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Heritage, high street and community life - this town has it all

PUBLISHED: 16:52 21 June 2019 | UPDATED: 16:52 21 June 2019

Market Cross in Wymondham

Market Cross in Wymondham

Archant

A place with a strong sense of heritage, independent high street and excellent access to Norwich, it is not surprising that people told us they were proud to live in Wymondham.

Wymondham Abbey in the spring sunshine.
Byline: Sonya Duncan
Copyright: Archant 2018Wymondham Abbey in the spring sunshine. Byline: Sonya Duncan Copyright: Archant 2018

Our Wymondham survey, completed by more than 60 people, revealed a community proud of its home - with 70pc of respondents saying they were either proud or extremely proud to live in the town.

They listed reasons such as the thriving events calendar, the independent high street and abundance of peaceful town walks.

One respondent described Wymondham as a "pretty, historically interesting place with busy, sprawling outskirts but lovely thriving centre", and another pointed to the way the town had maintained its unique character, despite its proximity to Norwich.

People reported feeling a strong connection to the town's heritage - in particular the Abbey, with its 900 years of history, the award-winning Green Dragon pub and the characteristic Tudor architecture peppered throughout the centre.

Picture by Mike Page shows :- Wymondham abbey.Picture by Mike Page shows :- Wymondham abbey.

As with any town, Wymondham has its own cast of colourful characters and many people got in touch to share stories about one of its best loved, a cyclist known as Doreen, whose decorated bike and flamboyant dress are famous among locals.

This sense of community might go some way to explaining why people in the town feel so safe - with fewer than 30pc of respondents stating they were concerned about crime, reflecting the low rates recorded by the Home Office in the past three years.

Sexual and violent crime accounted for most reports in the town, and although this might sound alarming, it is worth noting that this category includes minor domestic incidents and verbal assaults.

One person wrote: "Wymondham is the kind of place you can forget to lock your car at night. Lived here 30 years and never felt unsafe."

The Doreen Appreciation Society is a group paying tribute to one of Wymondham's best known faces. Photo: SubmittedThe Doreen Appreciation Society is a group paying tribute to one of Wymondham's best known faces. Photo: Submitted

South Norfolk is one of the fastest developing districts in the UK, and Wymondham has attracted its fair share of new builds.

One of the main concerns raised was development, with approximately three quarters of responses listing rapid growth as a bad thing for the town.

Despite this, people moving to the area reported feeling welcome.

Sean Reilly, who moved to the town with his family in 2009, said: "The people here were very welcoming and there are some very active social projects established by local churches, and the churches themselves are quite busy and very welcoming indeed."

Merv's Hot Bread Kitchen on Market Street has featured on many survery respondent's top of Wymondham lists. Photo: Bethany WalesMerv's Hot Bread Kitchen on Market Street has featured on many survery respondent's top of Wymondham lists. Photo: Bethany Wales

More than half of our survey responses said Wymondham was an attractive place for business, although many believed this could be maximised by better parking in the town centre.

Wymondham has preserved a unique tradition of independent shops and cafés, and has mainly avoided the influx of national chains.

A firm contender for most commended spot in our Wymondham survey was bakery Merv's Hot Bread Kitchen, which has been tempting hungry patrons into its shop on Market Street for more than 30 years.

Owner and head baker Merv Ayers said the business had experienced a swell of custom in the past five years, which he attributed to word of mouth and a core of loyal regulars.

Richard Harding who has opened Puffs Toy Shop in Wymondham. Photograph Simon ParkerRichard Harding who has opened Puffs Toy Shop in Wymondham. Photograph Simon Parker

The secret? According to Merv it is: "Fresh ingredients, local produce and smiling staff."

However, alongside praise for the town's high street, many survey respondents said they would like to see businesses opening on Sundays to allow people who worked weekdays to enjoy the scene.

But many business owners in the town do not believe opening every day would result in more sales. Jo Sutherland, who has owned home store Marmalade Tree in Market Place for 15 years, said: "It's tough on the high street, even during the week. "The feedback we got at the time was that no cafés were open to stop off at after shopping and that was putting people off coming in. Wymondham has some beautiful historical features, like the Market Cross, which could be better utilised with outside seating so people could sit and have a coffee in the sunshine. We need to use those unique attributes to encourage people to stay in town rather than heading into Norwich."

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Wy-mond-how?

The pronunciation of Wymondham has left many an outsider scratching their head.

While Wymondham in Leicester reads phonetically (Wy-mond-ham) its Norfolk name sake has only two syllables (Wind-um).

Ann Hores, historian and expert on all things Wymondham, said it is not clear where this shorter pronunciation came from, but that the Norfolk accent lends itself well to unusual interpretations of place names.

As for its origin, Mrs Hores said historians remain divided.

One theory attributes it to a Saxon chieftain called Wimond, who settled in the area during the fifth century.

Another claims it is a combination of Celtic

and Norse - with 'ham' deriving from 'holm', meaning 'a meadow

lying between rivers'.

But Mrs Hores said her favourite theory is that it is an evolved version of 'Win-munte-ham', translating from Saxon English as 'a village on a pleasant mound or slope'.

Schools under strain

In the past 10 years young families have flocked to the town, enticed by modern housing and excellent schools.

But this sudden boom in primary-aged residents has left education services buckling under the pressure, unable to meet demand.

In 2019, Ashleigh Primary School on Sheffield Road had to refuse 59 students, while Browick Road Primary rejected 37 and Robert Kett filled its 90 places, refusing one additional applicant.

Stephen Tilley, whose daughter Freya missed out on her first and second choices, said: "We moved to the area seven years ago before starting a family because the schools have a good reputation. Our youngest will be starting school in a couple of years and there's a chance he won't be at the same school as Freya."

A new primary school, estimated to cost £8m, is being designed for Silfield, while the council has noted options for growth at Wymondham High Academy and Wymondham College, including a£4.5m renovation project at the academy for which plans have been submitted.

The fight for access

An ongoing issue for those living in Wymondham is the lack of access to the town's second train platform.

Passengers arriving from Norwich are forced to cross a footbridge to platform one in order to exit the station - causing problems for wheelchair users, cyclists and people with pushchairs.

A campaign by the Wymondham Access Group to update facilities has been running for more than seven years.

Member and wheelchair user Neil Seach said: "Wymondham is a beautiful, historic town and it's important we balance this with modern facilities. We don't want the world, just to be able to do what everyone else can do. Our calls for an updated station seem to be falling on deaf ears. The council should be pushing harder."

But South Norfolk Council said they had limited power to update the station as it fell under the remit of landowners Network Rail. A spokesman for the rail company said it was looking at potential funding for the work and supported efforts to improve access in the town.

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