Dereham town focus
PUBLISHED: 10:19 04 September 2012 | UPDATED: 21:49 20 February 2013
Dereham festival chairman Jim Stebbings takes a tour of the town
Dereham is enjoying one of the highlights of its calendar as the month-long festival is staged. Chairman Jim Stebbings tells Ian Clarke why he loves the town so much.
Jim Stebbings has seen a fair bit of a life and a good part of the world. But after extensive travelling and working around the globe, he is delighted to be back where it all started for him.
"My mother worked on munition packing cases in 1942 at Hobbies while she was expecting me," explains Jim.
Hobbies was one of a range of great manufacturing companies which thrived in Dereham, along with the likes of trailer builder Crane Fruehauf, clock maker Metamec, furniture business Jentique and engineers Dreibholz and Floering.
They have all gone and Derehams viability is now reliant on small firms on the industrial estates and its town centre shops.
And Jim hopes the re-opening of the towns Memorial Hall after a 2.5m revamp will help put it more on the map for its cultural offerings.
He and other members of a small team have worked tirelesssly to put on the festival but it is certainly a labour of love and a way for him to put something back into the town which he came back to 10 years ago.
Jim takes up the story of his return to Norfolk.
"I was pleased to come to the town in 2002 after finishing a business career in Holland and Mallorca, because I was born in Norfolk Stow Bardolph and have strong family connections in the county and the town. My fathers family originallly came from Carleton Rode and Banham areas.
"Having worked in London for 26 years in the oil business, and having travelled abroad extensively I was happy to come to the quieter life of the country and to my roots. At the same time I like being part of a sizeable community and living close to town yet feeling as if I am in the country."
Jim is in no doubt about Derehams strengths.
"It is a value-for-money town too in terms of housing and services and its situation allows me to go to London in a couple of hours or to the coast within an hour. I enjoy being close to Norwich, which is indeed a fair city. I find too that most things I want are obtainable in and around Dereham."
Dereham has suffered its fair share of knocks in recent months with closures of a range of businesses but Jim is very positive about what the town has to offer.
"I really like Memorial Hall and the Gallery where I am now spending much of my time for the festival."
Like most towns, Dereham has lost some of its independent stores over the years. However, Jim is quick to highlight those which remain and which he enjoys visiting.
"In Sounds music shop I can browse and always have an interesting chat with owner John Lawson. Bennetts electrical shop in Norwich Street give good service and good advice whether its in respect of a fuse costing pence or a TV costing hundreds. And in Heart Felt Craft and Gifts just behind Bennetts Heather will make sure I find something for my wife at Christmas or her birthday which will please!"
One of the big blows to Dereham at the start of the year was the sudden closure of the George Hotel, but Jim welcomes its turnaround.
"I am pleased to see the George re-opening and I will support it, since its potential loss as an historic landmark in Dereham was very worrying for the town. Gressenhall Workhouse was conceived by the Guardians at the George in 1775. I vow to support the George more. In the summer, however, I enjoy a quiet drink and read in the garden of the Kings Head and a chat tothe landlady about all things music."
Jim adds: "I buy my paper at Eagle News with its more traditional service and being greeted with Good Morning Mr Stebbings instead of an insincere Can I help?"
Jim also points out Wilkinsons, Dereham DIY, Steptoes, and Palmers as important to the towns shopping offer.
He spends a lot of time at Gressenhall Museum, where he does costumed enactments and on the way he visits Corners nursery, which has recently changed hands.
"I can get fresh local produce there and always receive a warm welcome," he says.
Apart from its shops, Jim highlights that there are plenty of other attractions to enjoy.
"I recently took a group of French visitors for a tour of the town and appreciated for myself the beauty and historical significance of St Nicholas Church and the Bell Tower, Bishop Bonners Cottage and the old Guildhall.
It also opened my eyes to the facilities we have in the town such as the leisure centre, Mid Norfolk Railway and the facilities on the Recreation ground."