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'Thetford could so easily be better' but history and community shine through

PUBLISHED: 06:00 01 March 2019 | UPDATED: 11:29 01 March 2019

Stuart Wright in the Dad's Army Museum he founded. Picture: Sonya Duncan

Stuart Wright in the Dad's Army Museum he founded. Picture: Sonya Duncan

ARCHANT EASTERN DAILY PRESS (01603) 772434

For the people who live in Thetford, the challenges the town faces and where it sits at the moment change dependent on where you live and how long you have lived there.

The Thetford Dad's Army Museum's Captain Mainwaring statue, situated between the Anchor Hotel, which was in the first episode, and the Bell Hotel where the actors stayed at Thetford. Picture: Denise BradleyThe Thetford Dad's Army Museum's Captain Mainwaring statue, situated between the Anchor Hotel, which was in the first episode, and the Bell Hotel where the actors stayed at Thetford. Picture: Denise Bradley

Concerns about the town stagnating due to a lack of collaboration between councils are high on the list with most believing that the town could be doing better.

Ray Ward, 82, has lived in the town his whole life, agrees. “There is a general feeling in the town that we should be doing better,” he said.

“There seems to be a lack of working together between the councils and other bodies. The Moving Thetford Forward was an example of a great waste of money the only lasting reminder of this scheme is the Kings Street improvements.

“Breckland and the Town Council don’t seem to work terribly well together and the town loses out because of that I think.”

A red deer buck spotted near the STANTA training area, close the Thetford. Picture: Leigh GallantA red deer buck spotted near the STANTA training area, close the Thetford. Picture: Leigh Gallant

However, there is a sense of pride from living in Thetford from Mr Ward, and memories of how the overspill affected the town and the challenges of new development.

He said: “There are some lovely places in Thetford. It is a good place and it has got everything going for it, main rail link, roads, parks, and the river going through the town centre.

“When the overspill first came all the big factories got involved in the town with activities and social and sports clubs, but now because a lot of factories have closed down they don’t seem to get involved like they used to.”

Mr Ward echoed many resident’s concerns about the impact the new 5,000 homes will have on the town.

Picturesque row of Almshouses in Old Bury Road, Thetford. Picture: Jason WhichelowPicturesque row of Almshouses in Old Bury Road, Thetford. Picture: Jason Whichelow

He said: “The town centre is dying but they are everywhere. Access to the town centre is very very poor and access from the new big estate is terrible.

“That will have an impact on the town and I am afraid that will end up like Cloverfields with a lot of things promised but little provided.

“I have lived in Thetford all my life through school and work and am able now to enjoy my retirement in this town. Despite my moans Thetford is a good place to live but like most people feel that it could so easily be better.”

Thetford: A young person’s perspective

Captain Mainwaring, a Thetford icon. Picture: Andrew TaylorCaptain Mainwaring, a Thetford icon. Picture: Andrew Taylor

Thetford’s issues with vandalism, anti-social behaviour, and loitering are regularly blamed on the town’s young people.

But for 15-year-old Katy Winters, some of the problems the town faces are not only down to teenagers.

She said: “In terms of who I go to school with, they can be troublemakers and do deserve to get in trouble. For example, doing wheelies on bikes in the middle of the road.

“However, most of the time it is the older people who are yelling and causing havoc in the streets. Most of us are polite to strangers and will keep to ourselves.”

Thetford Guildhall was decorated with thousands of poppies for the centenary of the armistice.  Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWNThetford Guildhall was decorated with thousands of poppies for the centenary of the armistice. Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN

For Katy, the town is a nice, clean and polite place to grow up but is not without its downsides. Jobs, for example, are a sticking point.

She said: “I feel as though most jobs are looking for older people with more experience.

“As we are still young, many of us do want to reach out and go to other places. Most of the time for more job opportunities or for high education.

“Young people can see a future here or would not mind still living here, as it is quite calm and has access to good public transport, a mixture of shops and housing.”

Thetford Priory. Picture: ArchantThetford Priory. Picture: Archant

A town steeped in history

There are few towns in Norfolk steeped in history as much as Thetford.

Birthplace of Thomas Paine, home to Boudica, and the medieval capital of East Anglia, Thetford’ history is rich as it is varied.

In more recent years, thanks to the influx of multiple generations of migrants, the town buzzes with a multi-culturalism that is difficult to replicate elsewhere.

Thomas Paine's statue in Thetford. Picture: ArchantThomas Paine's statue in Thetford. Picture: Archant

After the Second World War, people from Poland arrived and stayed, helping to control and manage the trees which since 1919 have grown into the magnificent Thetford Forest, owned by the Forestry Commission.

In the 1960s, the town grew exponetially after being chosen to house thousands of Londoners in the overspill. Estates such as Abbey Farm sprung up bringing thousands of families to the small market town.

And today, with expansion still at the forefront of the plans for the town, Thetford revels in its history with the Dad’s Army Museum, the Ancient House Museum, and the Charles Burrell Museum all hosting visitors and helping spread the story of the town’s history.

Stuart Wright, a former mayor of Thetford and a town councillor, founded the Dad’s Army Museum in 2004 and is chairman of the Thetford Society.

He said: “I think its history is second to none for a town of its size.

“We have had people come along and say if this was anywhere else it would be marketed as a world heritage site because you have such a link to 2,000 years of heritage.

“It is such an asset that we have which is untapped really.”

The Dad’s Army museum proves an excellent example. Devised following the popularity of walking tours and fans of the hit TV show visiting the town to see where it was filmed, the museum now welcomes 10,000 visitors a year.

Mr Wright added: “Once we get people into the town you can start showing off all the rest that the town has to offer.

“People poo-pooed it and said nobody is going to go to that but we have people from Edinburgh and Holland coming to the museum.

“You have got all the ingredients of a tourist magnet and you have got to market it and you have got to present the town in the best way you can.”

Survey Responses

We asked people in Thetford what they would like to see change in the town over the next 20 years.

Among the issues highlighted as important were the high street, the town’s community spirit, and the continued integration of different communities.

Mike Wabe said: “There is so much brilliant and positive voluntary work that goes on in the town. I would like to see that continue, but given much more support, both financial and personal, than it is now.”

Ian Prior called for the return of a vibrant high street and said: “I want the people who strive to make Thetford a better place to live to carry on with the good work they carry out and to get more assistance from the town council.”

For Kate Jones, integration and the community are top of the list. She said: “I would also like to see better integration from the eastern European communities.

“I would like the size of the town to stay the same and I would also like to see a continuation of the community spirit.”

READ MORE: Thetford: A town defined by growth and development

READ MORE: Thetford: Another dying high street or a town embracing tech?

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