Study paves way for Swaffham's future

A major in-depth study of Swaffham will enable it to take charge of its own destiny and pave the way for it to thrive in the future.After 18 months of work, Swaffham Town Group has published detailed reports on every aspect of town life.

A major in-depth study of Swaffham will enable it to take charge of its own destiny and pave the way for it to thrive in the future.

After 18 months of work, Swaffham Town Group has published detailed reports on every aspect of town life.

Four weighty documents now offer a comprehensive analysis of everything from the people who live and work in the town to its economy, history and built environment.

The group, jointly co-ordinated by the town council and the Iceni Partnership, will now use the information to develop Swaffham's new town plan, which they hope will be published in spring next year.

By planning strategically for the future the group hopes to improve the social, economic and environmental quality of life in Swaffham and believes both the plan and the supporting documents will act as a solid foundation from which to pursue funding bids and attract inward investment.

The survey reports, which include the work of several respected academics, have already been praised as being “some of the best seen”.

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Dr David Bek, the town council's project officer who is a researcher in economic geography, said: “The town group is structured around four thematic groups who have been investigating the environmental, economic, social and transport issues affecting the town.

“At the same time surveys have been conducted in order to capture the opinions and experiences of people who use Swaffham whether as a resident, an employee, a shopper or a visitor.

“The findings from the surveys will be considered alongside reports from the four thematic working groups and will be instrumental in guiding the content of the town plan.”

Introducing the survey reports at the council's launch event, David Wickerson, chairman of the Swaffham Town Group, described the project as a “mammoth task” but said the town plan would “play a vital role in asking for any funding we might need in the future.”

The documents immediately drew praise from outside bodies.

Sally Williams, regional co-ordinator for Action Market Towns, said: “Knowledge gives you power and if you can measure it you can manage it.

“This research has been broad based and you have not pre-decided what questions you need an answer to but now you are well placed to decide what the answers are.”

Mark Stanton, head of economic development at Breckland Council, said that Swaffham was “taking charge of its own destiny”.

“If you want to realise the vision that comes out of this then it needs a sound evidence base and to have esteemed academics working with you on this gives you that,” he said.

Copies of all the survey reports can be viewed at the Swaffham Town Council offices and at the town's library. They will also be available though the council's website in the near future.

What the survey revealed:

Swaffham Town Group Survey - Executive Summary

More than 350 people filled in surveys asking for people's opinions about different aspects of Swaffham. The key themes were economy, transport, social/community and environment.

The character of Swaffham's historic town centre is vital to the town's overall sense of identity.

Swaffham's location relative to other places is important. Residents gain access to a wide range of employment, services, goods and diverse leisure activities in the surrounding region.

Whilst overall employment levels are good in Swaffham, local people can struggle to find reasonably paid work or work with good prospects.

People are very positive about the range of services available in the town but less so about the range of shops.

Although the town possesses an excellent range of clubs and societies, there is a feeling that the town lacks sufficient sources of entertainment, leisure and sporting opportunities.

There are concerns about the impacts of traffic on the town, the absence of provision for cyclists and there is a feeling that public transport provision could be improved.

Many people feel that the town would benefit from being “smartened up” with greater controls over problems like litter.

People are very supportive of environmentally friendly measures (such as recycling and renewable energy), but feel that more could be done to support these in the town as a whole.

A good proportion of people like living in Swaffham as it is a quiet, relatively crime-free location, whilst others have concerns about crime and anti-social behaviour.

Survey of Swaffham Businesses

Approximately 250 Swaffham-based firms were sent copies of the survey. Of these 63 returned completed copies.

The majority of firms are positive about their future trading prospects.

The town's location is of benefit to many businesses due to its situation in relation to the region's road network and thus other key settlements.

Firms are strongly opposed to the introduction of pay and display parking but would like to see better signs to and from car parks in and around the town.

Recruitment is generally satisfactory, although firms do note skill shortages as a problem in many areas.

Firms are adopting modern technology (mobile phones and the internet) as part of their business practice. Some firms would benefit from improved service/availability of these forms of technology.

Red tape and costs of premises are seen as two of the biggest constraints on future business development.

Firms are confident about their own attributes believing that they rate very highly in terms of “quality of product/service,” “customer service” and “reputation.”

The town's economy would benefit from a more co-ordinated approach to promotion.

Survey of People Working in Swaffham

People's experiences of seeking employment and working in Swaffham vary greatly. A significant segment of the workforce feel that they are underpaid, have limited promotion prospects and would struggle to find suitable alternative employment in the town. For others, working in Swaffham provides a comfortable living and lifestyle.

Very few people travel to work by sustainable means. Those travelling from outside the town almost invariably travel by car. The majority of those living and working in the town travel by car, although a number do walk/cycle.

People who work in Swaffham make important contributions to the town by shopping, using services and by getting involved in community activities. However, where people live and the part of the town in which they work seems to influence the extent to which they contribute to the town's economy and society.

Many people are positive about the shopping facilities in Swaffham - but many would like to see a greater range of retail, service and social/leisure outlets.

Many people express positive sentiments about Swaffham, however, a significant number hold negative perceptions about the health of the economy and the extent of social problems.

Links with the villages (the hinterland) are very important as these settlements are attractive locations for Swaffham's workforce to live and the rural population provide an important market for the town's businesses.

Town Group - Young People Survey

The survey was conducted during 2007/8 and was ultimately completed by 536 young people, predominantly aged between 11 and 15 from Hamond's High School.

Young people engage in a wide range of sports (swimming, cycling and football are the most popular) and hobbies (listening to music and computer games are most popular).

Young people's favourite aspects of Swaffham include the retail and catering facilities (especially the chip shops), the open spaces (including the recreation ground) and certain clubs and groups.

Half the young people surveyed belong to a local club, group or society. However, many believe that there are too few things to do whether in the evenings, the weekends or during school holidays.

An overwhelming majority believe that the range of activities and facilities needs improving. Many would like to see a greater range of shops, improvements to the transport infrastructure and for certain social problems to be tackled.

Less than 10 per cent believe that enough is done to encourage young people to live a healthy lifestyle.

Three-quarters of young people feel that the attitudes of their peers and adults are a problem.

The majority would like young people to be more involved in local decision-making.

The vast majority either walk or take the bus to school, whilst 12 per cent come by car.

Very few cycle to school and there is concern at the lack of cycle paths around Swaffham. There are also concerns about speeding traffic and inadequate street lighting.

There are concerns about safety in a number of locations, most especially in town in the evenings.

Socio-economic Change in Swaffham

Swaffham is a town undergoing the interlinked processes of gentrification and geriatrification, whereby significant numbers of people are moving to Swaffham either just prior to retirement or during retirement.

People are attracted to the town due to the availability of a reasonable range of services and due to the semi-rural lifestyle on offer.

New housing developments are perceived as lacking accessibility to key services and facilities.

Local people make good use of local services and facilities but there is a need to travel to access a decent range.

Young(er) people can feel isolated from certain facilities and social opportunities. A lack of ambition is evident in some sections of the population.

Decision-makers need to be aware of the danger that Swaffham could be perceived largely as a retirement town.

Swaffham is an important provider of services for the surrounding villages. This role should not be underestimated by decision makers.

Swaffham Visitor Survey

This survey was conducted during the summer of 2007. Forty-three responses from visitors to the town were returned.

The townscape (incorporating the historic centre and the modern Ecotech Centre and turbine) are defining features of the town's identity, which people find attractive.

A significant proportion of visitors only come to the town for a few hours.

Local people are key ambassadors for the town as many tourists come to Swaffham either on a recommendation or to stay with friends/relatives.

Whilst the Ecotech Centre is a popular draw, a relatively low proportion of their visitors go on to visit other sites in the town.

Generally people enjoyed their visit to Swaffham and the majority would be happy to return.

There is a feeling that the town's overall “tourism product” could be strengthened and better promoted.