Your Town: Bungay - why some say this peaceful, friendly town is ‘dying on its feet’
- Credit: Nick Butcher
With its pretty streets and picturesque surroundings, Bungay is far from lacking in character.
A walk around the narrow lanes is a pleasant experience, with friendly faces all around and a laid back, easy-going atmosphere.
But what do the people who live, work and shop in this quaint corner of Suffolk really think about their town?
We asked Bungay's population of around 5,000 people to give us their views on what they love, what they hate and ways in which they think it could change for the better.
Our survey showed that, for the most part, residents are fond of their hometown, with 71pc saying they enjoy or extremely enjoy living in Bungay.
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The sense of pride is also strong, with 62pc agreeing they are proud of where they live.
When pressed on what specifically appealed to them about Bungay, many respondents were keen to point out the friendly people, the peacefulness and the beauty of the nearby countryside.
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One went on to highlight its ideal location, surrounded by nature and essential facilities, but also within reasonable distance of Norwich in one direction and East Anglia's glorious beaches in another.
Cliff Harris, who lives in the town, wholeheartedly concurs.
"My partner and I moved here 12 years ago," he said. "We didn't know anybody at the time, but we liked the location, found the people very friendly and loved the amenities such as the theatre and quality restaurants.
"Even though you're in a town there's wildlife all around which is fantastic. We're fortunate enough to live on the river so we really benefit from the beauty of the surrounding nature - you can't buy that and you can never take it for granted."
Concerns were rife among our respondents, however, when it came to assessing the current state of Bungay's high street and its pedigree as a place to go shopping.
When asked 'How highly do you rate Bungay's offering of town centre facilities, including shops, eateries and leisure?', 63pc scored it five out of 10 or lower.
Responses highlighted regular shop closures, a lack of banks and said the town was suffering as a result of failing to attract national chain stores.
Another said shopping was "very poor apart from the end of Earsham Street", while the selection of retailers was many people's least favourite thing about Bungay.
Joy Calton, who emphasised her love and admiration for the town and its people, admitted things had changed dramatically over the years - much of it for the worse.
"I got married here, had my children here, and most of my family and friends live locally," said Mrs Calton. "But having lived here all my life I can say Bungay is not like it used to be.
"Unfortunately it looks like a dying town because we used to have such a lot of lovely shops, but now people have to travel to Norwich and Beccles for certain things.
"People from Bungay are in Beccles every day because they've got the variety of shops people want and need."
Ray Massingnham, who lives in Gillingham but works in Bungay, said the town's offering when it comes to shops is severely lacking in variety.
"On Earsham Street there are a few more unique, individual shops, and I do like the town otherwise I wouldn't have opened up a business here.
"The major drawback I would say in terms of the town centre is that there are too many charity shops, too many hairdressers and too many cafes - but that's the reality in most towns these days."
Another hot topic in recent months has been the lack of surveillance, Bungay Town Council to submit an application for the installation of 13 cameras.
The council has admitted that recent crime statistics were "surprisingly much higher than anticipated", with 57 anti-social crimes and 32 public order offences recorded in 2018.
However, only 10pc of our survey respondents stated they feel unsafe living in Bungay.
"Ask anyone about the state of the town and they'll mention there being no banks."
The words of one angry local encapsulate how many people in Bungay are feeling about an issue that has consumed the town over the past year or so.
Bungay's last bank, Lloyds, closed in May last year following widespread cutbacks that affected a number of towns in the area, including Halesworth and Southwold.
More than 12 months later, the town's post office remains the one place where cash can be withdrawn in the town centre - but only from 6am to 6pm Monday to Friday or 7am to 1pm on a Sunday.
A Co-op store on the edge of town offers an alternative, but after that your next-best option is a 7-mile trip to Beccles. If internet banking is not your cup of tea, there is simply no choice.
Speaking during a parliamentary debate held at Westminster Hall earlier this month, Waveney MP Peter Aldous argued that the availability of cashpoints had become a "postcode lottery" along the Suffolk-Norfolk border.
He added vulnerable people could be compromised and towns like Bungay unable to compete with their neighbours if the lack of banking facilities in rural areas is not addressed.
Asked on a scale of one to 10 'how concerned are you about the lack of banks in Bungay?', 58pc of our survey respondents answered 10 out of 10. Just 11pc of people responded five out of 10 or less.
"I think Bungay is dying on its feet," added Tracy Jackson. "All the banks have gone now and a lot of people find that very challenging.
"People will go off to Beccles on a Friday to get their money and they will do their shopping there instead."
But Neil Mayhew, who has lived in the centre of Bungay for the last 12 years, says it is incumbent on residents to adapt to change.
"A lot of people are upset at the lack of banks but I'm afraid that's life," said Mr Mayhew, 65. "It's not something that has really affected me.
"The thing is we are not the only town affected - so many other places are experiencing the very same problem."
The kids are alright
One of the outstanding issues to arise from our survey was the town's apparent inability to cater for the younger generation.
When presented with the statement 'there is plenty for young people to do in Bungay', 69pc of respondents disagreed or strongly disagreed. No one strongly agreed and just 9pc of people agreed.
"This town needs a good community centre with clubs for young people and older people," said Joy Calton, who has lived in Bungay all her life.
"Social interaction is really lacking and needs to be promoted. There are quite a few young people in the town, but I'd say most are born and bred."
Shop owner Ray Massingham added: "There's not much for youngsters to do these days. In my youth we'd all go outside and play football, but it's a different society now."
But Cliff Harris, who lives on Bridge Street, took an opposing view, saying: "You've got the canoe club during the summer, the adventure scouts group and the Fisher Theatre which runs youth projects.
"There's plenty of things to do and places to go."
A 'good' standard of schools
When it comes to Bungay's schools, our respondents had mixed feelings about their quality.
Asked 'how highly do you rate Bungay's schools?', the most frequent response was to give education providers five marks out of 10 (24.1pc), with 21.7pc opting for eight out of 10.
Just 2.4pc of respondents gave schools full marks, but the same amount went for the lowest possible score.
Overall, 46.9pc gave the town's schools a rating between one and five and 53.1pc marked them between six and 10.
Excluding neighbouring villages, Bungay has three schools: Bungay High School, Bungay Primary School and St Edmund's Catholic Primary School.
Following the most recent Ofsted inspection in September 2016, the high school was rated as 'good' having been told in 2014 that it required improvement.
Bungay Primary was also rated as 'good' in 2016, but has since been taken on by academy trust A Suffolk School Education Trust (ASSET Education).
St Edmund's was inspected in July 2018 and also found to be 'good', with almost every year 6 pupil achieving or exceeding the standard for their age.