The story of why Hudswell has been named the best village in Yorkshire

Hudswell, near Richmond, has won the Yorkshire Village of the Year title
Hudswell, near Richmond, has won the Yorkshire Village of the Year title
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Residents of Hudswell freely admit that their home is no 'picture postcard' village.

This small community near Richmond has too many 1970s properties to ever appear on a chocolate box - but its incredible spirit of enterprise and unity impressed judges in the Yorkshire Village of the Year competition so much that they awarded Hudswell the 2019 title.

Stuart Miller runs the community-owned pub, The George and Dragon, and has overseen a remarkable turnaround in its fortunes

Stuart Miller runs the community-owned pub, The George and Dragon, and has overseen a remarkable turnaround in its fortunes

Judges including Amanda Owen, the Yorkshire Shepherdess, ITV weatherman Jon Mitchell and TV vet Julian Norton visited the village to hand over a cheque for £1,000 - which will go towards an ambitious project to turn the local church into a walkers' hostel.

This is what it's like to run one of the most traditional pubs in the Yorkshire Dales
It saw off the challenge of better-known rural idylls such as Keld, Grosmont and Ingleton.

So what makes Hudswell such a unique place to live?

Allotments, affordable housing and locals first

Yvonne Private is a volunteer at The Little Shop inside the pub

Yvonne Private is a volunteer at The Little Shop inside the pub

Martin Booth moved to the village around 13 years ago from Middlesbrough. He and his family originally bought a weekend retreat, but fell in love with Hudswell life and decided to relocate permanently.

He is now secretary of the Hudswell Community Charity, an organisation with a fascinating history. The original fund was founded in the 1600s to provide relief for the poor of the parish, and over the centuries acquired land and buildings left as endowments. In around 1900, the old village school was converted into cottages managed by the charity, which reports to the parish council.

More recently, they built three brand-new homes on a patch of grazing land, which were then sold at affordable prices to two young families and an elderly resident.

The task of submitting an entry to the competition fell to Martin, who realised that the prize money could go towards a feasibility survey for the church conversion project.

The community-owned allotments behind the pub

The community-owned allotments behind the pub

"It's the first time we've entered - I was forwarded the email asking for entries and I spotted the £1,000 prize. The village is fairly ordinary to look at, it's not exactly picture postcard, but we have done some extraordinary things here."

Those achievements include the re-opening of the village pub, The George and Dragon, after its closure in 2008. Fearing they would be left without a crucial amenity, residents formed their own company to buy the building and set up a community pub. Supporters - including local MP William Hague - bought shares in the venture and a renovation grant was secured.

The George and Dragon re-opened in 2010, and the business is rented from the company by the licensee. It's also home to a volunteer-run shop selling local produce - the village store had closed 30 years previously - a library and community allotments, beehives and an orchard. In 2016, CAMRA awarded it the highly-coveted Pub of the Year title.

"For such a small place, there is so much going on - it's remarkable. It's a lovely little place with a very active community."

Martin admits the age demographics are skewed towards retired and elderly people, but says the number of young children is increasing - there are now around 40 - and a Christmas pantomime is being staged for them this year following concerns that there were not enough activities for younger residents.

This is what it's like to run a bed and breakfast in the Yorkshire Dales
The next stage in the village's development is bringing their old church back into use following the closure of St Michael & All Angels four years ago. The building dates back to 1884 and is Grade II-listed, but now stands empty after attendances dwindled.

"We've had some meetings with the Church, who are considering formally deconsecrating and selling it. We have instead offered a proposal where it would be turned into a hostel for walkers - there is no cheap accommodation in Hudswell, only holiday cottages. There would also be conference rooms and meeting spaces for groups.

"At the moment, it's just an idea and work would cost around £500,000, but this prize will go towards a feasibility study. The Church would transfer it to us as a charity and we would then own and develop the building. We'd need some big donations, but when finished it would pay for itself and generate income."

A pub that's the beating heart of the community

Stuart Miller may have seemed a surprising choice to take over the lease of The George and Dragon in 2014.

Although he grew up near York, Stuart had never lived in the Dales or managed a pub before and was working as an IT consultant in London when he applied for the job.

But the Hudswell Pub Company were impressed with his vision for developing the business and offered him the licence.

He moved up with his Canadian wife, an accountant who now works at the Wensleydale Creamery in Hawes.

"I was attracted to the idea of a community-owned pub, and of course to the location - it's in the Dales but not too deeply isolated, it's close to the A1 and Richmond. Our business plan was to turn it into the sort of pub that I would want to visit - small, friendly, and with good beer and simple food.

"It's a very friendly place. I recognised that it had a lot of potential, which I didn't think had been fulfilled, and there were lots of things to improve. Luckily my vision fitted with what the HPC wanted. They're more involved than a normal landlord, as they want to make sure it stays open."

Stuart believes that the activities of the community charity and other groups have helped The George and Dragon to thrive.

"The affordable housing they built has really made a difference - we've got employees who qualify for it who otherwise wouldn't be able to afford to live here.

Grisedale: The abandoned Yorkshire valley that came back to life
"Having the shop and allotments at the pub is a lovely thing too. There are people who don't visit the pub who will come in for their newspaper and a gossip, so it keeps them involved.

"We have a plot on the allotments which supplies vegetables for our salads in the summer.

"We would like to expand the pub as it's pretty maxed out now, and we're very busy - hopefully the owners will be willing to invest."

Stuart is also planning to open a brewery with taproom and shop in a business unit in Reeth, and the beer produced there will be sold in the pub.