A well attended Annual Parish Assembly took place in the Church Hall on Thursday April 10th.

Police Constable “Gez” Shillito of Northamptonshire Police’s Brackley Rural Safer Community Team drew the Assembly’s attention to two matters:

A big increase in the theft of metals. Due to a worldwide increase in the value of metals there had been a corresponding increase nationally in the theft of metallic objects and sheet metal covering to roofs. In the last twelve months over £6m had been paid out by insurance companies for the loss of lead roofing from churches. Two weeks ago nearby Croughton Church had been virtually stripped of its lead roof so surreptitiously that the first indication of the loss had been rain falling through on to the congregation! Old rusting cars were being taken from driveways and metal troughs from fields. In one case the bonnet had been removed from a Land Rover. In the village, the statue in the Manor Gardens had been stolen but fortunately recovered from a field near Banbury. Under “Operation Pilfer” this problem was being tackled nationally and at the local level the police relied on the co-operation of parishioners in reporting anyone acting suspiciously, either directly to them or to Neighbourhood Watch co-ordinator Vera Smith, with the registration numbers of cars wherever possible.

Distraction Burglaries There had been a big local increase in these crimes, frequently targeting pensioners and other vulnerable people. On 3rd February in the village an elderly lady in Spinners’ Cottages had opened her front door to two men claiming to be from the Water Undertaking. Whilst distracted by them a third man had gone upstairs and stolen money and jewellery. Fortunately, it was likely that their vehicle, as seen in Sulgrave, had been caught on CCTV in Cheshire and the case was still being pursued. On the same day there had been 3 such burglaries in Daventry and 6 in the neighbouring Thames Valley area.

PC Shillito stressed the need for vigilance by parishioners, emphasising that effective “Neighbourhood Watch” schemes were the “eyes and ears” of the police. He thanked Vera Smith her hard work for Sulgrave in this respect but asked people to consider volunteering to help. Ideally, there should be several co-ordinators, in different parts of the village. A number of leaflets were distributed giving full details of Neighbourhood Watch Schemes.

Questionnaires were also distributed asking parishioners to list their concerns and priorities for police action in the future. PC Shillito stressed that these concerns need not necessarily be police oriented. If, for example, fly tipping was seen to be a problem then this would be passed on to the relevant authorities.

Finally, PC Shillito reported that crimes in the village had totalled 8 in the last year as against 10 in the previous year. Apart from two distraction burglaries, these had been relatively minor.

Councillor Ben Smith of Northamptonshire County Council reported that he was now Deputy Leader of the Council with special responsibilities for the Environment Portfolio. He said that a major problem for the Council was trying to maintain the level of services in a situation where the 1.5 per cent increase in funding from Central Government was well below the current rate of inflation. In a severe cost cutting exercise, a major re-structuring senior management was taking place.

On a more local note he reported that the Council’s road gritting policy was such that Sulgrave now had at least one gritting route in and out of the village. He further reported that he had a budget of £10,000 available for a variety of initiatives in the villages in his ward. Local organisations as well as Parish Councils were invited to apply for grants from this fund. Examples had included new notice boards, additional white lining and, in the case of nearby Moreton Pinkney, a new street light.

Councillor Smith said that, as the Police Authority, the County Council were still striving to ensure more visible policing with as many officers as possible “on the beat”.

As the strategic planning authority the County Council was much involved in the West Northants Development Corporation concerned with large amounts of new housing – 5000 additional houses in Daventry and 3500 in Towcester. He emphasised that these were government imposed figures. In answer to questions from the floor he stressed that plans were in place for the provision of the necessary infrastructure for these considerable increases in population, largely from up-front developer contributions. Particular note was being paid to the measures needed to deal with the potential flooding problems inherent in the faster surface run off from large additional areas of built over land.

Finally, Councillor Smith touched upon the work of the River Nene Regional Park, drawing attention to the Treetop Walk in Salcey Forest.

The treetop walk in Salcey Forest

District Councillor Ashley Warren, South Northants Council, introduced himself as the relatively new Councillor for the Washington Ward. Since he had only been elected in May 2007, this was his first visit to Sulgrave Parish Assembly. He lives locally at a small farm between Wappenham and Weedon Lois. He emphasised that he was “learning the ropes” and was currently serving on the Licensing and the Economic and Environmental Committees. He said that major issues facing the Council included the expansion of Towcester, developments in Towcester Town Centre, the transfer of council housing stock to South Northants Homes (Housing Association) and developments in and around Silverstone Motor Racing Circuit. He said that the Council was working towards the provision of a “one-stop” service for district residents – a single desk dealing with their initial enquiries and problems without the need to refer them to separate departments. He reported that 40 per cent of waste in South Northants was currently being re-cycled.

Finally, he reported that the responsibility for dealing with stray dogs had been transferred from the police to the district council. Unfortunately this work would only be undertaken during working hours.

Parish Council Chairman Graham Roberts reported that the “new” Parish Council had now been in existence for almost a year. It had been a year of consolidation and considerable efforts had been directed towards encouraging villagers to take an active part in affairs and attend Parish Council Meetings. Attendance levels were, in fact, growing steadily and the current level of involvement was illustrated by the fact that 17 parishioners had turned up on the previous Saturday to help with the Spring Litter Pick. During the coming year it was the Council’s intention to continue this policy with especial emphasis on consultations to determine villagers’ concerns and priorities. Current projects included the need for a more courteous attitude on the part of dog owners and parking problems in Magpie Road. He drew attention to the questionnaire on this matter which is currently circulating in the village.

Parish Council Chairman Graham Roberts (left) allocates tasks at
the Spring Litter Pick

Councillor Jane Osborne reported on the arrangements for the bi-annual village fete. This year the proceeds will be equally divided between the Church and the Pocket Park, where the play areas need to be resurfaced, the pond cleaned, new signage provided and new goal posts erected. The fete will be held at The Old Farmhouse (courtesy Mr and Mrs Mordaunt) on Saturday 28th June, starting at 2.00 pm. There would be the usual stalls and it was hoped that the Hook Norton Shire Horses would be present as in the past. At 6.00 pm there would be a Pig Roast at the Star Inn and a “Battle of the Bands” – bands from local schools would compete for a £100 prize. A disco would round off the day. Further details will appear in the next village newsletter.

Hook Norton Brewery Shire Horses to be at the Village Fete

Jill Barrett reported on her first year as Chair of the Sulgrave Charity Trustees. She thanked the previous Chairman Robin Prior for his help during this period. From the Education Charity a grant of £1000 has been made to the Pocket Park and £100 to George Holly-Moore towards the costs of his trip to Nepal where he will help to build an orphanage. This total of £1100 was £38 more than the income from the £30,000 in the Education Charity but £2,800 was still available to cover this deficit. There had, however, been no grants from the Relief in Need Charity since no-one in the Parish could truly be said to be “wholly in need”. She hoped that the Charity Commissioners would allow these charities to be combined in future.

Robin Prior, Treasurer of the Sulgrave Village Shop Association, reported that the Community Shop was now in its 4th trading year and had become, for most, an important facility and part of life in Sulgrave; as much about “community” as about “shopping”. The Post Office had survived the recent cull and it was hoped that there would not be a further round of cuts. In 2007 there had been an encouraging growth in sales and the shop made its first, albeit small, profit. The current cash position is healthy and relationships with suppliers are good.

However, he had to say that not all of the news is good. So far this year, after 14 weeks, sales have fallen back and, if the trend is continued, 2008 will result in a return to a loss. Such is the fragility of the shop’s trading that a small swing in sales of 4% or 5% can make all the difference. Sales need to grow by 15% on 2007 to achieve some measure of financial stability.

He emphasised that the continuity of the shop in its current form is due largely to a team of over 50 volunteers. Their consistent support and help with all aspects of the operation has been invaluable; without them the shop would not be able to continue to provide the same level of service – it is open for
nearly 60 hours a week.

The village shop relies on its volunteers.

He said that the three key issues that exercise the Management Committee are:

  1. Size. The shop is too small and more space is needed to maximise sales opportunities. Sulgrave is too small and there is a need to attract custom from other villages.
  2. Stock selection. As well as providing basic requirements, there is a need for variety and choice. To provide this, more effort is going into finding locally sourced products. Initiatives have been taken to create a local food network.
  3. Support. There is a need to maximise customer support from within the village; to continue volunteer support, where more help is always needed; to provide ongoing management support with particular reference to the need for others to come forward.

Robin reminded everyone that the shop is a great asset to the village. Many customers from outside the village say that they wish they had a shop like this in their village. A round trip to the nearest supermarket is 16 miles; the Middleton Cheney shops and Post Office 10 miles. Car use would not get any cheaper and people who manage without the shop now might need it in the future. He said that any feedback, particularly as to areas in which people feel that the shop does not measure up, would be welcomed by the management committee. He concluded by saying that it was up to the villagers to support the shop, its volunteers and its management committee if they wanted it to survive.

Chairman of the Castle Green Management Committee Martin Sirot-Smith described a year which had seen dramatic happenings and significant progress towards the objectives of the Restoration and Enhancement Project. There had been much energy and effort on the part of the Committee. Some parts of the project had gone better than others but it was hoped that all aspects would be completed by the end of the summer.

Work on the new path across Castle Green

Work had begun on the path and the two accesses at the end of May and was completed by the end of June. The contractors, F.J.Morris did a good job and had been lucky with the weather – dry for the work and wet from then on which had enabled the grass to grow extremely well! The path was now in regular use and villagers had been very complimentary about it. All the work had been monitored by the Committee’s archaeologist, Richard Ivens. An ancient drain and two walls, possibly contemporary with the Mound were discovered. Richard’s full report was available for those interested.

The progress on the wall restoration had not been so smooth. The Rhodes Partnership – recommended by English Heritage – were employed to manage this part of the project. They appointed Underwood and Weston to complete the work. However, communication problems had bedevilled the undertaking and much of the work had been unsatisfactory. Many sub-committee meetings had taken place involving the Chairman of the Parish Council and other Council members with particular expertise as well as representatives of the Rhodes Partnership and the contractors. It was hoped that the wall capping will be re-done; the steps and handrails altered to design; protective bollards installed on the bends and various other items on the snagging list completed by early summer. Final payments to the contractors are being held back until all is satisfactorily completed. The Committee apologised to all for any inconvenience caused during the work.

On a much more positive note, on a beautiful Sunday in early August many villagers had taken part in a Geophysical Survey of Castle Green. Some had helped with the surveying whilst others had watched and enjoyed the explanation of what had been discovered. It had been great to see such a cross-section of villagers of all ages finding out more about the site from the experts and the archaeological display mounted for the event.

Another equally successful event had been the Dry Stone Walling demonstration taken by Cecil Rhodes on a Saturday early in October. Many villagers had “built” their own stones into the wall and enjoyed the memories of Cecil on the site and in the Church Hall afterwards. Here Cecil had shared his experiences in working with stone with a well illustrated discussion of projects in which he had been involved. Reports and pictures of these events could be seen on the village website.

Work still to be done included the siting and installation of three benches; the designing, making and fixing of information boards and the purchase and fixing of bird and bat boxes to encourage greater biodiversity. It was hoped that much of this work would be completed by Sunday 31st August, this being the planned date for the official opening of the fully restored and enhanced Castle Green.

Martin concluded by saying that the Management Committee had put untold hours into the co-ordination, administration and monitoring of the project. He was sure that the rest of the Committee would not mind him singling out Clare Pollak in her role as Parish Councillor and Project Co-ordinator for keeping everything moving through a very exhausting but successful year.

Parish Footpath Warden Christina Shillito apologised for the fact that certain problems with footpaths remained unresolved because the County Council’s Rights of Way Officer had left the authority with many things undone. A new officer, Colin Wicks, had now been appointed, working out of Brixworth. Problems which still needed addressing included the old railway tunnel on Footpath AY4, from which bricks were falling and the extremely boggy section of Footpath AY8. Christina also reported that there had been an objection to the footpath diversion order in respect of Footpath AY3, subsequent to which an Inspector had refused to confirm the order. There was a good deal of disquiet from parishioners at the meeting, the general feeling being that the Inspector had clearly not understood the difficulties associated with using the existing path and the logic of the alternative.

Colin Wootton reported on the Village Website which he had been looking after for about 18 months. He had tried to make the site reflect the life of the village by including photographs of events such as John the Postman’s party, Apple Day at the Manor and so on. He had also tried to reflect the history of the village by including all relevant pictures from his own collection. He asked all present to check if they had any photos which could be included. Photos of current events in the village would also be welcomed for inclusion in the “Villagers’ Pictures” section.

He reported that the village appraisal – known as “Sulgrave, the Chronicles of a Country Parish” would be online within a week or so. He appreciated that many villagers did not have access to a computer and invited anyone to visit him at home to see what it was all about.

Visitors to the website had risen from about 800 per month initially to an average of 2500 per month at present. It had been possible to get some idea of the origin of these visits over the past four months. The vast majority were in the UK but about 10% were from the United States, covering 31 states. Others were from Canada, Australia and New Zealand – 23 countries in all. Some of these were regular visitors, often people who used to live in the village or whose ancestors had emigrated to those countries.

He reported that the cost of the website to the Parish Council was just over £100 per year, which goes to pay the Web Hosting Company and retain the domain name. He remained happy to manage the site on a voluntary basis.

Colin concluded by reminding the meeting that the website address was, but said that typing “Sulgrave” on Google or some other search engine usually put the site amongst the first ten or so “hits”.

During the Open Forum at the end of the meeting, Jill Barrett raised the question of organising this year’s Christmas Carol Singing. She felt that this was an important village tradition which everyone enjoyed and was concerned that the probable demise of the Mums and Tots group would leave the event without anyone to organise it. There was some discussion from which it emerged that the WI were unlikely to resume their previous organising role. It was generally agreed that the tradition should not be allowed to fade and that perhaps an independent organising group should be established.

Reference was made to the disintegration of the pathway outside Stone Court in Helmdon Road, where the tarmac covering was becoming more and more cracked and to a deteriorating road sign at the foot of Manor Road. These will be reported to the appropriate authorities.

The damaged pathway outside Stone Court in Helmdon Road

Finally, a parishioner asked if the popular village country walks were to be resumed. Christina Shillito said that the next walk would be on Sunday May 4th by a route yet to be determined. By popular request this would be an afternoon walk commencing at 2.00 pm so that children could take part.

This report was compiled for the website by Colin Wootton from notes taken at the Assembly. It in no way pre-empts the formal Minutes of the Assembly which will be prepared by the Clerk to the Parish Council in due course.