Village that's rich in everything that matters

Newton-le-Willows used to have a railway station which had to be renamed Jervaulx because passengers were always getting mixed up with the other Newton-le-Willows near St Helens on Merseyside.

That confusion persists today. "We've had articulated truck drivers coming here for years," says villager Joyce Harrison. "The only thing is they have found themselves about 100 miles away from where they needed to be."

That may not persist for much longer now that the locals have put themselves on the map more emphatically.

Today they are celebrating last night's news that they are Calor's Yorkshire Village of the Year.

This Richmondshire village, three miles west of Bedale, en-route to Leyburn, received the news at the Rural Action Yorkshire awards held in North Stainley, near Ripon.

It is a massive achievement for one of the county's smaller rural communities with a population of around 350 and all the more remarkable because it possesses little in the way of facilities. Its school, pub, shop and chapel all disappeared some time ago and even the train that rumbles past several times a day hasn't stopped here for over half a century.

"We're not a pretty, picture postcard village. We haven't got a village pond or village green," adds Joyce Harrison. "Our pub, The Wheatsheaf, and the village shop, both closed in 2001 and we've no real bus service.

"What we have got though is community spirit. My husband and I came here eight years ago and we thank our lucky stars that we found this village. We couldn't have come to a better, nicer village. This is a super place to live and there is a real sense of service to the community and friendliness throughout those who live here. People are always around if you need them, but they won't interfere.

"We have people who take some of the older ones shopping into Bedale or Leyburn, others who cut the lawns of those who are not feeling too well. And then there's Danny. He goes to Crakehall every morning at seven o'clock to pick up the morning newspapers, including the Yorkshire Post. He brings them back to the bus shelter where everyone picks up their copy.

"We haven't a lot here and I think that's why we're quite good at pushing ourselves forward and getting on with things. We try to do things that everyone enjoys and have a bit of fun."

Joyce takes a full part in village life. She is a vibrant member of the team that produces the Newton News newsletter, she puts together welcome packs for new arrivals and has just finished organising an open gardens event with another resident.

The award judges were impressed with what they saw and heard when they visited in the summer. They commented on the strong tradition of self-help in Newton-le-Willows and were further enamoured with the village's determination not to let a failed grant application get in the way of their fund-raising for the required refurbishment of the village hall.

"All of our community life centres around the village hall and we try to run at least four main entertainment evenings a year to cater for all ages through the village organisation PIN (Performances in Newton). North Country Theatre from Richmond brings one of their productions here every year."

They have a once-a-week part-time post office run from the village hall on a Monday, but that's it in terms of retail.

With such a small community it is no surprise that shops and a pub are unsustainable.

But sustainability of a different sort is right up their street – they also won the Sustainability category in last night's awards as well as collecting the overall title. The judges were particularly taken with the climate change group, an idea of the parish council's, which held its inaugural day-long "green festival" earlier this year.

In their notes the judges commented that Newton-le-Willows' efforts were "all the more remarkable for being promoted by such a small village which impressed by its ability to punch above its weight".

The judges added, "The small recycling facility, newspaper drop scheme,

tree planting and better insulation of the village hall are just some practical examples. Substantial effort has gone into a survey of villagers, a day-long 'Green Festival', a separate recycling event and a car-free day, all offering practical and helpful advice, use of monitoring equipment, films and incentives. Theirs is an outstanding example of how to think globally when acting locally."

Joyce Harrison says, "The climate change group does a lot of education. For the festival they taught all the children how to make musical instruments from recycling. It was a fun day with lots of things going on. We also have a machine for testing how much electricity we are using, and that gets loaned around the village.

"Most of us have things like compost bins too but I wouldn't say we're having a big push to get villagers to go green as such."

The revived Wensleydale Railway means the trains

are now running to the south of the village, even if they don't stop. What has kept going down the years however is the village cricket club. A history of the village reveals it to be one of the oldest cricket clubs in Wensleydale. There is reference made to a silver cup being presented to Thomas John Hodgson, the village team captain, on April 29,1879.

They played in the Vale of Mowbray League and were one of the founders of the Wensleydale Cricket League. The ground is tucked away over the railway line to the south of the village in a secluded spot and today they run teams in the Nidderdale League and Wensleydale Evening League.

The cricket ground is also used as the venue for Newton-le-Willows' biennial show, and is owned by local farming family the Browns. Martin and Val Brown of Beechwood Farm, Newton-le-Willows are two of the village's well-known faces on the agricultural show circuit with their Beltex and Mule flocks.

The local history group, formed in 2001, a staunch village newsletter team, an open gardens event and a wine tasting group named the Newton Newts are all very much a part of this community's way of life.

Tonight there's a Race Night in the village hall. It's a fair bet that there will be extra celebrations. It has already proved it is onto a winner.