English village community spirit is perhaps most aptly personified by the institution we all know as our Parish Councils. Right across our green and pleasant land they are the people who turn a village from a collection of houses, lanes and fields into a hub of social cohesion, offering cradle and comfort for everyone who lives there, young and old, in sickness and in health.
The nectar of Community Spirit was flowing freely last Saturday at the Staplehurst Village Exhibition where the Parish Council were celebrating their 125th Anniversary. The event was shared by a wide array of groups, clubs, societies and volunteers; The Brownies, Scouts and Guides; Staplehurst Men’s Shed; Knit and Natter; the Photographic Society; the Women’s Institute; the Bridge Club. This list goes on and the common thread amongst them is fellowship, purpose, caring, togetherness and an unrivalled antidote to loneliness.
The history of Staplehurst Parish Council took centre stage at the exhibition, being one of the first in the country to be convened under the Local Government Act in 1894. That legislation was laudable, also, for allowing women to serve in local government for the first time. Far from the image portrayed in the Vicar of Dibley, our wonderfully gender balanced modern Parish Councils play vital and serious roles in managing public land, advising on planning applications, organising events and acting as an increasingly significant voice for their residents; ever more so as Neighbourhood Development Plans emerge as a concrete feature of local community planning.
Back in 1894 there was a rush of people anxious to serve on that first elected Parish Council, as is beautifully exhibited in the parchment minutes of their very first meeting. I hope the outstanding service given by the current Councillors will persuade many others to put themselves forward for future office, and I commend that idea to everyone in Maidstone & The Weald.