Taking the village pulse
I’ve just finished the last of the 11 annual parish council meetings in the villages I represent. These take place between April and May, additional to the usual monthly parish council meetings.
They are the opportunity for people to find out what’s been happening over the last year and the format usually provides for an update from the parish council, from district and county councillors, the school head, and local bodies of an infinite variety.
Duxford’s has the biggest turnout- maybe it’s the cake at the interval, but then the Chishills do wine, as does Foxton, Fowlmere and Shepreth. Heydon’s is held in a beautiful building where a previous vicar used to write his sermons, while Pampisford’s competes with the bell-ringing practice across the way. To be fair most run to cake and tea.
People are busy, and unless there is real local controversy, families - especially young families - have other things to do of an evening than venture out for a few hours to see how their parish council is faring. Understandable but also a pity as the evenings can capture both the tranquility of our beautiful villages, and also their vibrancy, the activity and events that create community.
I’ve listened to Speedwatch teams reporting their efforts in hi-viz jackets in the rain, how community transport groups get people to hospital, how small educational charities find the money for a lap-top for the child from a struggling family. I’ve heard how groups are working to raise the funds for a village field or a new playground, writing a Neighbourhood Plan, renovating a windmill, or a phone box to become a library. People giving up a Saturday to care for a churchyard, or an orchard, or a cricket pitch, or even a whole river like the Shep.
This year I’m wrestling with some huge planning applications for some of our villages that would change them out of all recognition. But I always return to the strength of these places - the families who’ve lived there for generations, the incomers from near and abroad who bring fresh ideas. The friction that sometimes produces new ways of looking at a problem.
I’ve also reported to the villages that I represent on the services that the councils deliver, whatever the political weather: how the highways teams have repaired potholes and replaced stolen signs, the binmen have spirited away some unsightly rubbish at our request, the planning officers have been sensible and resisted the more speculative applications from developers, the council plumbers that have turned out of a weekend to bring some peace of mind to the elderly, the road engineers who have worked with villages to devise ways to keep our roads safe.
The French call it “la France profunde”. But that isn’t quite what I mean. But when you see it, you know it, it’s something far more deeply understood. And it is worth fighting for.