Councils await decision on EU funding for wool towns project

Lavenham Parish councillors are campaigning to get Lavenham to be a Unesco world heritage site. ANL-141031-082645009
Lavenham Parish councillors are campaigning to get Lavenham to be a Unesco world heritage site. ANL-141031-082645009

Council leaders will soon know the outcome of their bid for £2.2million of funding to spark business growth in former wool towns.

Suffolk County Council has applied for funding under the Leader Programme – a European Union initiative to support rural development projects.

The bid would inject funding into villages, like Long Melford and Lavenham, that have links to the wool trade in an attempt to increase tourism.

The outcome of the bid is expected to be announced next month.

The county council has been working with Babergh and Mid Suffolk district councils, as well as Long Melford and Lavenham parish councils, to inform business owners of the bid and the benefits it will bring to the area if it is successful.

Last week, Long Melford Parish Council hosted a business breakfast to discuss the bid and the opportunities for business growth in the town.

Parish Council chairman Peter Turner said the bid would be a fantastic opportunity to improve the economic health of the area.

“If the bid is successful, it gives a great opportunity for towns and villages within the Stour Valley and South Suffolk area,” he said.

“I think there’s a real opportunity to work together.”

He said Long Melford has to be competitive by looking at new opportunities to generate tourism and attract visitors.

Parish council clerk Gifford Lewis said South Suffolk is one of the only areas in the country that has not received support from the EU’s Leader programme.

“The bid proposers won’t know how successful they have been until next month,” he said.

“On Wednesday, we gave businesses in Long Melford the opportunity to understand what this was all about.

“We have to get the interest first but we don’t know if we’re going to get the money.”

On hand to answer questions were Dave Benham, corporate manager for economic development and tourism at Babergh District Council, and William Millar, growth advisor at New Anglia Growth Hub.

Mr Benham said there was a strong turnout, with around 35 people from 18 local businesses.

The event at the Bull Hotel in Long Melford explained the wool town bid, as well as other support and funding available to businesses.

If the bid is successful, the next stage will be for a local area group to hear proposals on how the money should be spent.

Once they decide on which ideas should go forward, the funding will be provided on a 50/50 split, with the applicant providing half of the necessary money.

Mr Benham said anyone can become part of the decision group.

“The local area group is comprised of anyone who wants to be involved with it,” he said. “The whole point is that it is bottom up – it’s controlled by people themselves.”

Mr Benham said plenty of ideas were discussed at the community meeting, with an emphasis on businesses working together to attract visitors and encourage them to visit everything Suffolk’s wool towns have to offer.

Long Melford and Lavenham parish councils are working together to develop their ideas but Mr Lewis said talks were still in the early stages.

“The next stage is raising awareness and seeing what the community’s interests are,” he added .