'clone town'.

Diss

It is blessed with many independent stores in its four courtyard shopping areas, but Mere Street, the main high street, has suffered over the years with a host of closures. Shop fronts that have been reoccupied have turned into charity shops, bookmakers, cafes and estate agents.

In the EDP's survey, Diss came out as the biggest 'clone town' with just a quarter of independent stores making up its high street.

Seventy-eight per cent of people asked also thought the town had lost its individual identity. Natalie Jones from Harriet's Home and Garden in Market Hill, Diss, said: 'The chain shops take over a town centre and the little shops that people appreciate more are pushed to the back. Some people forget that we are here or think we're new. But people do come back once they find us.'

Downham Market

One thing you can't call Downham Market is a clone town.

Its main shopping streets, that lead uphill from the river to the Clock Tower, are packed with independent traders.

A butcher, a baker, a deli and a farm shop recently joined forces to launch a website for people who are too busy to shop local when their local shops are open.

Few shops are empty or showing signs of struggling, with a real variety on offer within five minutes' walk of the town's free car parks.

Our survey revealed that 95pc of shops were independent and everyone asked said it was not a clone town.

'It's completely the opposite - we have more independents than chain stores,' said Jim Carlile from Reeds in Bridge Street, Downham Market.

Fakenham

It is still very much a traditional market town and the weekly Thursday markets continue to be very popular.

There is a large Tesco supermarket close to the town centre and a few national chain stores including Boots, Superdrug and Argos but still a good number of independent shops.

People feel, however, that Fakenham could be updated a bit with a wider choice of shops as most people end up going to King's Lynn or Norwich to shop for clothes etc.

At the same time, for some people, the old fashioned feel about the town is part of its charm. In the EDP's survey, the vast majority of those asked did not consider Fakenham to be a clone town and the amount of chain stores compared to independent stores seemed to be 50-50.

Great Yarmouth

The resort is still far from a clone town, partly – and depressingly – because of the steady loss of national chain stores such as Adams and Mothercare which have closed in recent years.

Recent initiatives have taken place to breathe new life into the independents' shopping hub of Victoria Arcade and it is hoped the ongoing �8m scheme to revamp the King Street quarter will improve traders' fortunes there.

The number of empty shops is less than the average for seaside towns which nationally have been hit hard in recent years. However, independent traders are largely far from optimistic about the outlook for the town and blame out-of-town shopping at Gapton Hall for keeping shoppers away along with a lack of cheap town-centre parking.

Lowestoft

It has a large town centre with a mixture of chain stores, charity shops and locally-owned independents.

Most of the independent businesses are clustered together, while the main shopping strip is populated by larger retail chains, as well as a post office and a Tesco Express. North Quay Retail Park on the edge of town is also popular with shoppers.

North Walsham

It still retains many of the corner-stones of a traditional market town.

Its main shopping areas – Market Place, Market Street and Church Street – include bakers, a butcher, convenience store, fishmonger, newsagent, and chemists, together with several quality independent stores including gifts, stationery, sweets, crafts and women's fashions.

However, the town is carrying scars from the economic downturn with a handful of empty high-street shops and a number of properties in need of a lick of paint.

And despite long-standing efforts by the town and district councils to address street cleanliness and pigeon problems, there is still work to do.

The town has an active in-bloom group and hanging baskets are currently adding summer colour to the ancient Market Place. Away from the centre, the 1970s-built St Nicholas Court precinct is a major headache for the town, with a large percentage of empty retail units.

Not a single person in the EDP survey considered North Walsham to be a clone town although the number of chain stores and independent stores were almost half and half.

Stalham

The high street is starting to revive once again thanks to the introduction of a host of new shops. It seems the independent traders have fought hard to make sure the main high street remains individual and as a result many of the empty spaces there once were, have been filled.

The EDP survey revealed that nearly all the shops were independent and that no one questioned considered Stalham to be a clone town.

Barry de Lacey, 70, from Happisburgh, said: 'I though the arrival of Tesco in Stalham would harm the town, but they have given people three hour parking, which I think in a lot of cases has brought more people into the town.'

Watton

The town was recently praised for its high proportion of independent shops following a survey by the New Economics Foundation which aimed to seek out the country's 'home towns' from 'clone towns'.

While many British high streets are indistinguishable from each other, a quick glance along Watton's main shopping thoroughfare is enough to see that is not the case here. But while shoppers looking for an independent butcher, florist, DIY store, newsagent or even carpet shop will be easily satisfied, the lack of clothes and shoe shops will prompt a few grumbles – particularly from younger townsfolk.

The High Street comes alive on a Tuesday with stalls lining the side of the road and shoppers bustling past each other on the pavements as they stock up on fruit and veg, grab a book to read or buy some fresh sea food.

In the EDP's survey, none of those asked thought Watton was a clone town and more than 70pc of stores were independent.

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