Gallery: Village of the Year finalist Cockfield has abundance of community spirit
This week, the EADT will feature the three finalists for Suffolk Village of the Year 2012.
Matt Gaw visited Cockfield to discover what makes it so special.
There are bigger places than Cockfield. Despite being scattered across several hamlets, grouped around eight pristine greens and its 14th-Century church, it would only take about 30 minutes to walk the length of its field-flanked boundaries.
Yet, driven by Alan Morgan, clerk of the parish council, it takes us a good two hours to zig-zag between the two pubs that mark the opposing ends of the village.
There is, as you would expect from a finalist in the Village of the Year, plenty to see – the shop, post office, garage, churches, cemetery, IT rooms, farms and school are all on the tour.
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The projects – schemes to buy wildlife meadows, the village hall renovation, the care in the community, the first responders – are all explained as Mr Morgan points enthusiastically out of the car window.
But, at the heart of it all, and what makes Cockfield’s boundaries feel so expansive, are its residents. Everyone who stops to talk (and everyone stops to talk) has a palpable sense of pride at forward-thinking attitudes that have seen the launch of projects from computer courses in a farmer’s outbuilding to a housing scheme that created dozens of homes for local families.
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The emphasis is on progression – of maintaining and improving services “for themselves”. But the real defining characteristic, which underpins most aspects of village life here, is as traditional as the thatched cottages and timber-framed houses.
Jayne Cutting-Keyton, parish councillor and driving force behind Cockfield’s tilt at the 2012 Suffolk Village of the Year award, perhaps puts it best.
She said: “Community spirit can’t be bottled, or bought or imposed. It has to be created and then to sustain it, it has to be nurtured. I have no idea when Cockfield’s community spirit started, but today it remains at the heart of village life.”
She added: “Clearly our community spirit matters to us and it matters that we can show you what we, as a village, do for each other – whether it is the newly-formed First Responders Group, the provision of local needs housing, litter picking, the list could go on. Volunteers work in the village for the village.”
Mr Morgan, who arrived in the village 21 years ago, agrees.
“This village is absolutely fantastic, I can’t think of a better place. We have everything here, a restaurant, pubs, shops, churches. The only thing missing is a doctor’s surgery.
“The stand-out thing is that all of these things keep going because everyone here recognises the value of community work. Volunteering is what has made this village what it is. We are forward thinking, but we’ve got a good-old fashioned sense of community.”
Most of what you see in the village, from the manicured greens and recreation fields, to the environmentally tended graveyard, is carried out by volunteers. “We are very lucky we have the right people on the parish and community councils to work and realise how important it is to keep moving forward,” Mr Morgan said.
Ralph and Barbara Turner are deep in conversation with a customer when we arrive at Cockfield Stores and Post Office. Despite the fact there are little more than 700 people in the village and this is by no means a peak time, customers continue to drift into the shop.
The couple, who have been behind the counters in the Howe Lane store for 15 years, put their success down to a combination of 62-year-old Ralph’s famous sandwiches – “people travel miles for them” – and a determination to keep their community together.
Mrs Turner, 55, who also helps fundraise for Catey Pre-school by hiring out puzzles for 50p each, added: “We know everyone who comes in. You can have a chat and a laugh.
“Everyone is there for each other. We have seen bumps turn into babies and grow up from little girls to young women. What’s really nice is that they’re all staying around here.”
But the presence of so many young families and “locals living in local houses” is not something that happened by chance.
The residents of Cockfield, realising that living in their village comes at a premium, have built 20 new Local Needs homes across five sites. The work, which spans five years, means many young people who otherwise would have left the village could afford to stay.
In a similar vein, in 2010 another survey identified a need for retirement homes and the parish council is now working with Orwell Housing and Babergh District Council to identify possible sites.
SET up years before the existence of a welfare safety net, for decades the United Charities of Cockfield have made sure people do not go without.
Gifts, traditionally handed out at Christmas, often in the form of a sack of coal, could make a real difference to those in need.
Today, although sacks of coal are less common, three trustees still use their discretion to hand out payments.
This year, the charity received donations of �491 and distributed gifts of �120, with a further �1,000 available.
WITH many villages desperately clinging on to their pub, Cockfield is lucky enough to have two.
The Plough and Fleece and the Three Horseshoes, pictured, both pride themselves on serving real ale.
Adam Crimmin, 29, and his wife Donna, 27, along with baby Archie, have been at the Horseshoes for 18 months.
Landlord Mr Crimmin said: “It’s a family pub for the family. Everyone has been very friendly and very welcoming.”
COCKFIELD Primary School has 55 pupils on its register.
The Church of England school recently underwent a diocese inspection and was commended on its “close links with the community”.
The children have many lunchtime and after school clubs, including the church-led Crossed Keys Club and a chance to study outside in a Forest School.
And the village’s Great Green has two full size football pitches that are home to three Cockfield teams.
The Lawshall and Cockfield Girls U14 team use a nearby junior field. The pavilion, which is owned by the parish council and maintained by the community council, is also located on the Great Green.