THERE are those who could be forgiven for believing our rural communities are on the decline.
The widespread struggle to maintain village shops, pubs, post offices and the very landscape is under threat from wind energy firms and housing expansion.
The canalside village of Blisworth has not been immune to the upheavals of the last 50 years, and although it has retained its shop and post office, businesses such as the Blisworth Bacon Factory, the cobblers, and butcher’s shop have gone.
But during a visit on Tuesday to the Baptist Chapel coffee morning, reporter Gavin Moore found Blisworth’s sense of community and social interaction is stronger than ever, as the village celebrates becoming the Best Village in Northamptonshire for 2012.
Among those behind the counter is Pat Masterman, chairman of Blisworth Parish Council. She was one of those who attended the awards presentation for the Northants Acre Best Village Competition last week.
It was the first time the village entered the competition, and it won the best newcomer award, best large village, and was the overall winner.
The competition looks at all aspects of village life: community and social activities, businesses, sustainability, the provision for the younger and more senior residents as well as tidiness and the welcome visitors receive.
Kelly Lea was at the coffee morning with her children, Jasper, Bethany and mother-in-law, Chris. She moved to Blisworth from Northampton five years ago because she wanted her children to experience the village life she had as child.
Kelly and her husband chose Blisworth because of the primary school, outstanding according to Ofsted. Mrs Lea said: “The mums’ and tots’ groups started a few years ago, and I started going to those, and the canal festival is absolutely fantastic, and my mother-in-law always brings the children to the coffee mornings.”
The village is bursting with examples of one group interacting with another. I quickly discover the Blisworth Tapestry Project has played a key role in stitching the community together in recent years.
Its five panels show the history of the village from the Roman period, through to the 18th and 19th centuries to the present day. The cartoons on the tapestry were created by five Blisworth artists and stitched together by over 35 volunteers from the village
Beryl Andrews, of the Blisworth Heritage Society said the tapestry project was largely the legacy of one man, George Freeston. He won a county scrapbook competition for the Queen’s coronation in 1953 and was given a £50 prize and left money to create the Heritage Society.
Mrs Andrews said: “George Freeston started a lot of this work, everyone knew him. If there was any building work going on he’d be there with his hard hat and camera taking pictures. Along with the records from the Grafton Estate, Blisworth is one of the best documented villages in the county.
“His legacy lives on, and now the second scrapbook is being compiled and we have more than 150 A3 pages already contributed which will be made into a book, including one page from each year group at the school.”
Karen Arnall was originally a member of the Blisworth Heritage Society and after studying the Freeston scrapbook she felt there should be a scrapbook for the next generation. She said: “There was no needlework group in the beginning. It was just me going around saying to people can you do this, or can you do that. But word of mouth spread and they begun to do workshops here at the coffee morning. Then we got money from Northants Community Foundation, then some more money to do some advertising.
“Over the years, it escalated because it turned out so wonderfully. At the moment the Tapestry Project is a charity and we are still very much active. We’re currently working on a wedding kneeler, and we’re doing a banner for the chapel. We also are looking after the elderly population, keeping them active.
“What’s interesting is that we all intermingle – a member of one group will be a member of another, everyone understands each other, then you get commitment and it snowballs from there.”
Another key force in binding the community together was the £200,000 fundraising drive to replace the scout hall.
Sandra O’Connor, group scout leader, is modest about her role, and is keen to point out the support she had from village.
She was involved in the Tapestry project and through that made connections with others in village, who in turn lent her support. In particular, the tapestry project had received help from Nick King at the South Northants Volunteer Bureau. When Mrs O’Connor explained her difficulties with the scout hall he helped them negotiate the difficult process of applying for grants. But there were also a series of community fundraising events and Mrs O’Connor said she was touched by the support from the village.
She said: “We held couple of fun days which raised in the region of £6,000. Because I’d met people from a lot of different organisations through the tapestry project, it was easier to ask them come along to the fun days, and we did presentations to the coffee morning and WI.
“But the village took us to heart and supported us in everything we did, we kept them informed. In the end we organised a torch lit procession and the whole village come out. It was fantastic, something I will always remember.”
Since opening, the community scout hall has hosted a village quiz, a Mad Hatters Tea Party for senior citizens, has a booking for a 21st birthday party, and in October is set to host the Northampton and District Poultry Show.
The next display of the village working as one will be the two day Blisworth Canal Festival starting on Saturday, August 11. It will feature a canal packed with trade boats, free talks and walks, boats trips, open gardens, and more.