Loddon scoops community award

You can have all the facilities, nice houses and lovely views in the world, but it is a sense of community that truly makes a village or town a great place to live.

You can have all the facilities, nice houses and lovely views in the world, but it is a sense of community that truly makes a village or town a great place to live.

Loddon is in an enviable position: it has easy access to Norwich, is located on the river and surrounded by beautiful countryside and has all the amenities of a town.

Stroll down the picturesque main street on any day and you'll find it bustling with people going about their business, popping to the butchers or buying the fruit and veg, and there are always plenty of people enjoying a hearty fry-up or a slab of home-made cake in Rosy Lees Tearooms, a focal point for the community; as important as a centre for local news and gossip as for its food.

And, of course, at Loddon's heart is the river, where holidaymakers come and go in summer, while in the winter families head down to feed ducks that can often be seen holding up the traffic as they wander back and forth across the road.

But the reason it was so successful in the 2008 Pride in Norfolk Community Awards, organised by the Journal's sister paper, the Eastern Daily Press, is its incredible sense of community and its determination to keep the place moving forward; to provide something for local people, to tackle anti-social behaviour and crime; and to ensure everyone has a sense of ownership in what is happening.

As well as winning the category for best community with a population of fewer than 5,000, it added the WI Forward to the Future Award and the EDP title for Clerk of the Year, awarded to Karen Read and Christine Smith, who share the post.

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The judging panel, led by Margaret Mawson, of Campaign to Protect Rural England Norfolk, praised Loddon for the number and extent of the projects involving youth, adding: “If only every town or village could achieve a few of Loddon's initiatives, the world would be a brighter and better place for everyone.”

So, who better to explain what makes Loddon tick than the two job-share parish clerks at the centre of village life. Karen and Christine, both 47, have been working together in the post for the past three years and are committed to keeping village life evolving.

Former interior designer Christine, who has lived at nearby Norton for the past 20 years, was already part-time clerk in her village, so she was immediately drawn by the post in Loddon.

She said: “I love it here because of the blend of warm friendliness and inclusiveness of the entire community and the welcome everyone receives, whether they are a tourist visiting for the day or a resident. Rosy Lees isn't a cakes shop: it's a community centre. They know everything that is going on in there! And one of my favourite things has got to be the river. I love the idea of walking down the high street then coming to the bridge and the river, and you get the view of the all the boats and see tourists coming in. I think it marks it out as something really different.”

Loddon, with a population of around 2,500, has a proactive parish council, and one of the key areas that received praise from the Pride in Community judges was the commitment to providing facilities and services for young people.

Loddon, like most villages and towns, has had some problems with anti-social behaviour, including vandalism and under-age drink-ing, but unlike a lot of other places the people remain resolute in finding ways to tackle it.

One resident who had two of his windows smashed by a gang of teenagers sent letters to hundreds of householders calling for everyone to pull together and fight the problem.

“We think it is because people know each other so well, we tend to think more like an extended family. People want to step in and help and try and do something,” said Christine.

“It is our community and we are proud of it. We have started a lot of youth initiatives, and we believe that even if we can't catch the older ones we can start working with the youngsters. They are the next generation, and it is no good letting the village go into mothballs: it has to move with the times and offer things that everyone wants.

“If you want to tackle anti-social behaviour and give young people something to do, there is no good trying to guess what they want. It is always best to ask them and get them involved.”

She added: “I think the same as any communities, there will always be a small element of anti-social behaviour and minor crime, but we are very much on to it and are working closely with the police. We get reports if we think someone is selling alcohol to minors and we often send round letters reminding them of the legal requirements.”

Fellow clerk Karen moved to the area from Kent six years ago and took up her post soon afterwards.

She said: “I absolutely love living in Loddon. It is a really friendly place, something which I noticed as soon as I moved in. It is still one of those communities where people say hello on the street and people make the effort to recognise you and get to know you. And they are just as welcoming to people who move here from outside as well, which isn't always the case in many places.”

Referring to cases of anti-social behaviour, she said: “We have done a lot of consultation work with the youngsters themselves in the village to try to find out what is causing the problems. It is a two-pronged approach. You can try and stamp it out by pulling together as a community, but if there isn't anything for young people to do that they are not interested in, then it will be hard to stop.”

She said that, while Loddon was excellently serviced with sports clubs and groups such as Scouts and Guides, some youngsters were not necessarily interested in those types of activities. “There is a group of kids who don't want to do structured things but do want to do something or have somewhere to meet. We have several initiatives which we are working on with them and with the police,” said Karen.

One of the key things is the new youth club due to open soon, which will be informal and more like a young persons' social club.

“Another exciting project we are working on is the launch of a new music festival in the village.

“We held an open meeting and put posters up around the village and in the school calling on young people to come along and tell us what they want, and at the first meeting at Easter about 30 kids turned up. The music festival came out of that.”

The big event tomorrow - called Loddon Out Loud - has been planned and organised by local youngsters, who have also been responsible for obtaining grants to help fund it. As well as attracting some up-and-coming bands nationally, it will showcase local acts.

Another group of young people, some of whom have had difficult pasts, are working on setting up a community radio station, again something that has emerged from consultation and working together, and it seems to be having a positive impact. Anti-social behaviour appears to be decreasing.

But it isn't just activities for young people that make Loddon so appealing. There are also plenty of clubs and societies for everyone from pensioners to new mums. Throughout the year, Loddon also holds numerous events such as fetes, parades and the scarecrow festival.

As well as being a lovely place to live, it is popular with visitors. There are several boatyards, and many people choose to moor their boats in the staithe for the night. There are lots of walks around the River Chet and countryside, and if you take the Wherryman's Way a short distance it leads you to Hardley Flood, which is rich with birdlife.

Like other places in Norfolk, Loddon's idyllic location, combined with good schools, a high street bursting with local shops and public transport links, has made it popular with house-buyers, and prices have risen sharply over the past five years. Its reputation as a highly desirable place to live was further cemented by Channel 5 programme The Property List, which placed the village in the top 10 most stunning locations to buy properties in the UK, alongside heavyweights such as Bakewell, Bath and Ambleside.

Christine describes the inevitable expansion of the village as challenging but says it shouldn't necessarily be considered a negative thing.

There has been a long-standing move to build a substantial estate on the site of the old Express Plastics factory on the edge of Loddon, and outline planning consent was granted to create nearly 80 new homes. However, with the downturn in the housing market work has not begun and it is yet to be followed up with a full detailed application.

“Major developments like that

will change the village quite substantially, with so many more people coming in. So we will be looking at the infrastructure and how we can manage the extra


“It will be a challenge, but also lovely to embrace them into the community as, hopefully, they will bring something new to it,” said Christine.