War Memorial Gary Trouton


September 2005

Alan, a fairly recent arrival in Stoke Ferry, puts a case for the deelopment of a village centre

I've recently published a book Magnificent Vision: The Right to Work obtainable for £9.99 post free from FURI, Coachman's Collage, High Street, Stoke Ferry, Norfolk PE33 9SF (cheque payable to FURI). Better not buy yet. Better wait for a description of the book in the October issue of The Village Pump. If impatient, click onto website www.f-u-r-i.co.uk which contains most of the contents of the book. So you do not really have to buy it, although the mater is more easily read in book form. Naturally, I would like you to send me the £9.99 cheque right now.

Selling the book is not the point of this article. Just now I am concerned with just one aspect of the book: the idea of Localism. Here I have in mind the eighteenth century coffee house, discussion group, on foot, inclusive society. There would be greater devolution of power to local authority level, sub-divided to village level (seeing wards as villages). Each locality in town and country would have its own village centre with a great variety of facilities. The potential for local initiative and democracy would be most exciting.

That is for the distant future but meanwhile it would be nice to have a village centre here in Stoke Ferry. The ideal place would be the large white building -Old Duke's Head - next to the Miller's Arms. At present, with its boarded-up widows, it is an eyesore but it could be a really handsome building with a bit of tatting up. Being next to the pub and the distinguished-looking church, it would serve well as the village centre. Commendably, Kit Hesketh - Harvey already has in mind a variety of social use for the church building.

The Duke's Head could provide room for youth activities, music, discussion groups and local societies, a local museum, a coffee house, a doctor's surgery; perhaps even the village shop could move there. The staffing could be largely voluntary (though not of course for the village shop). And we have the advantage of the excellent Village Pump to keep people informed of activities. There's already a good deal of activities in Stoke Ferry ) e.g. Bingo, women's groups, local history group) but there would be advantage if they were centrally located and better advertised. As regards youth activities, it is worth recording that at a recent Residents' Association meeting discussing vandalism, the police representative observed what pleasant people the Stoke Ferry youngsters were.

The idea is to create something akin to a vibrant street life - to have a place where villagers are encouraged to meet one another. Quoting The New Statesman of 15 August 2005: "Cultures and climates differ all over the world," notes the architect Jan Gehl, "but people are the same. They will gather in public if you give them a good place to do it."

What especially appeals to me is the prospect of having well-attended weekly celebrity talk-cum-discussion. For example, we could persuade Tony Benn t come to talk about Thetford's Tom Paine, and the right to work, perhaps arranging for it to be televised. There is no shortage of celebrities - even within the village - who could give interesting talks and lead discussion. Indeed, most of us are celebrities to a degree.

At present the Duke's Head is a white elephant. If Grampian Foods could be prevailed upon to hand over the building to the Stoke Ferry Residents' Association, then perhaps the local authority would be prepared to waive tax charges. The cost of refurbishment and maintenance could come partly from Grampian, partly from the local authority, partly from earnings from the building and partly from voluntary donations by the more affluent members of the village.

There has been some whingeing about Grampian Foods from a small minority concerned about property values (although the main threat to property values is their whingeing). It has to be said, however, that Grampian Foods are overwhelmingly an asset, both in the employment they provide and the wealth they create. There has been some complaint about nuisance but the firm behave responsibly and, as one living quite close to the factory, I consider the nuisance to be negligible - nearly all the time not noticeable. But it would greatly enhance Grampian's ethical reputation if they were to accede to the foregoing suggestion. In their honour, the building could be called The Grampian Centre (formerly the Duke's Head - 18 whatever it is)

Being preoccupied with launching my new book, I don't have the time to get involved in this but others might wish to get co-opted on the Stoke Ferry Resident's Association Committee to take the matter further.

Perhaps other villagers have a view on this proposal? Please write to the Editor and voice your opinions for all to read. Editor

Alan Whitford

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