More than looks make village a winner

IT TAKES more than thatched cottages and ducks on a pond to earn the title Hertfordshire Village of the Year. In fact it s not about chocolate box looks at all – it s to do with community spirit, involving residents and moving forward together to the futu

IT TAKES more than thatched cottages and ducks on a pond to earn the title Hertfordshire Village of the Year. In fact it's not about chocolate box looks at all - it's to do with community spirit, involving residents and moving forward together to the future.

The Village of the Year competition, run by the Campaign to Protect Rural England, supplies a dauntingly-long list of questions for villages to answer when they enter including looking at the environment, businesses, facilities, organisations and how newcomers are welcomed.

To win, villages must show there is a strong community spirit in every area and that the needs of everyone are listened to and acted on, whatever their age or income.

Ickleford proved it was doing just that when it launched its Parish Plan initiative, with a committee separate from the parish council, chaired by Miles Maxwell and including a teenage girl to represent village youngsters.

The committee held a successful consultation day, attended by 200 residents, and used their comments to draw up a questionnaire asking exactly what villagers wanted to keep, what they hope to change and how they see the community moving forward.

They got an 86 per cent response rate - a figure that impressed the Village of the Year judges who also gave Ickleford the Best Community Project Award for the Parish Plan and for the fund-raising activities at St Katharine's Church.

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"It was really crucial we got such a good response," said Mr Maxwell, who came to the village 10 years ago with his wife Michele and two young daughters.

"It means we have a very clear picture of what residents want, not just a snapshot. I think it's a real credit to the people of this village and it shows they really care about where they live."

Volunteers have processed the data, often with the guidance of officers from North Hertfordshire District Council, which also gave a grant.

"Their support has been integral," said Mr Maxwell.

"We have built on the partnership with the district and county councils."

Ickleford boasts four pubs, a village shop, a thriving school that has just won three awards of its own, sports clubs, numerous groups and societies - many using the village hall - and a church that played a full part in gaining the award.

Judges were very impressed with the fund-raising commitment of St Katharine's congregation.

When the Maxwells came to Ickleford they were rather reluctant newcomers, moving for work from a home they loved. But they are very glad they made the move.

"It's a good mix here," said Mr Maxwell.

"We've got a rural community with only 1,800 residents but all the facilities of Hitchin and Letchworth nearby. It is almost perfect in terms of where it's located."

The consultation has revealed issues to be tackled though and four groups have been set up to look at crime and disorder, traffic and transport, facilities and amenities and the environment.

The questionnaire revealed a high level of concern about traffic speeding through the village and a need for more facilities for young people and better public transport.

"We had an excellent team of volunteers from the village inputting the data which was then analysed by Steve Ramsey, who is on the parish plan steering committee," said parish clerk Katrina Henshaw.

"It was quite a task but North Hertfordshire District Council gave us support and we bounced ideas off them."

The parish council is thrilled that Ickleford has won the coveted award.

"We are absolutely delighted," said Katrina.

"It's a real credit to the people in the village and it shows that people really care about where they live.

"People here get involved in what is going on and considering we are so close to Hitchin we have still been able to keep our identity. It's a good place for children to grow up in."

The award was announced in the same week that the village school was given accreditation as a healthy school; won a silver travel plaque for encouraging families to find greener ways to bring pupils, and came first in the rural schools sports competition.