Frome in Somerset: market town of the future?

Sunday's Countryfile is in the booming Somerset town of Frome, where Rosanna Morris has lived for nearly 10 years. She tells us about its independent spirit, manifested in electing independent councillors and the popular Frome Independent market, the biggest curated one in the South West.

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One day in the spring of 2014, a banner appeared strung up above the main road through the centre of Frome. “Something Wonderful Will Happen,” it proclaimed. Part of an arts project about making ordinary life and the places we live in that little bit more special, there it remained for many months and I always smiled to myself whenever I saw it. The installation is one of many that have appeared in Frome over the years, delivered by arts organisation Foreground, which also now coordinates the Frome Independent, the largest curated street market in the South West that attracts thousands of people on the first Sunday of the month. Thinking about that prophetic message now, something wonderful is indeed happening in this Somerset market town.

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I moved to Frome in 2006 and have lived here on and off since then. Nowadays, when I’m asked where I live, the response is “Oh, Frome. I love it there”. Had I mentioned Frome a few years ago, people either wouldn’t have heard of the place or simply dismissed it as another dull market town where nothing happened and that was most likely heading the same way as others – a clone town, the high street dying on its feet, pubs closing, full of charity shops. That certainly isn’t the case today. And it’s down to a grass roots revolution that could become a blueprint for other small communities.

There has always been an undercurrent of resilience and progression in Frome – vintage shops before they became the trend, a green movement, a vibrant arts scene. But it is increasingly surpassing itself. Not only do we have the market, which is to the west country what Brick Lane is to London, we have a booming cafe and food culture, pubs have been reopening (the camaraderie at The Three Swans is like a big warm hug), independent shops arrive and stay and what were once crumbling old beautiful buildings are now creative arts hubs.

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Most noticeable of all is the politics. In the May elections, Frome Town Council became wholly independent, turning local governing on its head and proving that the little man can make a difference. Even if you don’t pay too much attention to the council’s goings on, no one in Frome can ignore that the green spaces seem better, the streets cleaner and people are taking pride in their town – that it is an exciting and inspiring place to live. The council’s concerted efforts are garnering awards, including most recently The Great Town Award 2016 in the Urbanism Awards.

There always seems be something new. The other week I learnt about Frome Food Assembly, part of a growing community food network that makes it easier to buy direct from local food producers and farmers through online ordering (a click and collect farmers market, if you will). On Wednesday evenings I walk down the road to one of the two theatres in the town with my shopping bags and, in the foyer, fill them with fresh organic vegetables grown just outside Frome, milk and yoghurt from a farm near Castle Cary and cakes baked by the WI (or Country Market). Heading to Frome’s small independent cinema to watch the Bond movie the other night, I walked into the auditorium not to tumbleweed but to an almost full house. People arriving were chatting and waving to friends. And out of the hatch where once someone would have served ice cream and popcorn during intervals, a smiley chap was dishing up vegetarian curry to cinemagoers.

I could go on. But essentially, people here seem happier, the community spirit is intoxicating and the best, I expect, is yet to come.

Words: Rosanna Morris

Photos: Kevin Mitchell

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‘The ‘Something Wonderful Will Happen’ banner was an artwork by Ruth Proctor for Frome-based arts organisation Foreground.’