Today my eldest grandson will have completed his first year at school. He is five years old. He came home yesterday armed with a handful of certificates and rewards and I think it’s safe to say he’s enjoyed attending classes. The worst hurdle was school dinners but that’s another story, his tastes buds are highly sensitive and some foods ‘scare’ him.
Our village school teaches fifty pupils who begin in reception, aged 4, and stay until they finally pass onto secondary school when they’ve turned eleven. It’s the same school my children attended and although the buildings have been extended to accommodate a pre-school nursery and a state of the art technology room, little seems to have changed in twenty years.
Last week parents and grandparents (and great grandparents) gathered to watch and encourage the competitors at the school’s annual Sport’s Day. Many families have lived in this community for generations and there was a big turnout, especially given a beautiful summer’s day and the promise of cream teas. The children were formed into teams of ten, drawn from every age group. My grandson Oscar was the smallest in his team, cheering enthusiastically as the others competed. During some events older team-members were allowed to help, events such as the wellie race which was difficult for little ones who could barely walk in ten gallon boots never mind run. Although I’d never met the young lady who held Oscar’s hand I recognized her mother and grandmother immediately as they waved and added their encouragement.
I feel very privileged to live in such a friendly community. When I was six years old my parents moved out of London to a small village in north Kent. It was the early 60’s and Upchurch was hardly bigger than Rosley but at that time the community was experiencing a period of great change. A faster rail network meant people could live in ‘picturesque’ Kentish villages and still work in London. This extension of the Commuter Belt meant new houses were going up wherever builders could get planning permission. Kent exploded with ‘estates’ which could house thousands of people, most of them earning higher wages in the city than they could ever earn in the small rural industries of Kent.
Unfortunately Kent’s education system wasn’t geared up for the sudden expansion and classrooms which had rarely contained more than a dozen children suddenly had to cater for thirty or more. This was certainly the case at Holywell Junior School, a two class-room building which finally closed the year after I left for secondary school. Many villagers resented the changes being brought about by this growth and there was a definite sense of division between ‘locals’ and ‘incomers’. As a child I wasn’t aware of what caused the rift but I sensed I was always an outsider. My sister, three and half years younger, never experienced the same isolation because by the time she began school the incomers outnumbered the locals. She still lives just a few miles from where we grew up whereas I never hesitated to leave. Community is a strong magnet, if you belong.
I’ve lived in Cumbria, in this same village, since 1982 and feel this is where I belong. I can never be a villager because I wasn’t born here, but with the third generation putting down roots we can almost claim to be locals.