Rachel's Weekend Visits
Caroline and the medieval carvings
By Rachel Sloane
Beyton is a small, rural, Suffolk village lying five miles east of the historic town of Bury St Edmunds and eight miles west of Stowmarket.
The village has two public houses, the Bear and the White Horse, but no post office or village store. The Village Green has a stream, mature trees and a children's play area.
The village pond and resident geese, are a favourite gathering spot. Beyton Middle school is located in the village and is, I'm told, the largest middle school in the county. It is currently faced with closure due to the change in policy of Suffolk County Council.
The village has several clubs and organisations for the 550 residents.
The White Horse landlord, Barry Waterman
Overlooking the village green is one of the two pubs in the village, The White Horse, which is run by Jane and Barry Waterman. On the Saturday I visited quite a number of locals and visitors who were gathered inside tucking into lunch or sharing a pint and some village gossip, but it was a project at the back of the pub that I was especially interested in.
With the help of brewers Greene King, the Watermans have converted an old barn into bed and breakfast accommodation. There are now six en-suite rooms, each entered by its own front door and, looking around, I found they were as good as plush hotel rooms with tea and coffee making facilities, colour TV, and internet connections.
One is fully accessible, two have sofa beds and two are interconnecting if a family needs more space. Barry told me that it was an expensive gamble but they are thrilled with how it has worked out.
The accommodation is used by business people, holidaymakers, parents visiting children in nearby boarding schools and locals who need to accommodate extra visitors when holding a family celebration.
Surely the hours spent running a pub are enough, without the extra work involved in organising the B&B? What is the attraction of the work to Barry?
"I think it's just people. I like the ability to meet and talk to people. To drink, converse, chat in the bars – and the whole ambiance of it really.
"Yes, there are long hours. The dray can come at seven in the morning and you can get people knocking on the door at all hours of the day – and you are committed to locking up for residents up to one o'clock. Long hours are part and parcel of the job really."
All Saints Church
Leaving The White Horse, I made my way to the parish church of All Saints, a medieval church with a round tower that, because of its buttresses, actually looks oval!
A hand-written sign outside told me that a textile workshop was taking place inside and that all were welcome.
When a parishioner has a talent it seems only right that he or she should be asked to consider creating something for the church. Retired clergyman Rev Graham Rendle has ended up with something very different from what he first envisaged when he asked local textile artist, Caroline Davidson, to make something for Beyton church.
"I felt called to develop this art project since doing my MA in Textile Culture and beginning to work as a professional artist as well as a teacher," Caroline explained. "Unfortunately today, as in other villages throughout the United Kingdom, less and less members of our village community come into church to visit or to worship.
"As a Christian this saddened me, not only because there are fewer people in our village who know and want to worship Jesus, but also because, as a result of this, there are no new artistic expressions of worship inside the church and the decor remains almost the same as it was in Victorian times."
Giving her time, and with just a grant of £250 from the parish council to defray some of the costs, what Caroline has done is to design a new altar cloth and vestments that are being made by a team of volunteers as part of a community project. She has taken photographs of the wooden carvings on the pulpit, and of Sunday activities around the village, such as sport, shopping and car washing.
Using digital print and photo-silkscreen, the photographs have been transferred onto the denim fabric of old jeans donated by villagers. The team of volunteers are now meeting in the church hall to assemble the fabrics using patchwork and appliqué.
The buzz in the room as everyone worked over cake and coffee was a good indication of the reaction that might be expected when the items are unveiled to church-goers later in the year, along with an exhibition of the photographs and samples Caroline has collected. Would it not have been easier for Caroline to make the altar cloth and vestments herself?
"Yes, it would have been much easier and it would have been done a lot earlier. It's taken a year in planning and thinking it through!
"The whole point is really that we share it and that people from the village and church come together, and work on something together."
Beyton Environmental Group
Leaving the team to their work, I went outside into the churchyard to meet with Cathy Cass and the Beyton Environmental Group (BEGS). For 10 years they have been looking after the area around the church.
Beyton Environment Group
"It's very much the diversity of plants. When we had a survey done in 1998 there were 56 different grasses and wild flowers and, because of that, we were very pleased to be made into a County Wildlife Site," Cathy explained as the team showed me around.
We walked on the mown pathways that led around the areas of grass left longer to protect the wildflowers that were growing there and I was shown the bird and bat boxes in the trees, the tiny lichens and plants in the walls of the churchyard, and listened to the bird song all around.
Moving onto what was the first project adopted by BEGS, again the sound of birds surrounded us as I was shown the wildlife area of Oak Tree Pond that was rescued by the group from being used as a dumping ground for old fridges and household rubbish.
The pond now sparkles in the sunshine and the huge oak tree spreads its branches and scatters its acorns, some of which have grown into 20 foot tall trees, and the site including the meadow creating a site of about an acre and a half. The group have created a 'laid' hedge – a living fence - and now visit each month for working days when the volunteers care for the pond and wood, but the dream of the volunteers is that one day local school children will also use the area for project work.
So what of future plans? BEGS are waiting to hear whether they have been successful in a grant application to the National Lottery for money to save and restore an old orchard that was planted when Beyton Middle school was built for domestic science - the first orchard of this type that could be saved.
With many old species of English apples now almost lost it could be a nationally important site, although with the planned closure of the county's middle schools a question mark has to hang over the project – even if the funding is forthcoming.
The team of volunteer environmentalists promised to keep in touch with BBC Radio Suffolk and let us know what the outcome is to their ambitious plans.
last updated: 11/06/2008 at 12:29
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