Celebrating our top villages
- Credit: Archant
Essex boasts so many beautiful villages, vibrant with community activities. But each year some are picked out for particular greatness in the Village of the Year competition. Essex Life looks at the 2013 winners
Great Bentley, situated in the district of Tendring, has received a variety of awards over the past few decades including Best Village in Great Britain, Essex village of the Year and Best Kept Village of the Year. In 2013 the village has scooped the title of Essex Village of the Year once again due to the overwhelming commitment and dedication of the residents to provide a thriving community life.
Parish Councillor Lynda McWilliams was just one of those delighted with the prize. ‘We have always been a very proactive village,’ says Lynda. ‘Everything is community minded and everyone knows each other.’
Great Bentley is renowned for having the largest village green in England. It is 46 acres in total and the residents are determined to keep it that size. The population of the village is 1,700 and many of the local residents are part of the village’s thriving business centre, with local businesses collectively providing around 200 jobs to the inhabitants.
Community spirit is high in Great Bentley and a large number of community groups are augmented by a wide range of events such as a carnival, a village show and other events that are held on the green. As well as this, Great Bentley is proud to have more than 30 clubs and societies, making sure there is something to keep everyone amused.
A refurbishment programme continues at the village hall and there is a very pro-active Conservation Group who have carried out a series of environmental projects on the green. Around the green and the village are beautiful flower displays and memorial hanging baskets, which are a thoughtful and beautiful way of remembering a loved one.
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Lynda is also the chairman of Great Bentley’s drama group, which has been running for 25 years. The group of talented individuals performs a summer pantomime in the village hall and a May production in the Methodist church. The summer before last the group performed Oliver! the musical, which was a huge success within the local community. Lynda explains: ‘We encourage youngsters for the pantomimes to join in and the productions bring in all ages from all aspects of life.’
The parish has developed a Good Neighbours Scheme that provides medical aids, Neighbourhood Watch, transport to hospitals, pet services, road stewards and more.
THE village of Debden is situated in the district of Uttlesford and has a population of 850 inhabitants. The village community is very welcoming and the residents are deserving winners of second place in this year’s Village of the Year competition.
Mike Fairchild, joint editor of the village magazine, the Parish Pump, commented: ‘Coming second was a very pleasant surprise and a great thrill. I chose to move here three years ago as I felt the village had a good atmosphere and was a very friendly place.’
Debden has cultural links as it is twinned with Nepalese village of Tang Ting, and one of its pubs is now a high-end Indian and Nepalese fusion restaurant. Also, the British Army Bomb Disposal Unit is based at the Carver Barracks on the outskirts of the village. The barracks and the village have signed a covenant with each other firming up their community relationships. Here, Nepalese soldiers travel to work and villagers of Debden visit on open days, which have given Debden a real international and cosmopolitan flavour.
One of the annual events that brings the residents closer together is the ‘progressive suppers’ that Debden has each year as a part of a village tradition. The suppers are the chance for anyone in the village to be teamed up in groups of six to have dinner at a host’s house, followed by dessert at the Village Hall. Mike explains: ‘We have a third of the village join in. It is like a gastronomical tour of Debden and a great way to meet lots of residents at once.’
The parish council of Debden is always striving to do what’s best for the village. They recognise that sport is very important and have had £85,000 put into building a fantastic play area and maintaining the tennis courts at the recreation ground, which are open to everyone for free.
Currently, The New Village Hall Group are planning to use local firms and volunteers to achieve their goal of raising £300,000 to build a multi-purpose Village Hall and sports facility for the whole community to enjoy. Parish Councillor Stewart Luck explains: ‘The current hall is nearly 100 years old and its upkeep has become expensive. We have lots of young families in Debden and we want to cater to their needs, with emphasis on future generations.’
Mike adds: ‘We have a lot of cycle races that come through our village and we are hoping the Tour De France will come through Debden next year on its way from Cambridge to London. It would be a fantastic opportunity not to be missed and a great way to raise money for our new Village Hall project by selling teas and cakes.’
Debden is also very eco friendly and has a beautiful set of allotments where many people enjoy tending to their plants in the peaceful countryside. The village’s natural pond is used by the school for pond dipping sessions.
The pre school and primary school are well thought of and have waiting lists, while many volunteers have run the brilliant village shop on a rota basis for 30 years.
It is both the attitude of the community and the parish council’s fantastic work that makes Debden such a great place to live.
THE small village of Pleshey, in the heart of the Essex countryside, is a place that thrives off its vibrant community spirit. With just 250 residents in the village, Pleshey prides itself on treating everyone as an individual and looking out for each other.
Parish Councillor Kate Holland explains: ‘Our community is what makes our village so vibrant. We have incredible community spirit and energy from lots of people. We also have lots of projects going on across the year that everyone joins in with.’
The history of the village is part of its huge appeal and it is full of buildings that are very diverse in style and construction, with some that date back to the 15th century. The village also has a Motte and Bailey castle that dates back to the 12th century, which is of outstanding local historical interest as well as visual importance.
Pleshey also stands out for having a spectrum of clubs for such a petite place including tennis, yoga, bowls, cricket, darts and a choir club. ‘Our social functions and close-knit groups make the village tick. We have the Pleshey Circle of 50s celebrating their 50th anniversary this year, with three generations of everyone helping each other,’ Kate adds.
The council is always working on projects to help the local residents and it has recently refurbished the children’s playground after raising £8,000. The villages celebrated by having a party on the opening day.
Living in a beautiful countryside village has is benefits, but there has been the issue of the hospital being a great distance away. Therefore the village is in the process of a new plan. Kate explains: ‘As we are such a rural area, it takes ambulances a long time to get to the village, so we are raising money for a defibrillator, which costs individually around £2,000. Having one, along with trained staff in the village, could save lives as every minute counts.’ To raise the money the village had a raffle and party that in one day raised the £2,000.
Pleshey is very sustainable and the village hall is a place where ‘all walks of life’ visit as well as the church, which has teas every other Sunday to raise money for the upkeep of the building. It is truly a ‘quintessentially English’ place to live.
Pleshey stays traditional by keeping communication to word of mouth and this friendly atmosphere is what entices people to live in the village. Kate continues: ‘As we are so small, we can treat people as individuals and help them with any of their needs, and this warm energy runs through the community.’
RECEIVING the award for the Highly Commended Village of the Year 2013 is Sible Hedingham, which is situated in the north of the county on the River Colne. The village is the second largest in the county (over 5,000 acres) and has a population of 3,994. The village has a hard working parish council, which ensures the place has events and facilities to suit everyone within the community.
Jill Massey, chairman of the Sible Hedingham Parish Council, explains: ‘We are really pleased to win the Highly Commended prize. We have worked hard and have come a long way. There are many new initiatives we’ve got going on and we have tried to engage everyone and develop some community spirit.’
The village contains a brilliant range of shops and services including a chemist, a butchers and two hairdressers.
A feature that impressed the eyes of the judges was Sible Hedingham’s Business Breakfast Club. The club is for any local business to join once a month in the local café for breakfast as a forum to exchange ideas. There is also the occasional guest speaker and a lot of ideas have come from the club, including an over 60s group held on Thursdays.
Other innovative ideas that have come from the village are the Film Club, which is for anyone in the village. Showing films in the village is much more affordable than the cinema, and drinks are provided. A variety of films have been shown as well as the Olympics Opening Ceremony last summer.
Another cinema-related society in Sible Hedingham is the Film Makers Club which has been accepted into the Thurrock Film Festival. The club consists of young film enthusiasts from the local youth club who make their own short movies.
Conservation is important in the village too and Molly’s Wood is a ten-acre site in Sible Hedingham which is being managed for wild life and the fruits of an orchard. On February 11, 2012 a number of interested residents got together to form The Friends of Molly’s Wood. The group has 32 members to help manage the project and a cabin has been built as a classroom for children who visit to be taught about the countryside.
This summer was the third year that the village has held its own Olympic Legacy Day which continues to be a success. The fantastic grant-funded day included a mixture of imported attractions such as 120-metre zip wire and a climbing wall. Other events included a Silly Olympics for the children to enjoy and the village was pleased to have Great Britain Paralympic basketball player Emily Scrivener at this year’s event, coaching the children throughout the day.
A current project that the village has in action is to build 193 houses on a site that was once home to a large local business, Premdor, which left three years ago. The developer has been asked to provide money and infrastructure and plans include land which has been set aside for a new doctors’ surgery, a work hub, a play area and a river walk.