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You are in: Norfolk » A Sense Of Place

10 June 2003 1702 BST
Thetford's tough image challenged
Pic: Thetford's shopping centre.
Thetford's shopping thoroughfare
Former Thetford resident, Lewis Paines, shares his opinion of the town with us.
He challenges Thetford's tough reputation with the view that it is a beautiful and multi-cultural place to live and visit.

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I moved to the Czech Republic from Thetford about 12 years ago, and I still think of the old town with fondness.  

It’s always been a peculiar thing. Whenever I meet another person from Norfolk and say I’m from Thetford, there’s a slight pause, “Oh, Thetford… that’s where all the Londoners live, isn’t it?”

Pic: Lewis Paines.
Lewis Paines now lives in the Czech Republic.

It seems to come out automatically like Noel Coward’s “terribly flat” description of Norfolk.  

But I do miss the old town, despite what people think of it. There’s a sort of 'wind up the windows and don’t stop' feeling that people have about Thetford, as if they were driving through Beirut’s southern suburbs.

Then there’s Abbey Farm, a  council estate which some people like to think consists of muggers, drug dealers, bank robbers and snipers ready to pick off any outsider foolish enough to go there.

Every time there was a crime in the town, reporters would note the culprits “were seen running off in the direction of Abbey Farm” even if they were on the other side of the town and would have had to run for miles through the better areas to get there. But we all knew their sort and where they were running to!

Now, while I’m sure many locals are just a little proud of the town’s tough reputation, I’ll have to let the secret out: I spent years walking to and from work through Abbey Farm, often at night, and never once was I shot or mugged.  

So all the rest of you from outside Thetford are wrong. It’s a great place. There’s no other place in the county with as much open, publicly accessible space.

The town has commons and parks and, of course, the forest, while the rest of Norfolk seems to consist of 12ft hedges and signs with 'get orf moi land'.

The river and the parks are beautiful. The forest is great to play in if you’re a kid, and if you like swimming, there’s a great pool.  

I only come back to Thetford once every couple of years, but I think it’s improving. It seems a lot livelier now, and the new communities are really giving a new atmosphere to the town.

Thetford must be the only town in the county where I could go down the main street last year and hear Russian, Polish, Slovak, Spanish and Portuguese at the same time.  

I wonder if the attitude towards Thetford will change too. When I say I’m from Thetford, will there be a slight pause and then, “Oh, Thetford. That’s where all the Portuguese live, isn’t it?”


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