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Dual bid to lift town centre gloom

PUBLISHED: 12:09 02 April 2009 | UPDATED: 10:45 07 July 2010

A double-edged campaign has been launched to help businesses survive the recession after a public forum on the future of Fakenham.

About 80 people attended a meeting on Friday, called after a rallying call on the social networking website, Facebook.

A double-edged campaign has been launched to help businesses survive the recession after a public forum on the future of Fakenham.

About 80 people attended a meeting on Friday, called after a rallying call on the social networking website, Facebook.

The ideas raised included improving tourist promotion of the area, organising music festivals and restoring the town's carnival.

And while politicians applauded townspeople's independent surge of action, two public figures have teamed up in a bid to combat two of the biggest costs to the town's industries - business rates and rent.

County councillor David Callaby and Lib Dem parliamentary spokesman April Pond hope to influence property owners and Westminster decision-makers in order to resolve the concerns voiced at the meeting.

Their plan includes a campaign and petition urging government ministers to reduce business rates to boost local employers.

They have also begun to draft a list of commercial property owners in Fakenham to ask for a voluntary reduction in rent for the duration of the recession, to encourage new tenants to fill empty buildings and help existing firms ride out the economic storm.

Mrs Pond said: “I have been in business all my life, so this is all quite close to home. We have decided to meet with key landlords and discuss the possibility of lowering rents.

“It is a simple plan and it is based on business sense because landlords need to earn money as well as shopkeepers. It might push landlords to think that while the recession is going on it would be better to have lower rents than nothing at all.

“It was a really dynamic meeting with some really good ideas. It is now about how we take them forward, and that is why we have taken on this particular issue.”

Mr Callaby said he was impressed with the positive ideas generated by the meeting.

“There were lots of people with a lot of ideas and it was a very positive meeting,” he said. “It really was the people's own democracy and things like music festivals can be arranged without too much involvement from councillors.

“But we need to respond as politicians to the things we can try to have an influence over. I think the petition is something which can grow from Fakenham and expand into other market towns.”

The Kick Start Fakenham initiative began after resident Rachel Seretny, 24, launched an online Facebook group to combat negativity in the town. It now has more than 300 members.

She said: “The town meeting provided an ideal opportunity for people to air their views and suggestions for a way to kick start our lovely town. With a fantastic attendance we were able to gauge a variety of projects and we have been able to begin to form a committee to help put these plans into action.”

Making Fakenham more attractive was a recurring theme at the meeting, where more litter and recycling bins were called for along with an idea of brightening up empty shops with murals and making existing shops smarter.

Other suggestions included better road signs pointing visitors into the town, a single town website and more child friendly facilities.

Ideas to pedestrianise the market place and create an indoor market or arcade of small shops in the former Woolworths store were also put forward.

Fakenham chamber of trade president Stuart Cuttler told the audience: “We can come together as a community and try to lift the spirits of our town as we all feel passionately about it.”

To get involved in Kick Start Fakenham, e-mail Rachel at rachseretny@hotmail.com

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