The Yorkshire parish that refused to wither

It had lost its school, post office and chapel, but Lucy Oates finds how one Yorkshire village regained its community spirit thanks to a neglected area of meadow.

Committee member Anna Airaksinen checking the condition of the apples in the orchard. PIC: James Hardisty

Following the closure of their local school, post office and chapel, residents of an East Yorkshire parish made up of four tiny, rural hamlets feared that their sense of community was disappearing along with their facilities. Determined to breathe life into their parish by creating a new community hub, six residents of Foggathorpe, Harlthorpe, Gribthorpe and Laytham hatched a plan. They identified a neglected, two-acre plot of land in Foggathorpe and formed a committee to set about transforming it into a parish meadow and orchard.

Less than four years since the volunteers first came up with the idea, the picturesque meadow that they have created is now enjoyed by local residents of all ages and their efforts have been recognised with two awards. In May, the Foggathorpe Parish Meadow Committee was the biggest winner of the night at the East Riding of Yorkshire Council’s annual Chairman’s Awards ceremony. In his last engagement as the council’s chairman, Cllr John Dennis presented the committee with two accolades – the Chairman’s Award for Community Groups and the Chairman’s Environment Award.

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Committee member Sheila Stone said: “It wasn’t that long ago that Foggathorpe had lost everything – its school, church and post office – and there were very few new, young people moving to the village. Since this project has been up and running, it is starting to feel very much alive again; it’s a place people really do want to be.

“I got involved because, as a horticulturalist, it was a challenge for me when someone told me we couldn’t do it.”

Helen Gore, who is also a committee member, added: “When we set up the committee, the chapel had just closed; it’s now a private house. That left the village pub as the only community building.

“I think that if people don’t have somewhere to meet, such as a school, shop or village hall, the sense of community dies as people don’t talk to one another. For me, this was about having a space or area that would put some sort of community back into our parish.”

Since 1946, the two-acre plot, which is owned by East Riding Council, had been rented by a local farmer. The narrow strip of land borders what was once the Selby to Market Weighton railway line, which now forms part of the Bubwith Rail Trail, a 13-mile walking and cycling route between Bubwith and Market Weighton.

Some old fruit trees at one end of the site are all that remains of the former stationmaster’s orchard. He once lived in a house close to Foggathorpe Station, which has long since been demolished. Although very little is known about the history of the remainder of the site, it’s made up of boggy marshland and pasture but hadn’t been grazed by animals for many years. When the Parish Meadow Committee was first formed, the land was completely overgrown with brambles and Russian vine, and had been used as a dumping ground for rubbish.

After approaching the council with its plans, the committee signed a 25-year lease on the land. It has also received the full support of the Alden family, who had rented the plot from the council previously.

What followed was 12 months of hard graft to clear the site of fallen trees, brambles, weeds and litter. Since then, around 500 trees, including birch, cherry, pear and plum, have been planted, along with hedging. This was largely thanks to a grant from the Woodland Trust and donations from local residents. Hundreds of daffodil and wild garlic bulbs have been planted, along with a living willow archway, which local children now enjoy running through. More recently, bug hotels and bird boxes have been installed to attract more wildlife to the site, and a wildflower area has been sown.

John Guy, who joined the committee as a result of his love of gardening and meeting people, said: “The land isn’t very productive, it’s very boggy, but it was full of rubbish. We had no machinery, so it was all done through hard work. At one point, we had bonfires all the way down the site to clear it.”

Helen Gore added: “We had to pick our way through brambles that first summer and did nothing but saw, chop, have bonfires and move stuff.”

Such was the determination of committee members, progress was made incredibly quickly and they were able to stage their first community event at the meadow in the autumn of 2014, when a Bonfire Night gathering was held there.

Since then, it has been the venue for charity fundraisers, carol concerts and a party for the Queen’s 90th birthday in 2016. Events typically attract anywhere between 40 and 50 local people. Dogs are welcome, but owners are reminded to clean up after their pets.

On site, there’s now a shed with an electric power point; a gate to keep the meadow secure; a picnic area; and an assortment of furniture and equipment, much of which has been donated or funded by local people, although some grant funding has also been secured.

Helen said: “Having the shed, which was generously donated, has made such a difference to us as it gives us somewhere to put equipment. If anyone thinks of a job, we just write in on the 
board in the shed and then tick it off when it’s done.

“People living next door to the meadow kindly allowed us to hook up to the electricity point in their garage so we can now have a cup of tea when we’re working down here.

“A couple of guys had a pickled egg eating contest in the pub, which raised £220! That sort of community involvement is great.”

Last summer, apples from the fruit trees were harvested for the first time and pressed at Yorkshire Wolds Apples in nearby Melbourne to make 87 bottles of juice, which was then sold to raise funds. Local residents are already gearing up to harvest this year’s crop.

Anna Airaksinen, who is also a committee member, recalls: “I used to run up and down the railway line, and was really pleased to see the area being improved and tidied up. I used to try to scramble down for the apples but it was so overgrown; there are some fantastic cooking apples!”

During the spring, what was once nothing more than an overgrown wasteland was carpeted in snowdrops and primroses, which then made way for a swathe of bluebells, cowslips, forget-me-nots and wild garlic. As we head into August, the meadow is dotted with golden buttercups and the newly-created wildflower area will soon become a riot of colour.

Parishioners meet at the meadow on Saturday mornings between 10am and 12 noon; everyone is welcome to go along, either to help with maintenance work and new projects or just to socialise with local people. Follow the Foggathorpe Parish Meadow page on Facebook for more information about the site and details of forthcoming events.