Meet the entrepreneurs who call West Raynham Business Park home
After laying derelict for more than a decade, an RAF base in north Norfolk is now a growing business hub. BETHANY WHYMARK went to meet some of its tenants.
On a wartime airbase in rural north Norfolk, a business community is thriving.
RAF West Rayhnam near Fakenham, opened as a base for RAF Bomber Command, was decommissioned in 1994 and lay derelict for 12 years.
Its fortunes were turned around by FW Properties, which has managed the site since 2012 and transformed it into two residential areas and a 100-acre business park.
A total of 350,000 sq ft of hangers and technical buildings were refurbished, which now house around 30 businesses.
Catherine Newey, property management surveyor at FW Properties, said interest from joiner Norfolk Oak in the airbase hangars gave the firm the confidence to push on with its business park vision.
“From that we looked at other buildings and thought, could we do something with this to improve it?” she said. “We are probably using all the buildings we physically can, but we still have land, so the next thing is to look at utilising that.”
Kitchen builder and joiner Norfolk Oak has been based at West Raynham for four and a half years. Previously the business was based across three different sites, the only way to find enough space to accommodate all its operations.
Kate Gladwin, marketing executive at Norfolk Oak, said: “This place meant we could have everything in one place. We have the showroom, the workshop, and everything is sent out straight from here. It works really well.”
The business, which has around 50 staff, has built prefabricated rooms inside the hangar it occupies to act as workshops, with stock, spraying equipment and other large machinery housed in the main building.
In a separate section of the hangar are the offices and the showroom – this currently contains three show kitchens, but Ms Gladwin said there is space for a further four.
The company has another hangar – currently a storage area – which could be used for future facilities expansion.
Sprayline UK, which repairs, tests and sells agricultural spraying equipment, moved into West Raynham almost two years ago.
Founder Graham Calver, a former apprentice at agricultural firm Berthoud, was working for another crop sprayer business before he and wife Suzanne decided to branch out on their own.
The firm is a registered national test centre for sprayers and offers services for Tecnoma and Hardi equipment. It also designs and assembles electrical systems for machinery.
Mrs Calver said it had been “a struggle” to find suitable premises for their operations. “The workshop and the space we have outside is brilliant. That is what we struggled to find, somewhere with outdoor space as well as indoor to display the machinery. There is plenty of space for lorries here too which is ideal.”
She added that they are considering expanding the company at West Raynham in the future.
Firing Squad Woodburners
Firing Squad Woodburners found a home in the former guard room at West Raynham. For owner Paul Chamberlain, the business park presented the best overall offering despite its rural location and lack of footfall – and the move seems to have paid off.
“I may only see a few people a day but I have a pretty good sales record – most people will buy after they visit,” he said.
“We had been looking for a showroom in towns in the area and nothing was meeting our criteria for our budget.
“It is just a beautiful building [at West Raynham] and we knew we wanted it. We have got a lot of other rooms besides the showroom and it has the potential to develop and grow.”
The company, which supplies and installs woodburners, open fires and chimney linings, has established links with other businesses on the park which keep similar opening hours in order to give visitors a broader offering.
It was space and facilities which drew environmental consultancy Torc Ecology to West Raynham.
Directors Louise Brown and Shaun Baker moved in six months ago from their previous base in Docking, having chosen the location as a prime spot for expansion.
Mr Baker said the site’s facilities – including fibreoptics – and ample storage space for their surveying equipment had sealed the deal.
The pair, who have one employee, have also made use of the park’s still-derelict buildings for their work, including bat surveys.
Mr Baker said: “We do not really rely on footfall. We do have clients who come occasionally, but there is a lot of space for parking. There is also space if we want to host seminars, and we do hold training sessions here.
“We moved so we would have room to expand, because of the available space.”
Ms Brown added: “It is a lovely setting and has relatively good access.”