Town’s double delight at community awards

The vital work of two Aylsham organisations has been recognised in the Broadland Community at Heart Awards.
The accolades recognise the outstanding achievements by people and groups across the district who go above and beyond to support others.
Among the winners of the awards, run by Broadland Council, were Aylsham Care Trust and Aylsham Community Church.
The church won the Community Group of the Year prize for their efforts to bring the community in and around Aylsham much closer together.
The venue, in Norwich Road, attracts more than 90 people for informal and contemporary Sunday worship – but tailors its weekdays to meet the needs of local people.
Its team of volunteers run a community café, monthly lunches in their Warm Welcome Space, provide a local space for Citizen’s Advice, and host a community fridge which has given away 13 tonnes of food, which would otherwise go to waste, since it opened at Easter 2021.
The church also offers support and supplies to Ukrainian refugees that have settled in the area, along with running English lessons, and classes in computer technology, and household money management.
Church Elder Peter Atthill said: “We were thrilled to get nominated and shortlisted in the final three, and delighted to win the award. It is wonderful to get recognised for the work we are doing, which is echoed by other churches in the area who have always been a key part of the community throughout history.
“Our offer changed completely after Covid and we do whatever we can to get people the help they need.”

HONOURED: (L-R) Susan Holland, Leader of Broadland Council with Aylsham Community Church’s Sue Houghton, Sarah Mason and Theresa Finch.

ACT, which was set up more than 35 years ago, won the Business in the Community Award for their work offering a wide range of services to help people continue to live independently as well as combatting loneliness in the community.
This includes offering day trips to local areas of interest and tourist attractions, as well as a vibrant Orange Blossom community café, where people feel safe, warm and welcome.
They also run lunch clubs, transport services, hot meals deliveries, day care including dementia support and music therapy, plus befriending.
ACT operations manager Fiona O’Hara, who accepted the award, said: “Awards are very much about all of the team effort and ACT know that this award is very much in recognition of all that the volunteers and staff do to support the community.”
Chief executive Philip Macdonald, added: “We want to reach as many people who need us in Aylsham and the surrounding areas and now more than ever we recognise the need for our services.  This award shows our team and the people who use our services how vital it is for us to continue all our hard work.”

AWARD: ACT chief executive Philip Macdonald with their award.

Find out more about the winners’ services at and

Town gets ready for big lights switch-on

The final preparations are being made for Aylsham’s Christmas lights switch-on, which takes place on Friday, November 24.  

CHRISTMAS TIME: Images of last year’s Christmas lights.  Pictures: IAN GRAVENELL.

There will be craft stalls, hot drinks and mulled wine in the Town Hall, food vendors in the Market Place and further stalls down Red Lion Street. The stalls will open at 5pm, with the lights being switched on at 6pm. 

Many of the local shops will be staying open late so people can mix the festive atmosphere with some Christmas shopping. 

Music will be provided for the event by Aylsham High School students from their production of Oliver, the Vocalights Choir and Bill Downs. 

Santa’s grotto will be open from 5pm in its new location, the Green Room at the Town Hall, which is accessible from The Loke. Cash and card payments can be taken on the night. 

The popular Letter to Santa postbox will also be open on the night and will stay open until December 12. Details of what to include in your letter can be found on the town council website:  

Donna Butcher, Events and Administration Officer at Aylsham Town Council, said: “I can’t quite believe that we’re at this time of year again already.  

“The past year has been difficult in different ways for many people, I hope that on this evening we can bring some Christmas cheer to the town and people will have fun and enjoy themselves.” 

The lights were put up by the Aylsham Christmas Lights Committee with the help of a band of volunteers.

Road closures will be in place from the following times to make it a safe event. Market Place will close at 2pm, Red Lion Street at 2.30pm and Bank Street/Penfold Street at 4pm.  

Bank Street/Penfold Street will reopen at 9pm and all the roads will be open again by 10pm. 

Help put up Aylsham’s Christmas lights

Volunteers are needed to help put up the Christmas lights across Aylsham town centre.

Aylsham Christmas Lights shine bright last year

Anyone able to help is asked to meet outside Aylsham Town Hall at 8am on Sunday, November 5.
The lights will then be switched on at a special festive event from 6pm on Friday, November 24.
Smudge Smith, chairman of the Aylsham Christmas Lights Committee, said: “It’s a huge community event. If we get enough volunteers, it will all be done in a couple of hours.”

Volunteers will be provided with refreshments and they will be asked for their help again on Sunday, January 7, to take the lights down. Helpers will again be asked to meet at 8am at the town hall.
A number of events are held throughout the year to raise funds for Aylsham’s Christmas lights. If you would like to make a donation or help raise funds, please call Smudge Smith on 07798 611233.

Council meeting to discuss major housing plans

Members of the public are being invited to a meeting of Aylsham Town Council to discuss a plan for nearly 250 new homes in the town.
Hopkins Homes Ltd has submitted a planning application to Broadland District Council to build 242 homes on land off Burgh Road. There is also an outline planning application for land for a new primary school.

A spokesperson for Aylsham Town Council said the authority had received notice of the planning application.
“The Town Council will be holding a meeting to discuss this application and agree their response on Tuesday November 14at 6pm in the Town Hall. Members of the public are invited to give their views on the application.”
The planning application is for a site covering nearly 32 acres of land to the south of Burgh Road. It is currently primarily used as farmland and for car boot sales.
The application also includes proposals for garages, parking, vehicle access onto Burgh Road, open spaces, landscaping, drainage and other associated infrastructure.
It is proposed that 33 per cent of the homes will be classed as “affordable”.
A statement from Hopkins Homes says: “The proposed development seeks to deliver a high-quality designed development, informed by a landscape-led approach to achieve an attractive, inclusive and biodiverse realm.”
The statement adds that the development would provide “a safe and inclusive outdoor environment for all ages”.
The planning application will be considered by Broadland District Council at a future dates.
The full documents are available on Broadland District Council website’s planning section with the with the reference number 2023/3003.

Family’s pledge to keep fighting for justice

The family of a north Norfolk man who died in suspicious circumstances while working in Africa insist they won’t stop fighting for justice, despite repeated knock-backs from the authorities.

MP Duncan Baker recently wrote to the Foreign Office about the unresolved case of Dr Ding Col Dau Ding, who lived in Cromer.

The British national was killed at the age of 39 while practising medicine in South Sudan in October 2015. The authorities there initially said he had taken his own life, but his family quickly poked holes in that theory, and urged the UK government to investigate.

But since then, they say they have received little help, despite multiple attempts to get the government to intervene.

Mr Baker’s predecessor, Norman Lamb, first raised the matter with then-foreign secretary Boris Johnson, but that went nowhere, his family said.

Mr Baker asked a question about the matter in the House of Commons in 2021, before sending a further request for information to the government last month.

Dr Ding’s brother, Dr Dau Ding – who is also from Norfolk and works in the UK – has vowed that he “will not fail to get justice”, but added: “I feel very angry. I am very bitter about it all.

“The UK government have not taken this issue seriously at all. That is the main thing that has made me angry.

“They are not being straight with me. They have been evasive and opaque.

“At worst, that has been intentional because of some ill-conceived diplomacy within the Foreign Office; at best, it has been because of incompetence.”

The latest attempt by Mr Baker to raise the issue with the government has led to a reply from Andrew Mitchell, minster for Africa.

He said: “I recognise that this continues to be a distressing time for Dr Ding and I appreciate his frustration that we have not yet received a response from the South Sudanese minister of foreign affairs regarding his brother’s case.”

Dr Ding’s brother is convinced the murder has been covered up because of political connections his family has in the country.

“I now know who killed my brother and why they did it,” he said.

“But more importantly, I now know why there has been an extensive attempt to sweep my brother’s murder under the carpet by the South Sudanese government. It is political.”

Despite the official ruling that the death was a suicide, he says there is plenty of evidence pointing instead to murder.

He said there was no gun in his brother’s hand, he had been shot from behind, and there was no blood splatter at the scene.

Threats had been made against him previously, and CCTV recordings of the property appeared to have been removed.

Before Mr Baker’s most recent intervention, the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office said the responsibility for investigating deaths abroad belonged to the local authorities.

In a statement, a spokesman said: “We provided assistance to the family of a British man who died in South Sudan and were in contact with the local authorities.”

When asked what British nationals should do if they encountered resistance or a lack of co-operation from authorities overseas, the FCDO said it had no further comment.

Dr Ding Col Dau Ding attended Aylsham High School and Paston Sixth Form College before going to university at Bristol and Oxford, where he got a PhD in neuroscience, before returning to Bristol to train as a medical doctor.

Mr Baker’s office said that he would not comment publicly on the grounds that it was a constituency “casework inquiry”.

The South Sudanese embassy in London has been contacted for comment.

Adam Aiken

Awards delight for talented gardener

A landscape gardener, who stepped in at the 11th hour to tackle a design at the prestigious Sandringham Flower Show, is celebrating returning home with a wheelbarrow full of top trophies.

Aylsham man Kevin Myhill, 65, from Hungate Street, designed a small garden in just seven weeks – a fraction of the time it would normally take.
But it didn’t stop him winning four top awards; a large gold medal, best small garden title, best in show – all judged by experts Chris Beardshaw and Alan Mason – as well as winning the people’s choice prize.

Award winning Garden

“You are usually planning a garden design a year in advance, but I got a last-minute call to step in because a designer pulled out through ill health,” he explained.
“I was hopeful of winning but didn’t think I’d do that well. The people’s choice award was the most pleasing, because that’s who I’m designing for. It was great to see crowds lined five deep wanting to look at my garden.”
Kevin’s design was geared to the kind of small gardens found on modern day housing developments. “I wanted to show you can have a very pretty garden in a small space that is also useful, relaxing and wildlife-friendly. It featured seating, a pergola, small water feature hedgehog boxes, a bird table and bee and butterfly-friendly plants – all in an area smaller than 4m by 5m,” he said.
Kevin was helped with plant selection by Teresa Rogers and Jo Contreras from Woodgate Nursery, who provided them for free. He had four days to build it, which he did solo, and did it with a day to spare.
The garden also raised £120 in public donations for his chosen charity, Aylsham Hedgehog Rescue. Kevin, who began as a builder before switching to landscape garden around 30 years ago, is now back to his day job of making benches, patios and pergolas for people’s gardens.

Rare film of dolphins off our coast

North Norfolk photographer Chris Taylor captured the film of a lifetime when he got this amazing clip of bottlenose dolphins off the coast.

“I was lucky enough to film a pod of eight to 10 bottlenose dolphins swimming very close to the  shore at West Runton,” he said. “I was flying the drone doing some filming when I noticed splashing all around the Eastern Inshore Fisheries and Conservation Authority rib.  On flying closer I realised it was bottlenose dolphins.”

The dolphns following the EIFCA boat along the coast. Picture:

One of the crew on the rib told him that the dolphins had first approached them off Blakeney and then followed them to Cley for around an hour.

“The dolphins later rejoined the boat when they were off West Runton and continued to swim around the boat and follow them for another 30-40 minutes,” said Chris.

Big-hearted fireman plugs life-saving gaps across town

Firefighter Chris Baker knows that defibrillators can save lives – because he’s used them.

And now he has plugged the gaps in the network of vital machines located across Aylsham.

In recent months he has added eight new defibrillators to the previous three, which he reckons have saved at least five lives.

He has more in the pipeline and is then switching his focus to surrounding villages, plus all the fire stations in Norfolk.

Chris’s crusade was sparked last October while taking part in a park run at Blickling Hall, where a man collapsed and needed life-saving help.

“The run was stopped so I went to the scene and helped with CPR and brought him round using a defib – then began thinking about where they were located in town,” he explained.

“There were only three – at the Town Hall, fire station and the Recreation Ground – so I looked at sites where we needed more.”

Three were donated by the Norfolk based Heart2Heart charity, but the rest were provided by businesses and building owners. There are now units at the high school, Budgens, Blickling Hall café, ACT Centre, Aylsham Garden Centre on Norwich Road, Friendship Hall on Mill Road and Broadland Autocare on Cromer Road, as well as both ends of the industrial estate.

While the main costs have been covered by commercial sponsors, Chris also raises funds to help pay for consumables such as pads and batteries. He checks all the units every week.

“I get email alerts each time one is used, and they have all been used a couple of times. If they save one life it is worth it, but they have probably saved five since November,” said Chris, from Holman Road.

He is a fire and survival instructor at Petans on Norwich airport, as well as a full-time firefighter based at Great Yarmouth and on-call fireman at Aylsham, where he is also manager of the town’s U-16s football team, and welfare officer at the Aylsham Runners Club.

“I have been a fireman for 14 years and get a lot of satisfaction from saving lives,” added Chris. People can donate towards Chris’s campaign by emailing him at

SAVING LIVES: Chris Baker with one of Aylsham’s defibrillators