Suffolk and proud: EADT editor Terry Hunt

PUBLISHED: 00:38 21 March 2012 | UPDATED: 21:12 20 February 2013

Suffolk and proud: EADT editor Terry Hunt

Suffolk and proud: EADT editor Terry Hunt

In praise of Suffolk's small communities

In praise of Suffolks small communities

As I might have mentioned once or twice, I grew up in the tiny village of Cretingham, which nestles on the River Deben halfway between Framlingham and Debenham. To be honest, its more of a stream at that point. A mere trickle in dry summers.

Whenever I get half a chance, I head back to that neck of the woods. It might be to visit relatives I still have in the village, or sometimes its just to drive through on my way to somewhere else. I like to see how the old place is looking. It also inspires a thousand boyhood memories. Mostly happy, some sad.

Just recently I was driving down Cretingham Street when I noticed a big van parked not far from my great aunt Connies house. Curious, I slowed virtually to a standstill to see what it was. "Mobile shop, it proudly proclaimed. It didnt seem very busy. In fact, the "mobile shopkeeper looked distinctly bored.

This unexpected sight struck a sad chord with me. Sad, because my mum and dad used to run Cretingham village stores and post office for quite a few years in the 1960s, and I remember how busy it used to be. Sad also because the presence of the mobile shop reminded me that the village store closed its doors for the last time a few years ago.

It is, of course, an all too familiar story: Village folk do their "big shop at the superstores and just use the village shop for their "top ups. The little shop cant survive, and goes out of business. Or the post office closes, taking the shop with it. Whichever way round, part of the heartbeat of the community disappears. Im certainly not criticising Cretingham folk here I wouldnt dare! The same sad sequence has happened in scores of our smaller villages in the past few decades.

The mobile shop reminded me that the village store closed its doors for the last time a few years ago

Cretingham is lucky in a way, because at least it still has its pub, The Bell, which sits slap-bang in the middle of the village, on the crossroads, and opposite the oldest, proudest oak tree you will see in many a year. Both the pub and the oak show that you can survive, even under the most difficult of circumstances.

All which finally brings me, in a round the houses kind of way, to the point of this column. Elsewhere in this magazine, and also in the East Anglian Daily Times newspaper, you will see that we are very proud to be sponsoring this years Suffolk Village of the Year competition, along with our friends at UK Power Networks. This all part of what we on the EADT are calling The Year of the Village. Its a celebration of all thats good, and positive, about village life. Yes, I know that all too often we are writing stories about pubs, post offices and shops closing down. But its not an inevitability. If you look hard enough, there are some fantastic stories of ingenuity, determination, business acumen and sheer bloody-mindedness which are helping village ventures not only stay open for the community, but actually flourish.

A few years ago, I did a grand tour of Suffolk with Lady Caroline Cranbrook and fellow EADT Suffolk magazine columnist Lesley Dolphin, to judge the Suffolk Village Shop of the Year. What an eye-opener! Lots of people, working incredibly hard, serving their local community. It showed what was possible.

One of the shops I am familiar with is, ironically, just a few miles from Cretingham. Every time I drive past, or drop in, Otley Village Store is buzzing with activity. Its also won many an award over the years.

Pubs can also prosper, with the right landlord or landlady, and enough support from the brewery. Just look at Long Melford. Yes, I know its a large village, and its a beautiful place to just wander around, browsing and stopping for coffee, but it boasts no fewer than seven pubs. Youre not telling me thats just down to luck. See, it can be done.

Throughout the Year of the Village, we will be celebrating success stories from rural communities large and small. Weve had enough tales of doom and gloom. Well concentrate on the positive stories which, hopefully, can act as an inspiration for others to follow.

Absolutely no disrespect to the mobile shop of course it provides a vital service in villages where the store has closed but lets try to ensure that it doesnt have any new villages to visit this year.

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