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The heart of village life in Welwyn

PUBLISHED: 11:34 14 January 2010 | UPDATED: 14:55 20 February 2013

St Mary's Church, Welwyn

St Mary's Church, Welwyn

Nicola Piggott visits Welwyn and discovers its slice of Hertfordshire life is full of fun, thriving with activity and the envy of their village neighbours

IF ever there was a place that has really got its 'act together' it has to be the Hertfordshire village of Welwyn. Just a 'stones throw' away from junction 6 of the A1(M), this delightful village seems to know just what it wants, who it is and where it wants to be - and is determined to have some fun along the way.
According to its residents one of the principle attractions of the village is its clear sense of identity, one that has grown out of a rich past dating back to pre-Roman times. Welwyn's centre, like those of many Hertfordshire villages, is a conservation area. A fine example of English period rural living this main street is accentuated by original timber-framed buildings; most notably the old church hall and Wellington Inn.
Welwyn offers a superb array of sporting facilities, which according to parish council chairman, John Roper, 'are the envy of the surrounding area', so much so in fact that other villages have often requested end of season matches be held on Welwyn's green lush pitches rather than their own. Village sports clubs include, football, tennis, cricket and bowls.
While the village is conveniently placed for a commuter community as Ian Skidmore of the parish plan steering committee states, Welwyn is 'anything but a dormitory village'. As well as a plentiful choice of sporting events to get the heart pumping and the blood racing, once a year the villagers gather for Welwyn Festival Week, held in June. Seven days of fun activities bring residents, both old and new, junior and senior, together in celebration of the village's heritage.
Andy Trotter, chairman of Welwyn Festival Committee, explains that from the regular Street Market, through to Fun Day, musical event and historic talks, the event has something to capture everyone's imagination. 'Over the week's activities we probably draw over half of the villagers out to participate in one way or another,' Andy comments. The Festival has taken place for the past 33 years and while the committee helps organise what Andy refers to as the 'bookend' events, local businesses, organisations and schools must also be credited for their input, which this year saw 70 different activities take place. These included: 'Top Stars' the village's version of the popular TV series Pop Stars, 'Scrufts' Dog Show, a prom, Badger Watch and a cricket match.
Andy comments, 'One of the most popular events that we run is 'cuckoo in the nest', where shopkeepers place an item in their window that has nothing to do with the goods that they sell. The younger children in particular have great fun trying to guess what the cuckoo is.'
However, Andy does admit that they haven't quite cracked the teenage market yet. 'There are events held in the pubs that are suitable for teenagers, but my ambition is to introduce a music festival that caters especially for them and I'm looking for an organiser who understands that age group in order help achieve this.'
In other respects the village has already been very proactive in ensuring that teenagers are well catered for after their plight was highlighted in an open meeting of the parish council back in 2005. John Roper, who also chairs the youth working party for the parish council has been pushing through a strategy to do more for the young people in the village. 'Over the past two years we have had two youth projects running, which have been carried out in conjunction with the district youth council.' The group ran a series of drop-in sessions so the local youngsters could tell them what they wanted. A wish list was drawn up requesting a youth centre, shelter and skateboard park. John adds, 'We gradually started working through the list and last year we completed the first project which was to construct a shelter on the playing fields, a covered area, with a bench, where the youngsters can hang out without people bothering them.'
Recording it all for posterity is the Welwyn Film Recording Society, which has been capturing the villages fortunes on camera since 1968. A year's worth of footage is edited down into a 30-minute scripted film, shown during the Festival. Film professional, Andy Brown, the societies chairman, comments, 'The films provide a valuable and unique historic archive and video diary for Welwyn.'
Looking towards the future the parish plan steering committee was set up with the self appointed task to make sure that the Parish of Welwyn, which includes the villages of Digswell, Oaklands and Mardley Heath, remains a pleasant and, if possible, a better place to live. To facilitate this, two years ago, the committee circulated a formal survey to all residents asking for their feedback on issues such as schools, traffic and transport.
Ian explains, 'We have already made some progress on the needs of residents, such as producing a comprehensive transport document for the parish that summarises all the transport facilities passing through the area.'
In the longer term the committee is working with the parish council and Welwyn Planning and Amenity group, in order to feed information into the local development plan for Welwyn and Hatfield.
Ian adds, 'Welwyn village has a real centre, a real heart to it and that is something we want to preserve.'

Article taken from November issue of Hertfordshire Life

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