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Charlie Mackesy helps Bramfield village get its green

Bramfield church's round tower stands aloof in the graveyard <i>(Image: Lindsay Want)</i>
Bramfield church's round tower stands aloof in the graveyard (Image: Lindsay Want)

Bramfield. This tiny village seems to have it all; thriving pub, renowned butcher, village shop, primary school and a well-used village hall. There’s even a thatched church with a separate round tower and a crinkle-crankle wall bordering the grand house. What's missing is a village green.

'We have had fetes in the church, or in people’s gardens, and there's a meadow at the top of the village where we’ve been able to walk dogs and where some of the children play, but there was nowhere that was actually open to the whole village,” says resident Jane Edwards.

But this summer, that changed. A suitable plot of land finally came up for sale, local people were galvanised into action, funds were raised and Suffolk’s Oscar-winning artist and author-illustrator Charlie Mackesy came on board to scatter some stardust on proceedings.

Great British Life: Charlie Mackesy, with Barney the daschund, has helped Bramfield raise funds to acquire a village green. Photo: Charlie GrayCharlie Mackesy, with Barney the daschund, has helped Bramfield raise funds to acquire a village green. Photo: Charlie Gray

'We’re delighted that Charlie agreed to help us,' says Fiona Ryder, who's worked with Jane on the steering group for the project. 'He’s so busy and in demand, but he heard of what we were doing and he called to ask what he could do.'

As Charlie rarely makes public appearances, Fiona thought he might donate a couple of signed pictures for auction. 'But I told him that I had an idea to have a storytelling evening and he said he would do it.'

The nearby forest theatre at Thorington was booked and the programme for the evening agreed. Tickets sold out in five days, largely through word of mouth, as it was announced only on the village’s Facebook page and through the theatre’s database. 'I was really shocked,” says Charlie. “I thought maybe 30 people might come.”

Great British Life: Extracted from The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse The Animated Story by Charlie Mackesy (Ebury Press, £20)Extracted from The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse The Animated Story by Charlie Mackesy (Ebury Press, £20)

Of course, that was never likely to be the case; Charlie has a vast and adoring following. His book, The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse, has sold 1.6 million copies since it was published in 2019, and the animated short film was the most watched programme on BBC TV at Christmas. It subsequently won an Oscar. Meanwhile Charlie's 1.8 million Instagram followers delight in each new post where his beautiful, simple line drawings of the boy and the three animals are accompanied by uplifting and encouraging words about friendship, kindness, courage and hope.

So, the scene was set when a capacity audience of 350 people gathered in the forest at Thorington on a magical summer’s evening in June. They’d arrived early to enjoy the late afternoon sunshine and picnic in the field, before making their way along woodchip paths through the trees to find a seat beneath the towering pines. The burble of excited conversation mixed with birdsong and the occasional neighing from a white horse being led from the nearby livery.

This is just the third season for Thorington Theatre. Situated down a lane just off the A12, not far from Blythburgh, it was created by Lindy O’Hare and her husband Mark who relocated from a successful finance business in London. Planning to farm sweet chestnuts, cobnuts and walnuts, they were walking the land in lockdown and became mesmerised by the natural amphitheatre among the trees, thought to have evolved out of a wartime crater. When regulations permitted, they engaged local carpenters who used timber from the farm’s own coppiced trees to build a stage and tiered seating. Lindy and Mark have since been inundated with theatre companies, schools and musicians wanting to perform here.

Great British Life: Extracted from The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse The Animated Story by Charlie Mackesy (Ebury Press, £20)Extracted from The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse The Animated Story by Charlie Mackesy (Ebury Press, £20)

'This is one of the most staggeringly beautiful places I’ve ever been,' Charlie says, “and principally because it’s outside. Outdoors has always been my thing, which is why my characters have conversations outside, the film happens outside. To have access and be in nature is a very healing thing.' It’s why he wanted to support the plan to create Bramfield Village Green, so that a community might have a place to talk, to play and have fun together.

'I think village greens draw people together – young and old – for all kinds of reasons,' he says. 'Outdoor spaces are crucial for health, play and conversation, particularly green spaces. It’s a neutral thing with no agenda. Some of my best conversations have happened outside with a cup of tea.' And his drawing, too. 'A large part of the film was made in Suffolk on Zoom during lockdown,” he says. “I’ll never forget it. I often sat in woods and drew oak and birch trees, a lot of the backgrounds.'

Living in the county with his dachshund Barney (who shared the stage with him at Thorington) and his family nearby on the coast, Charlie can sometimes be seen cycling along the lanes, looking for a bench or postbox where he can leave one of his books for someone who might need its soothing and uplifting messages and pictures.

Great British Life: Barney, Charlie Mackesy's dog, joined him on the stage. Photo: Simply-C-PhotographyBarney, Charlie Mackesy's dog, joined him on the stage. Photo: Simply-C-Photography

'Suffolk means a lot to me,' he says. 'Oddly, my grandfather was mayor of Southwold and my father was brought up there. I’ve always loved the feel of Suffolk – the people are warm and the woods and coast are beautiful. I find it an inspiring place to be. There’s a humour in Suffolk – and they don’t mind you looking scruffy. I love it.'

Indeed, at one point during the evening he started unpacking a bundle of faded, nondescript cloth bags which had lain at his feet on stage. Slowly the fabric was unpeeled and thrown aside as a gleaming gold Oscar statuette was revealed and finally held aloft to great applause.

The evening at Thorington was the extraordinary culmination of almost two years of negotiations and fundraising for the team at Bramfield. The land is being handed over to the village this month. The 1.3 acre plot, called Bridge Meadow, with the village school on one side and a stream and row of cottages on the other, will be the place for a wooden play area, a community orchard and a wildflower meadow, all requested by local people.

Great British Life: Bramfield villagers and fundraisers Fiona Ryder (l) and Jane Edwards. Photo: Simply-C-Photography-Bramfield villagers and fundraisers Fiona Ryder (l) and Jane Edwards. Photo: Simply-C-Photography-

Villagers were surveyed for their views at the outset. 'We wanted to know if people thought it was still important for us to have a village green and what it would mean to them if we got it,' says Fiona. The responses were extraordinary. 'People said they thought it would improve their standard of living, reduce isolation and loneliness and increase the biodiversity of the village.

'It’s a very picturesque, beautiful field. We all want to make the place we call home better, and to support the people around us. The kindness and generosity of the local community here in Bramfield has been overwhelming.'

The evening with Charlie Mackesy raised a phenomenal £11,000 of the total £75,000 required to purchase and develop the field. Thorington Theatre, Husk catering company, Grey’s Wood Fired Pizza and other partners donated their fees and services to the cause.

'I feel so elated that people are raising money for this,' says Charlie, who recognises that we are all part of each other’s stories. 'I think of the book and the film. The fact that my name is on it is such a paradox, because really there should be thousands of names. The genesis of these characters has come from my insights shared with so many people who have been part of this journey as well.'



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