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Man campaigns to change the face of Diss

A man is campaigning to breathe fresh life into the area’s market town by making use of empty shops and properties.

Geoff Eley, who is campaigning for empty shops to be used in the town centre. Picture by Mark Bullimore Photography.
Geoff Eley, who is campaigning for empty shops to be used in the town centre. Picture by Mark Bullimore Photography.

Geoff Eley wants to see landlords sign up to a new government initiative, which matches empty properties with community groups looking for space.

The scheme, which will take place in five areas across the country, aims to match landlords struggling to find a tenant with groups looking for a premises.

A report – released by the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government – states that landlords, both public and private, would benefit from the scheme.

The report states: “While we are piloting the scheme at this stage, this is with a long-term view of making it easier to bring empty units back into use and is part of a wider package of work supporting high streets and community groups.

“We will consider options for how best to do this throughout the duration of and following the pilots.”

It has won the backing of Mr Eley, a 63-year-old lorry driver from Comber Close in Scole, who said: “I started noticing empty shops in August, feeling frustrated and thinking someone could use these buildings.

“I have spoken to community groups and I would like to bring us all together to work on this. I’d like to see a walk-in service, offering peer support and counselling to support care in the community.”

There will be no cost for any landlords taking part in the pilot project, while a number of financial and social benefits, such as funding for set-up costs, will be offered.

The pilot will give landlords with vacant properties an opportunity to make a difference to the local community, enhancing their reputation and providing security against squatting and unauthorised entry.

It is designed to help those community groups who may need premises for several hours a day but are unable to take on a full lease, or who often struggle to pay rent on town centre premises.

Keith Kiddie, cabinet member for stronger communities at South Norfolk Council, said: “If south Norfolk is chosen to pilot the project, this could be an exciting opportunity for our community groups and high streets.

“Empty shops at the heart of our communities could be given a new lease of life and attract more people into our market towns.”

Landlords are invited to come forward with offers of spaces that could be used for the project by December 31, using the application form which can be found here.

Once landlords are identified, a similar call will be issued to community groups to come forward with proposals to use these spaces.

A matching process will then be undertook to place a community group in the premises. There will be no cost for groups to take part.

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