Heritage scheme aims to build 'authentic identity' for Swaffham

Swaffham Market Cross and Market Place.

The town's historic Butter Cross - Credit: Archant Photographic 2011

It is one of Norfolk's finest market towns.

But, for many, Swaffham can seem little more than an exit on the A47 between Dereham and King's Lynn.

Now, councillors are determined to do something about that.

They have launched an initiative to create an “authentic identity for Swaffham”, along with a range of suggested projects to revitalise the town’s historic centre.

The proposed improvements are being organised through the government’s High Streets Heritage Action Zone programme, using a £380,000 award from Historic England, match-funded with £123,000 from Breckland Council.

Among the “identity” focused ideas are plans to brand the town as a cultural and heritage destination, with stunning natural beauty close at hand. 

The town’s market and auction house are described as “an excellent example of showcasing a Swaffham that is actively connecting to its historical context whilst continuing to inspire its current culture”.

Furthermore, its “location as part of and within easy access to the Brecks is an aspect to be defined and celebrated”, the report states.

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A consultant-produced masterplan has identified a range of recommended projects, including a new green space along the eastern side of the town centre, reinstating the town’s historic pond, and creating a “Swaffham-branded” movable stage to be used for performances throughout the year.

The council hopes to be able to apply for further government funds to carry out some of the more ambitious suggestions set out in the masterplan, allowing them to demonstrate that the projects are “shovel-ready” and increasing their chance of success in winning those grants.

The initial funding from Historic England and Breckland Council, along with the masterplan, was approved at a Monday (April 25) meeting of the authority’s cabinet. 

Speaking on Tuesday, local district councillor Ian Sherwood said he was “thrilled” by the project’s progress. 

Breckland councillor and Conservative party agent, Ian Sherwood. Picture: Breckland Council

Breckland councillor and Conservative party agent, Ian Sherwood. Picture: Breckland Council - Credit: Archant

“I’ve represented Swaffham on Breckland Council for 23 years now,” he said. 

“The consultation [for the masterplan] was directly with the public, out on the high street. It really was [taking] ideas from everybody, and I’ve not seen a consultation in my time done as widely as that.” 

The cabinet also agreed - for the first time since 1974 - a new appraisal of the town's conservation area, to continue protecting Swaffham's historic heart from certain types of development.

Swaffham’s unique characters

One of the masterplan’s suggestions for building up a sense of the town’s identity is for more to be made of the unique characters it is known for.

First to be mentioned in the report is the Swaffham Pedlar, the central figure of a morality story - depicted on the town’s sign - which tells of a resident and traveller who returns to discover riches he sought were to be found at home.

Swaffham will be the focus of a photography competition celebrating the 50th anniversary of the town

Swaffham will be the focus of a photography competition celebrating the 50th anniversary of the town's Rotary Club. PHOTO; Matthew Usher - Credit: Archant

The report’s authors described the pedlar as “an icon to draw inspiration from and base discovery events on”. 

Another figure connected to the town is Howard Carter, the archaeologist who discovered Tutankhamun’s tomb in Egypt in 1922. 

Carter, who spent much of childhood in Swaffham, is said to “embody a cultural link to North Africa and the Middle East that exposes meaningful relationships between marketplaces, mobility, culture and aspiration”.

Howard Carter with some of the finds being transported away. Picture: Courtesy of Swaffham Museum

Howard Carter with some of the finds being transported away. Picture: Courtesy of Swaffham Museum - Credit: Picture: Courtesy of Swaffham Mu

The report suggests using figures like these to create “visitor and community immersion through light shows amongst other visual and storytelling events”.

Although not mentioned in the report, Swaffham was also the setting for the television comedy drama series Kingdom, which starred Stephen Fry as a local solicitor - though the town was named Market Shipborough on the show.