A village in the heart of Essex is celebrating after winning to top prize in the newly-revamped Essex Village of the Year competition.  The competition is organised by Rural Community Council of Essex (RCCE) and sponsored by Essex & Suffolk Water and Worldbridge Ltd and the winners were announced at RCCE’s AGM on Wednesday 6th July at Chelmsford City Racecourse.

Following a tough judging process with stiff competition from 38 entrants, Toppesfield and Gainsford End which is in the Braintree District, was declared as the overall winner of Essex Village of the Year 2016.  In second place is West Bergholt (Colchester Borough), followed by Steeple Bumpstead (Braintree District) and Bradwell Juxta Coggeshall (Braintree District).

The winner receives £500 and the Essex and Suffolk Water Shield with other winners receiving £200, £100 and £50 respectively. 

This year the competition was refreshed with the aim of giving it a clearer purpose and making it easier and less time-consuming for villages to enter.  The focus of the competition is on the work of communities and the efforts of local people to strengthen and sustain community life.  This year, there was just one question for villages to answer in their entry submission: “What makes your village special?”

Toppesfield and Gainsford End which has a population of 500, has a community run village shop, with profits going to village projects. The local pub, The Green Man was saved from closure by volunteers and is now run as a community enterprise which has now set up a micro brewery to supply the pub. There is a Doctor’s Car Service which is run by the Parish Council and there are ongoing plans to extend the village hall and improve the playing field facilities. The judges were really impressed by the huge amount of community facilities and locally-managed events in such a small village. The whole feeling of the village was one of inclusiveness and altruism.

RCCE Director, Nick Shuttleworth, said of the winners: “Toppesfield is a vibrant and remarkably enterprising community with a real flair for finding solutions to local issues. There must be very few villages in the whole country where both the shop and pub are successfully run by the community.”

The judges found West Bergholt (population 3344) to be very impressive, with a youth group which is run by volunteers, village events supported by local businesses and ancient woodland managed by volunteers for the benefit of the community. There was also recently a celebration for the Queen’s 90th birthday which was attended by over 500 people from the village.  The village is planning for its future, having prepared a Parish Plan and Village Design Statement and now in the process of preparing a Neighbourhood Plan.

Steeple Bumpstead (population 1400) boasts a volunteer-run village library, a successful business park, village magazine and Parish Plan and Bradwell juxta Coggeshall (population 512) has a recently extended and modernised village hall, with an outdoor gym planned for the playing field. They also have allotments and a community orchard.

Sarah Pinkerton, External Affairs Manager for Essex & Suffolk Water, sponsors of the Essex Village of the Year awards said: “We are committed to supporting the local community, so it is a privilege to sponsor these awards to recognise the fantastic achievement of the residents of the winning villages.”

Click here to see a full list of winners of the Essex Village of the Year and Best Kept Churchyard competitions.