Celebrating rural life

'The awards recognise groups and individuals who improve life and the environment in Hertfordshire'

'The awards recognise groups and individuals who improve life and the environment in Hertfordshire' - Credit: Archant

The 2015 Campaign to Protect Rural England Hertfordshire Rural Living Awards are the product of almost 60 years of celebrating life in the county’s countryside. Liz Hamilton looks at the history of the awards and how people can enter this year

The CPRE Hertfordshire Rural Living Awards scheme is now open for entries for 2015. It is the modern successor to award schemes celebrating community life and stewardship of the rural environment promoted by Campaign to Protect Rural England in Hertfordshire for nearly 60 years.

Awards history

The then Hertfordshire County Council planning committee encouraged the Hertfordshire Society (which later became CPRE Hertfordshire) to sponsor a Best Kept Village competition, first held in 1957. The aims of the competition were to stimulate an interest in village life, help keep villages litter-free and tidy, and promote pride in village traditions and amenities.

The first winners were Much Hadham, winning the large village category, and Westmill, taking the small village prize. Later, categories for hamlets and extra-large villages were added. The competition rapidly became popular with 70 to 80 villages typically entered each year, with a record 88 in 1991.

In 1982, a royal visit caused huge excitement in Great Wymondley, which had won the Best Kept Hamlet category the previous year, when a crowd of 1,000 welcomed a walkabout by the Queen and Duke of Edinburgh.

In the same year, the judges were encouraged by the absence of litter in the villages and also noted that although county council cutbacks had reduced the maintenance of roadside hedges and ditches, this had promoted a welcome increase in wild flowers and butterflies. An emphasis on conservation management rather than tidiness has become an increasingly important part of the awards.

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In 1992, Hertfordshire adopted the Village of the Year format, sponsored by Calor, shifting the emphasis of the competition away from the appearance of the locality towards the quality of village life. Villages were judged against up to five categories encompassing provisions for the welfare of younger and older people as well as care for the environment and overall community coherence.

Across the years many villagers have told judges that entering the competitions helped to bring residents closer together. When Reed won the Best Kept Village competition for the first time in 1996, the whole village attended the presentation ceremony.

In some quarters, the loss of a focus on tidiness is lamented. A recent article by Theo van de Bilt in the High Wych and Allens Green Parish News comments on the modern proliferation of litter, while looking back to the days when both villages enthusiastically entered the Best Kept Village competition. He notes that the 1959 High Wych entry involved no fewer than 58 people, although by the late 1960s parish council minutes recorded difficulties in getting a co-ordinator for the village entry and enough volunteers to do the necessary litter-picking and other work. Times continued to change. By the end of the 1990s there was a falling-off in entries. Numbers dwindled further under the Village of the Year format and as Braughing took the coveted Overall Winner title in 2012, CPRE Hertfordshire was already looking at closing the chapter on the Village of the Year competition, to be replaced by a new Rural Living Awards scheme.

Modern competition

Launched in 2013, the new scheme attracted more than 30 entries in the first year, with the community living category award going to Benington for its village hall annexe refurbishment, while the Ver Valley Society received the environment category award for the Ver Valley walks project. The awards last year both went to projects in the same village: Redbourn Infants School Eco Council and Redbourn’s East Common Play Area.

The awards recognise groups and individuals who improve life and enhance the environment in Hertfordshire’s villages and its countryside, with two categories, one for rural community living and one for rural environment.

Projects in the community living category might include community-run facilities or services, improvements to a community facility, or a locally-run festival or event. In the environment category, entries might encompass enhancing or promoting access to the countryside, celebrating the county’s landscapes through arts or the media, or producing or promoting local foods.

Two awards for individual champions of rural living have been carried over from the Village of the Year competition and continue to be presented alongside the Rural Living Awards. Named after long-standing competition judges, the Peterkin Award is given to an individual making a special contribution to the life of his or her community, while the Dorothy Abel Smith Award recognises special dedication by young people to their local areas.

Nominations are encouraged from anyone – entrants can nominate their own or someone else’s project or initiative. Entries for 2015 must be submitted by May 30. Full details of the awards and descriptions of projects which have received awards and commendations can be found at cpreherts.org.uk or by calling the CPRE Hertfordshire on 01438 717587.