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People flock from all over the UK to Independence Day

INDEPENDENCE Day at the Wesley Chapel in Frome on Saturday 17th November was a sell-out success with over 200 people coming from afar afield as Folkestone, Edinburgh, Ulverston, Cardiff and beyond – and joining a big Frome crowd.

The event, billed as “a day of debate, conversation, and information-sharing”, was organised by Keep Frome Local, the group founded in 2010 after plans surfaced to build a large supermarket on the Saxonvale site.

Campaigners, councillors, planners, independent businesspeople and others who simply care passionately about where they live, were treated to a richly stimulating day.

The discussions and debates explored all kinds of themes: the economic, social and spiritual value of town centres; survival strategies for independent retailers; the nation’s food habits and the future of our food supply; what our towns, cities and villages might look like in 2050; and new changes to the national planning framework – as well as how to campaign against supermarket expansion.

Duncan Skene, one of the organisers from Keep Frome Local said, “What came over time and time again was people’s passion and commitment to town centres which are vibrant, and have a real sense of individuality and place.”

“To see small businesspeople from Frome and all over the country making new connections and discussing their common experiences was a real thrill. So was taking part in discussions which brought together people fighting for their towns, cities and villages in every corner of the country.”

Another of the organising team, Janet Weeks said, “Many of the day’s visitors took the chance at lunchtime to follow the guided walk or venture alone into Frome’s town centre and explore our independent retailers for themselves. Others have stayed at local hotels and pubs for the weekend. I think we won many friends and raised Frome’s profile once again as a great destination.”

The afternoon saw Keep Frome local activist John Harris in conversation with food writer Joanna Blythman, who spoke about the changing nature of the UK’s food habits, the enduring strengths of independent food shops, and the growth in innovative initiatives such as food co-operatives. The day ended with a 30-minute session in which many of those present resolved to make Independence Day the first step towards what one speaker from Bridgwater called “a national town centre movement”.

The first hour of Independence Day was broadcast live on Frome FM and the station’s small business show was also broadcast from the venue.

Another Keep Frome Local supporter and organiser, Luke Wilde said, “The visitors really saw Frome at its best.  Independence Day was a great community effort with Frome FM, Frome TV and the young people’s project Edventure all present and contributing, and support from the chamber of commerce, and the Milk Street Brewery, and dozens of local traders.”