Your Town: Sheringham - a thriving community addressing modern-day challenges with modern-day ideas
PUBLISHED: 16:54 28 June 2019 | UPDATED: 19:44 28 June 2019
As part of our Your Town series, Karen Bethell looks at the key issues affecting people in Sheringham, finding out what is being done to address problems ranging from parking, to changing shopping habits and an ageing population.
From its beginnings as a tiny fishing village, to a town with a population of more than 7,000, Sheringham has grown to become one of the top tourist destinations on the north Norfolk coast. But its success has brought modern day problems, including a much higher than average number of elderly residents, poor transport links and a lack of affordable housing.
In the five years since Tesco opened in Sheringham after a 17-year planning battle that divided the community, the town has seen its fair share of shop closures, with long-standing family businesses including Bertram Watts bookshop, Hastings greengrocers, Claws and Paws pet shop and Nobby's discount store shutting their doors.
However, while some are quick to blame the supermarket giant for the loss of independent stores, others believe Tesco has benefited the town and list the rise in internet shopping, changing tastes, unmanageable overheads and Brexit as contributory factors.
Where previously grocery outlets made up a large proportion of town centre shops, Sheringham now has more than 50 catering establishments, as well as 10 charity shops - which, at around eight per cent of total outlets, is significantly less than 15-charity-shop Shirley, in the West Midlands, which earlier this year was named 'charity shop capital of the UK.'
But, while the dynamic of the high street may have changed, empty premises have quickly been replaced with new enterprises, with more than half a dozen new businesses opening in the last year alone.
And, although, nationally, independent traders are working harder to turn a profit, Sheringham high street is keeping its head above water, with its wide variety of shops still popular among local people and tourists.
Annual events including the carnival, Viking Festival, Potty Morris and Folk Festival and 1940s weekend attract crowds in their thousands, with the town's Blue Flag beaches, golf course, 1,000-acre Sheringham Park and other attractions including the North Norfolk Railway, the Little Theatre and seafront museum also a major draw.
Sheringham Chamber of Trade chairman Andrew Munden, who is general manager at the North Norfolk Railway, said the town struck a delicate, but largely good balance between catering for tourists and local people.
"I think we are constantly just on the edge of being very successful," he said. "We have seen shops closed, but they don't remain empty for long and, compared with other places across the country, we still have a high number of independent traders."
Challenges business owners faced included building and maintaining an online presence and making Sheringham a "year-round" town, Mr Munden added, with the sinkhole which opened up in High Street during the May half term holiday, leading to the closure of the road to traffic, adding to pressures.
The EDP and the North Norfolk News have been running the Sheringham Is Open for Business campaign, to highlight the many great independent businesses in Sheringham, the thriving community spirit and the many events taking place and
support from North Norfolk District Council has enabled chamber members to attend workshops on developing websites and building a social media presence.
"I think we can buck the trend," Mr Munden said. "People come back year after year, not just because of the stunning scenery and range of events and attractions, but also because of Sheringham's special mix of independent shops."
Meanwhile, a town centre development group set up just over a year ago claims to be making inroads into perennial bugbears, including parking and pedestrian access.
Made up of representatives from nearly 20 Sheringham organisations, the group is looking at introducing measures to combat problems experienced by many seaside towns.
A much-debated plan to run a pedestrianisation trial in High Street was shelved last year after traders voiced concerns about the impact on their businesses and the town council voted against it.
However, keen to make Sheringham more accessible for both pedestrians and cars, the group has been working with Norfolk County Council's highways department to look at introducing traffic-calming measures.
Deputy mayor Liz Withington said these could include a 20mph speed limit, wider pavements and a 'green gateway' into the town.
"We want to improve access for everybody and create a more pedestrian-friendly town as a whole," she explained.
The group is also looking at increasing CCTV coverage to include Cromer Road playground, which has previously been a blackspot for vandalism and anti-social behaviour, with other projects ranging from improved signage directing people to town attractions, completing an audit of disabled parking spaces, and installing signs to Sheringham's car parks.
Mrs Withington said: "I think it is really important that we retain Sheringham as an independent high street that encourages tourism, but, equally, that serves the residents who live here all year round."
Health: Medical practice leading the way in patient care
Facing challenges including an ageing population and ever-increasing demands on GPs' time, Sheringham Medical Practice has been forced to find new ways of meeting the needs of its patients, but in spite of those pressures, patient satisfaction remains high, thanks to a dedicated and highly skilled staff team, ranging from doctors and management team members, to nurses, paramedics and outreach workers.
Charlotte Pike, who is a managing partner at Sheringham Medical Practice, said that, with 9,400 patients, 38pc of whom are over 65, the Cromer Road centre had long held the view that the government's current primary care funding formula failed to recognise the challenges faced by a practice working to support an unusually high proportion of elderly patients.
"We have a disease prevalence ranging from between 1.3 and 2.4 times the national average and Office for National Statistics projections suggest that in north Norfolk as a whole, the proportion of over 65s will be approximately 35pc by 2041, meaning that we are more than 20 years ahead of the overall north Norfolk average," she explained.
Strategies recommended as part of the NHS GP Forward View programme, which aims to reduce the workload of GP surgeries by cutting bureaucracy, had already been adopted by the time the programme was introduced in 2016 Ms Pike said, with the practice also successfully applying for funding to pilot mental health caseworker appointments and first contact physiotherapy appointments.
"We work to develop measures to support all of our population groups," she said. "But fulfilling the needs of a very elderly patient population with the financial resources available has meant that the practice has had to be at the forefront of adopting new ways of working."
GP retention and recruitment was increasingly difficult, Ms Pike added, however, in spite of the challenges the practice faced, overall patient satisfaction was high.
A multi-disciplinary team including nurses, nurse practitioners and health care assistants enabled GPs to offer 15 minute face-to-face appointments to patients with more complex needs, with the practice also offering carer support, parish nurse appointments and one-stop reviews for people with chronic illnesses.
Staff also liaise with local groups and organisations including community services and care homes, as well as working with Sheringham High School to support young patients.
In spite of its many challenges, Ms Pike, who is also chief operating officer of Iceni Healthcare - a federation of 100 GP practices across Norfolk and Waveney - believes Sheringham Medical Practice is a successful centre.
"I think we deliver high quality clinical care effectively and we aim to be as responsive as possible to the needs of all our patients," she said.
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A town with a bright future . . .
With a raft of improvement projects in the pipeline, Sheringham looks set to get a major makeover.
And mayor Madeleine Ashcroft says her "dedicated, pro-active" team of town councillors are the right people to steer the popular seaside destination towards a bright future.
"I think Sheringham is in a strong position to make the most of its many assets, she said. "We have a four-year plan and when all the projects come to fruition, I think we will be in a very good place."
With women making up only a third of local councillors nationally, Sheringham Town Council is also doing its bit to reverse the trend by boasting a near-equal proportion of men to women.
And, with a handful of new, younger councillors on board, Mrs Ashcroft believes it is now more representative of the whole community.
"We now have six out of 13 councillors who are women and, together, we are all looking forward to working to make sure the projects we have started carry on and get completed," she said.
A survey carried out by the council last year identified the lack of affordable housing, the growing number of second homes and the high demand for family homes to rent as major concerns for residents of all ages.
"Of course, we still have some issues, including a lack of opportunities for young people and affordable housing - in particular two and three-bedroom rental properties - but we are doing our best to work with North Norfolk District Council (NNDC) to address those problems," Mrs Ashcroft said.
The town council, which will shortly be moving its headquarters from the town hall to the community centre, was also working with district councillors on plans to revamp the promenade, she added, including improving signage, increasing cycle parking and working on ideas to improve the appearance of the run-down former Anglian Water 'tank' building above the east beach.
Deputy mayor, Liz Withington, who has been the driving force behind Sheringham's dementia friendly town status, and the Sheringham Plastic Aware group, whose work with local schools, businesses and community groups will shortly lead to the town gaining Surfers Against Sewage plastic-free coastline status, said: "I think it is really important that we retain Sheringham as somewhere that encourages tourism but, equally, serves the residents that live here all year round."
Raising aspirations and improving the prospects of Sheringham's young people
A recent BBC survey of 378 local authorities ranked north Norfolk among the worst places in the country for young people.
The survey, which was conducted as part of the BBC's Newsbeat programme for young people, gave north Norfolk a score of zero in the going out category, zero for sports facilities and just one for bus services.
In Sheringham, a town council community survey coupled with a Youth Advisory Board survey of high school students and a community homework assignment completed by primary pupils identified issues including a lack of leisure opportunities, poor transport links and lack of support for mental health issues including self-harm, smoking and drug and alcohol problems.
In response, the town council has developed a youth strategy, with a task group made up of representative from organisations including schools, youth groups, nurseries, churches and local police working together with the aim of giving Sheringham young people a voice.
Town councillor Hazel Beazley, who heads up the town's Children, Youth and Family Strategy Group, said the team, which has already developed an activity directory sent out to every primary and high school parent and secured funding for mental health training for local groups working with children and young people, was looking at long-term projects.
Strategy group members have also worked with North Walsham-based charity the Benjamin Foundation, who are running drop-in advice sessions for young people at Sheringham library, and with the BBC Children in Need Raising Education and Aspirations Project (REAP), which is offering advice sessions to 13-19-year-olds.
"I think there are plenty of structured activities, from sports clubs, to drama groups, but, in terms of safe places for teenagers to 'hang out', I think what we need is something like a café that is open in the evenings," Mrs Beazley said.
The assertion that there is nothing in Sheringham for children and young people, was incorrect, the mum-of-two added, with a wealth of activities on offer for children and young people of all ages.
"I have no doubt that there are some gaps and hopefully by working with young people we can highlight these and try to see if we can assist in any way, but overall I think that the variety and quality of things to do is fantastic and providers and volunteers should be applauded for their hard work," she said.