The Appeal of Village Life

The Department of Media, Culture & Sport is currently asking the nation to nominate their favourite British icons, and the short list includes the Mini (both the skirt and the car!), Nelson’s Column, Morris dancing and – rather surprisingly – foxhunting. Surely they’re missing a trick though; nowhere in the list does it mention the English village.

The very thought brings an irresistible image to mind – the tree-shaded green with its ducks waddling into the pond, the welcoming pub, the eccentric rows of cosy thatched cottages, locals chatting outside the village shop, the district nurse cycling by, and the ancient church set in a tranquil yew-lined churchyard.

No matter how accurate that image may or may not be nowadays, the appeal of village life is undiminished for the majority of English home-owners, and attractive homes in popular villages are never short of potential buyers. It doesn’t matter if the village in question is high in the Yorkshire dales, in the lush farmland of the Cotswolds, along the steep hedges of Devon or out on the flatlands of Lincolnshire, home-owners love the idea of village life.

As James Lawrie of property specialists Strutt & Parker says, ‘There was a time when people only thought of moving into a rural village when they were planning their retirement, but nowadays more and more parents are turning to village life, looking for a better quality of life for their families. They are also looking for a sense of community, which is increasingly rare in our cities.

‘This is nothing but a good thing as it brings new blood into the community – these ‘incomers’ do tend to get enthusiastically involved in local life – plus they provide extra income for local businesses and their children add to the numbers in the local schools.’

Village life has changed enormously over the past few decades though. Many wage-earners have to commute into nearby towns for work, village shops and post offices have closed in very great numbers over the past twenty years or so, and many villages have lost their pubs – often the most important building in the village so far as socialising with your neighbours is concerned. For a long time village schools were being closed down and children were having to attend larger schools a distance away, which had a very negative effect on village identity – though this trend has been halted and even reversed in recent years.

Despite all that village life has survived – and in many areas is prospering. Large numbers of rural businesses have been established in recent years, the National Lottery Fund has financed the building and re-building of hundreds of village halls, broadband internet strConections have been extended to a very large number of rural areas, and bodies such as Women’s Institute have found a new and important role in village life.

Britain’s most famous village is not only fictional but no one has ever actually seen it. Ambridge, with its one pub, one shop and wide variety of inhabitants, from the feckless Grundys at one end of the social scale to the wealthy Archer family at the other, perfectly encapsulates our idea of English village life.

Some people’s only experience of village life doesn’t go much further than being devoted listeners to The Archers – which isn’t actually a bad thing, as Edward Church points out; ‘Village life isn’t a complete idyll. The quality of life is undoubtedly higher than in the larger towns or cities, but you will find problems in even the prettiest villages. Once upon a time everything was usually rosy in The Archers but nowadays the people of Ambridge are shown to fall out with each other, have family disputes and suffer the strains of modern life.

When it comes to the sort of houses those moving into villages want, Edward says, ‘Properties on the edges of the village are always popular too; there is a suspicion that if you are right in the heart of a village everyone will be able to see you coming and going and will know your business. In reality though people are simply too busy with their own lives these days, and anyway it’s no worse than in a city street.

‘People looking for village homes do tend to want picturesque cottages rather than modern estate homes – and of course The Old Vicarage and The Old Rectory are always very popular! However some new village developments have been very well designed, and have successfully used local vernacular styles. Home-buyers shouldn’t set their minds against new village property; villages need new development to grow and evolve. It’s in nobody’s interest that a community should be preserved, unchanged, as if in aspic.

‘Village life can indeed be sleepy, but it can also – in its own way - be dynamic and exciting. What matters is that the very best of the old is carefully married to the best of the new. Think of an ivy-clad Georgian rectory, but with under floor heating, solar panels and a high-speed internet strConection. That’s village life in the Twenty-first century!’

Strutt and Parker, 12.06.2006

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