At some point during the late spring, possibly after the 2006 May Fair, the opportunity came along to participate in the county heats for the annual Calor Village of the Year award.
I specifically remember bringing this opportunity to the Allendale Lions Club, where I made the mistake of trying to appear inclusive with the use of ‘we’ as the opportunists. I remember President Margaret Stonehouse picking me up on that designation; ‘Who is ‘we’?’ she asked! I was slightly flummoxed for a moment, until I managed to describe how what was then the Community Council of Northumberland and its comparable partner at Co. Durham had asked for entries, and the request had come in to me, for some reason, perhaps in my role as District News reporter, or as Chair of the AVH&RG charity. I was looking for the support of the Allendale Lions Club in the venture, probably because I wanted to cite the group as an important component of what made life work in the community. In the end, though I cannot find the appropriate minute, it turned out that the Lions were delighted to support the entry, which was sent in to the county organisers on a wing and a prayer.
And later, at the end of August, 2006, we received word that we were the county winners! I don’t think this particular entry, which for our social history blog also includes our own press release and which was later expanded into our rather more comprehensive bid for regional and national competitions, has ever been formally published.
Allendale is Northumberland’s Village of the Year!
Allendale has been named Northumberland’s Village of the Year, in a Calor and DEFRA-sponsored competition under the theme ‘Building Community Life’. The news was announced by a press release published at the www.villageoftheyear.org website –~>link, on Tuesday the 22nd of August.
Larry Winger, coordinator for Allendale’s bid, expressed delight at news of the award, “People we talk to all over the district of Tynedale always smile, when we mention Allendale, and comment on how much is going on in the village. We thought the Calor Village of the Year competition was a good way to recognise the community activity, and express our appreciation to everyone in the patch for making this village such a great place to live.”
The bid provided a set of tick-box answers to a variety of questions about the village, and opportunity was made available for respondents to describe how their village was special. The description of Allendale provided to the adjudicators, may look very familiar to its residents:
Allendale is a very special place.
Recognised all over the district of Tynedale as a vibrant, friendly, cohesive community filled with music, art, drama and social events, this working village loves to live. The community website (www.allenvalleys.co.uk) provides a flavour of what it’s like to live here, along with some 1000 households in the parish, but the village has to be experienced at first-hand to really understand it.
With four teeming pubs, an extraordinarily active and engaged village hall, two churches, a newsagent, two general shops (Co-op and convenience store), lovely Tea Rooms and a regionally-renowned Gift Shop, a health centre and separate chemist, a new brewery developing within an incipient new heritage centre, two schools (primary and middle), a thriving coach and taxi business, three auto mechanics, builders and handypersons galore, a new childcare social enterprise, a residential conference centre, sports pitches, recreation ground, bowling green, cricket ground and clubhouse, golf course and clubhouse, and new Sports Hall, as well as idyllic walks and recreational pursuits, and well served by local holiday cottages, B&Bs, caravan sites and youth hostel, this busy village in the heart of an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty is not without its challenges as well.
There are concerns about a boarded up hotel awaiting a buyer in the heart of the market square. The recreation ground has been a source of community worry for the past decade — though a pro-active working group has eliminated dereliction and is trying to develop the two acre site inclusively for all age groups and abilities, there is only one children’s playground on the council estate. The young people in this deeply rural parish need more local activities and jobs. The congregations at both parish church and Methodist chapel are dwindling, and the population is increasingly aging. Several years ago at the peak of the Foot & Mouth crisis, the village lost its petrol station. And can sustainable tourism bring friendly visitors and their financial investment without overwhelming village life?
But, perhaps typified by the camaraderie shared during the annual Tar Bar’l parade and bonfire, which always achieve national renown, the Allendale spirit seems to be to work together for the good of the whole community, and to get things accomplished in a friendly way while enjoying ourselves.
So jobs in the growing tourism industry sector are regularly turning up and being filled. The youth project within the village hall has helped to fill an activity gap as well. The two schools seem to provide ample evidence of hope for the future life of this intensely rural community a dozen miles from its market town. Regular music events and parties keep the community together, while fairs and festivals offer ample opportunity to work on date-limited projects that provide a real communal sense of achievement and satisfaction upon completion. The community as a whole is very receptive to new ideas and concepts from young people and incomers alike, while treasuring the traditions and strengths of the past.
At the heart of community involvement are three important organisations, which often overlap in terms of participative membership: (i) the community charity, The Fawside, which has taken on the renovation and maintenance of a residential centre, Deneholme. This charity has brought many hundreds of thousands of pounds of inward investment into the village, and continues to work with everyone in the area of benefit for the greater good of the community; (ii) the Allendale Lions Club, which reflects the community-focused passions of its members in the variety of local service activities it supports; (iii) the community facility charity the Allendale Village Hall & Recreation Ground, which provides inclusive space for a great variety of social activities. These three organisations do seem to underpin and nurture much of what actually goes on in the village, which obviously encompasses political, business, educational, medical and eclectic spiritual groupings as well.
The organisers of the Allendale bid will be busy, over the next few months, accumulating evidence and support for the regional and national Village of the Year heats, with special reference to the other categories in the competition: Business; Young Persons; Older Persons; Environment; ICT. One thing the village can be sure of, however, is that people will be eager to help demonstrate just how special Allendale really is.
What was not mentioned in the Press Release, was the delivery of a £500 prize to the charity Allendale Village Hall & Recreation Ground. It turned out that this prize money would be the beginning of a concerted effort to renovate the Recreation Ground for the entire community.