Monday, 27 February 2012

Tables go on sale for Jubilee Street Party

The first table reservations for the mass street party taking place as part of Thetford’s Diamond Jubilee celebrations have just taken place, with organizers expecting spaces to go quickly. The event, due to take place on Thetford Market Square on Monday 4th June 2012, will be just one part of the overall celebrations planned in the town and with space for 500 people, complete with street entertainers, bunting and flags, the street party looks set to be a good old fashioned knees up. The day will begin with a civic parade from Kings House in the morning to St Cuthbert’s Church where a special service will take place. Thetford will be joined by representatives from its twin towns across Europe including Poland, France, Germany and the Netherlands. Following the mid-day street party, the focus will then move to Melford Common where a free concert will be staged, showcasing many local musicians. The highlight of the day will be a concert finale - ‘One Night of Queen’ performed by Gary Mullen and The Works, quite simply the best Queen Tribute Act. Gary is a former winner of ‘Stars in their eyes’ and currently on a World Tour. This amazing night is finally rounded off with a ceremony to light one of the official Diamond Jubilee beacons on top of Castle Hill, complete with a special firework display. Tables for the street party can be reserved by contacting Thetford’s Tourist Information Office, provided by Leaping Hare, at their King Street office or by contacting 01842 751975. Table reservations cost £5 per table, and each table can seat approximately 6 people. Attendees will need to provide their own party food and drink.

Saturday, 11 February 2012

How can we improve Thetford High Street? Some practical ideas....

SORT IT! ‘School Of Radical Thought In Thetford’ Here’s my ‘two penneth worth’ on how we can improve Thetford’s high Street as we look to submit our application to become a ‘Portas Pilot’. Terry Jermy Thetford Town & Breckland District Councillor Why is our High Street failing? And how can we re-invigorate it? High streets are failing up and down the country. Supermarkets, retail parks and online shopping is more often than not cheaper, and more convenient than shopping on the high street or at the local market. Unfortunately, it is not just as simple as “get some better shops” or “we want a Primark, a Sports shop” etc. – how do we get those shops? How do we get people to want to shop in the Thetford high street? What came first, the good shop, or the eager customer? Supermarkets and the internet have the odds stacked in their favour. But, there are steps that can be taken to address this imbalance. High Streets are business zones, they operate with regard to profit, therefore if a business is able to, or believes that they can make a profit from trading in an area than they will open up a shop to suit that demand. The Portas review focuses on the fact that high streets will continue to be beaten on price and convenience. However, the niche of the high street, or its unique selling point should be; A ‘quality’ retail experience – mixing leisure / recreation with your shopping experience - supermarkets are basically large warehouses, stacked high with goods to reduce price - they cannot compete with walking through our beautiful high streets, with their history, architecture and green spaces. Quality of the goods or service provided - how many employees of supermarkets know and understand the products they sell? High street employees, particularly independent traders and market stall holders have a wealth of knowledge. Here’s some practicable suggestions on how we could incoprorate these two points here in Thetford:- Pre-paid cards / Loyalty Scheme I don’t carry cash – or rather I very rarely do, I think it’s a generational thing. I’m always worried that I might lose my wallet and then the cash is gone and I also like to check my bank statement at the end of the month to see where I’ve been spending it all. This is one of the reasons that I think markets particularly are failing – many people do not like handing over cash or don’t carry it in the first place. Could a pre-paid card system be introduced where people load up their card with cash to spend in the high street and the market? It would need consideration with regard to safety etc and the practicalities worked out, but there is scope. For example, you could purchase the cards if you wanted to give a gift to somebody and encourage them to spend their money in the high street – a bit like a Thetford Pound idea mentioned on the 'Sort It' Facebook page (Well done Ron Wood). We also need to consider one of the reasons that the supermarkets are so successful – loyalty schemes. Think Tesco Clubcard and Sainsbury’s Nectar Card. Very clever marketing to encourage you to regular shop in these locations to build up your points (I love my Nectar Card!). Subway of course have not long ago introduced the ‘Sub-card’ for that very reason. Once they have your details, they can market a variety of information to you, and cleverly try to sell you things that they know you like. High streets and markets don’t have that advantage. They have very limited marketing budgets – if any at all, and have to resort to expensive, and often ineffective marketing campaigns in local magazines or newspapers. They struggle to let people know about any special offers, or events they may have, and rely on customers that happen to pop in, or happen to be passing and take advantage. If we want our high street to survive, we have got to assist them with marketing that works, utilising some form of loyalty scheme and also new technologies including Facebook and other social networking – this is a new area that even the supermarkets and major chain stores are just getting into and presents some massive opportunities for local businesses. Our high streets do contain a range of goods, often at great prices, but do we know about them? A word of caution on loyalty schemes – if it’s going to be done, it’s got to be done properly. There have been numerous ‘bright ideas’ with loyalty schemes up and down the country that ultimately sound good, but haven’t been given the right focus and attention and ultimately they fail. If people are to sign up to this, it has got to be worthwhile with some real benefits to be had for those using it, not merely token gestures. Can we think out of the box a bit? Can high street retailers pay their employees a proportion of their salary, or maybe just a bonus in ‘Thetford pounds’? Can other local employers pay their workers an extra payment if they were to accept part of their wages in Thetford pounds? Can these be credited to their ‘shop local’ card? Community Land Trust One of the major problems we have in Thetford is that so much of our High Street is owned by large conglomerates, multi-nationals, pension funds, banks, overseas investors etc. For example; the Cottage Hospital is currently owned by somebody living in China, who would be perhaps more inclined to develop it if he had to look at its sorry state every day like the rest of us. The St Mary the Less Church on Bury Road is owned by a private investor in London. The three units down Riverside Walk that were formerly Sneezums, Pine World and the Fruit N’ Veg shop are all owned by a very large company, so while these shops are crucial to the rest of us, on their balance sheet they are probably of rather limited significance. I think we should do what many other areas around the country have been doing and taking matters, or rather property into our own hands. We should be establishing a Community Land Trust / Development Trust that can actually buy up the freehold of various buildings when they become available. The freehold to New Look and Yours was recently sold, the Old Court House was also recently sold, the building that Blockbusters is in was recently sold, the Bridge Pub was recently sold. Hopefully these have all gone to reputable investors or businesses. But we should not be leaving this to chance. Ultimately, it is a fact of life that they will be motivated by profit, whereas a Community Land Trust would reinvest the profits back into that property, purchase more property or reinvest the money in some form to assist the community. Shares in the Trust could be sold to members of the community, so they had real ‘ownership’ of our town and its future. Imagine if we had a fund of £1 million.... Half of that could be shares owned by Thetford Town Council and possibly Breckland Council, the other half could be shares sold to the wider community. (£500,000 worth of shares, sold at £25 each would require 20,000 shares to be sold – that is entirely achievable, 5,000 could buy 4 shares each - some may want to buy lots more than 4). You could buy £100 worth of shares, and receive a dividend each year for your investment, assuming a profit occurs – along the same lines that Co-op and John Lewis operate. Shop local Whilst we may not have the range of shops that we may want, there are shops that exist, and they need our money. If we all made a very conscious effort to support what we could, this would go a very long way towards propping up these businesses and encouraging others to join. This is what we can all be doing on a regular basis. Thetford Town Council has a yearly expenditure of £800,000 – that’s nearly £1 million annually. Much of that of course goes on salaries and other services where there is little choice, but is there a conscious effort being made to support local businesses and traders? – Not yet, but it is slowly happening. I don't agree with a company based in Downham Market being employed to tend to Kings House gardens and run the public toilets on contracts worth tens of thousands, for example.. Do you work in a Thetford business? Are you a Manager? What services, equipment etc do you currently purchase that could be purchased from Thetford businesses? If you are having a buffet, are you getting a quote from Tall Orders, or Subway, or talking to Greggs or the sandwhich man at the Shambles? If you are purchasing a new fridge, television etc – are you checking to see if Cobra or Hughes can do you a good price before you check online or go to Curry’s? They may just have what you need, don’t write them off. That said – I am a realist, we all have to watch our budgets, myself included. I’m not saying purchase from the high street at any cost – it’s just not possible, but, we can give them a look in and a fair chance. Talk it up! Similarly to the above, there are a growing number of people that are getting active in the community in Thetford and speaking up. We need to accelerate this. For too long has our town been talked down, no more! We should all be ambassadors of Thetford. Acknowledge where we need to work harder, but challenge the myths, high-light the advantages, talk it up! (Hats off to Tina Matthews! – a very good example of a ‘talker-uper’). Similarly, if you work in a local shop, look to see if your business is involved in the local community. Too many of our high street retailers do not engage in local community activities. How many businesses contribute to the Christmas lights appeal? Or hanging basket fund? How many support local voluntary and community organisations. It is often the same old companies supporting the community. Argos for example, support a national charity – the last I heard it was Whizzkids. Great – but they take a considerable amount of money OUT of Thetford, they need to also support the local community. The big chain stores should be helping – Argos, WH Smith, Savers to name a few – if you work for these companies, ask questions! You can often have much greater leverage then people on the outside. Charity Shops These shops will exist – no matter what. Rather than fighting against them, we should embrace them. Charity shops thrive – because people use them! Ok, I admit it – I used to think they were full of old ladies and that they smelt of wee, (Ok, some do!) but, they do contain some good bargains, and there is a variety of items in them, and the money you spend goes to a good cause. They also provide some very good volunteering opportunities for a variety of people that get a great deal of comfort and satisfaction from the good work that they do. We live in a low wage economy and money is tight for many people. Charity shops can assist with this. Let’s challenge the stigma and embrace the variety, choice and low prices available. They should feature in any future plans for our high street. Foreign Shops “I went to town today and didn’t hear an English voice!” – really? Why is that? “there’s too many foreign shops? – really? Why is that? If only I had a pound for every time I heard those two statements!! So why is it? Because the culture of countries such as Poland, Lithuania, Latvia etc is about supporting your local high street, about using small independent retailers. When I visited Poland, I went to a fairly major town. They had just had a Tesco open up on the outskirts and they were running a free bus from the town centre to the supermarket to entice people in. Every day that bus was empty. Entrepreneurs from different countries, (for that is what they are), are opening up shops in our high street because there is a market for them. People use them, and spend their money in them! I don’t hear people complaining about the Poles queuing up in Sainsbury’s. Many of the ‘foreign shops’ offer a range of goods and services, particularly foods – how long did Thetford campaign to have a town centre food shop and somewhere to buy a pint of milk? Let's embrace our multiculturialsm and use it. Thetford is a town with a long-standing history of immigration. London overspill? Marajah Duleep Singh? These bring in tourists that spend money. Our range of delicastessans and food retailers offering such variety already brings in people from elsewhere - money being spent in our town. Shop sizes Many of our shop units are of the wrong size. Many are too small to accommodate more well known high street retailers, and many are too large to accommodate small, independent businesses or business start-ups. We need both to be addressed. The Portas review talks about small market traders and business start-ups – we need to look at this and perhaps link it with the Community Land Trust idea as a means to funding the renovations. Walk round the Pedlars Grove area of Swaffham or the road down from the Dereham Memorial Hall – a collecting of small, quaint little shops offering a fascinating range of goods and services. These ‘micro-businesses’ are charged smaller rents, and have smaller business rates bills – but offer the consumer greater choice. We need to diversify that choice in Thetford and make it easier for such shops to compete. Play to our strengths.... Thetford is an incredibly beautiful town, it has got some fantastic green spaces and some fantastic architecture. Stand in the high street – look around, would you know this? Stand outside Boots – walk 5 minutes in either direction, you would either come to Kings House Gardens or Castle Park, two fantastic assets to our town, but often not utilised (the gardens, more so than Castle Hill). The Portas review says that shopping in our high streets should be as much about leisure and recreation as they are about the actual shopping. We are ideally placed for this in Thetford. We should be running guided tours of the Kings House gardens, and Kings House itself. If you get to Castle Hill – do you know what you are looking at? How beautiful is St Cuthbert’s Church? But when do people get to go in there? We need to play to our strengths and realise what we have got. For those of us living and working in the town we can often overlook what is right in front of us. There will be a major development taking place outside Boots in the near future, plans will be put out to consultation soon. This project is a fantastic opportunity to link in with the Portas review as we will be creating recreational space within the high street, and in particular space for open air performances – singing, acting, public speaking – all would add vibrancy to the high street. I want to see musicians – not charity muggers – in our high street. People attracting shoppers, not scaring them away!