Town Team set up in Diss, Norfolk to fight for funding from Mary Portas, Queen of Shops

The campaign for funding from a scheme set up by Mary Portas, Queen of Shops, took a big step forward in Diss yesterday when businesses and residents formed a team to produce ideas for future development.

An eight-strong group of business leaders and council representatives formed the 'Town Team' at a meeting at the town's Corn Hall yesterday as the first step towards securing up to �80,000 of funding from the Portas Pilots project set up by the TV star and local government minister Grant Schapps to provide cash for town centre improvements.

However, the team, led by Oliver Chapman, a partner at Diss estate agents T W Gaze, is keen to involve the wider community in the project and is eager to hear from residents, traders, landlords and community groups on how they think the town centre could be improved.

The group will be meeting this Monday to try and agree four or five ideas for improvements that could be promoted with the application for Portas Pilots funding, which has to be sent by March 30.

A Youtube video will also have to be made in support of the funding bid, showcasing some of the ideas.

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The meeting, chaired by town clerk Deborah Sarson, attracted 23 traders and residents who discussed a number of possible initiatives, including pushing South Norfolk Council to introduce two hours free parking at town centre car parks to entice shoppers.

However, Ms Sarson warned the cost of maintaining the car parks to the town council would be �120,000 if free parking was introduced.

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Another idea mooted was to consult with local taxi drivers about starting a Pick Up a Pensioner scheme to help older residents get into town to do their shopping.

Following the meeting, Mr Chapman said: 'We are going to have short, medium and long term plans. The short term aim is to become a Portas Pilot town, but as important is to raise the profile of Diss. We have to be realistic, we are going to be competing against other towns and there are 10 pots up for grabs.

'We may not get it, but that is no reason not to try because we can build up a momentum to come up with other plans to help the town and develop a strategy to help the whole of Diss.'

The members of the group include Birgitte Majer from Diss Publishing, Rosie Gunning and Kristian Wimshurst from Diss Antiques, South Norfolk councillor Keith Tilcock, David Case, from Diss Corn Hall Trust, Robert Green and a representative of the town council.

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