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And the winning village is . . .

PUBLISHED: 09:15 20 October 2015 | UPDATED: 09:15 20 October 2015

Village of the year celebration

Village of the year celebration

Archant

Lesley Dolphin congratulates Shotley, Village of the Year

For several years I’ve been helping to judge the Village of the Year competition. It’s a task I approach with mixed feelings. I get to visit gems in the heart of the county, but I have to pick one above the others. There are now several villages in Suffolk where I am probably not welcome should I want to move there!

The competition is organised by SALC –Suffolk Association of Local Councils. They support the work of parish and district organisations. This year it was open to villages of 500 – 3,000 registered electors and the shortlisted three after the initial judging were Grundisburgh, Shotley and West Row near Mildenhall.

My co-judge was Suffolk County Council’s head of planning John Pitchford. Together we spent a sunny Saturday visiting all three villages. We started with Shotley on the peninsula between the rivers Orwell and Stour. The village has a long naval tradition, with HMS Ganges based there for many years, and we were shown the naval cemetery and the Ganges museum. We saw the heritage park project, where coastal footpaths and land along the Stour have been renovated and turned into a wonderful asset. We heard how the Viking forest project includes an open air classroom and has led to a community cinema.

At the village hall we met residents who told us about their Soup-a-Lunch, the thriving Scouts group, the good neighbour scheme and the drama group. They also fed us cake and scones. Despite the village being split into two, with Shotley and Shotley Gate being few miles apart, it was clear there was a strong community feeling.

In Grundisburgh we visited the playing fields and tennis courts, some of the green areas in the village and saw the affordable housing scheme at Ablitts Meadow. We met local residents at the church where we were given coffee and delicious home made biscuits ( this is not a good day for my diet). The parish clerk, John Ager, told us how proud they are of their housing scheme, which has meant local people can stay living in their village. We also heard how hard locals have worked to raise money for a new village hall.

Finally we headed to West Row, next to Mildenhall and the US air base. It was clear the personnel on the base are welcome in the community. We dropped into the local Anglican and Baptist churches which play a big role in village life, and met several locals who’d grown up in the village, including Ellen who is hoping to have a stained glass window created for her church to commemorate the ‘West Row boys’ who went to war. She has visited the Western Front to honour the 163 men after doing family history research on four great uncles.

We then headed to the village hall, which is surrounded by some amazing playground facilities. The village did us proud, turning out with vintage cars and tractors, horse riders, model aeroplanes and many other members of local societies. It was clear the residents love living in West Row. There was also more cake and tea . . .

On the journey back to SALC HQ in Claydon, John and I did our final marking. It was almost too close to call, but Shotley came out the winner, with West Row second and Grundisburgh third.

All three places should be very proud of their communities. I would happily move to any of them . . . if they’d have me.

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