Residents of a picturesque village in Suffolk are going against the adage of “not in my back yard” by unanimously voting for a new housing development to be built in the desirable area. There is just one important proviso – at least a third of the houses must be affordable homes for young families.
For Lavenham’s many visitors the village looks like a film set, with its hundreds of half-timbered, attractively crooked 15th and 16th Century houses, all lovingly restored.
“It’s stunning,” says one tourist. “Wonderful” and “very charming”, says another.
Over at the village school, parents agree but feel there is something the visitors are missing.
“I think there’s a perception that it’s not a real place; that it’s a bit of a toytown,” says mum Justine Paul. “But it’s not – it’s a real place to live, with real people in it who have real needs.”
Top of the list is affordable housing, according to resident Emma Paris, closely followed by more places in the school, which is full and often has to turn children from the village away.
“There aren’t many young people. I think people can’t really afford it. A lot of the houses are owned as second homes.”
Katherine Eves, who runs the pre-school, agrees. “Housing in the area is very expensive. You can’t get a house in the village for less than £250,000, and for young families that’s a lot of money on the income they have.”
The average salary for the district is just less than £26,000 per year but young people working in the village often earn much less, with the main form of employment being local retail jobs.
A consequence of low wages and rising house prices is that a third of the 1,800 people in the village are over 65 – twice the national average. There is a similar trend of ageing communities in many parts of rural Britain as young people head to larger towns and cities in search of better jobs and cheaper homes.
It is an issue which has led to some soul-searching by many of the older residents of Lavenham as they consider the future of their historic village.
“I’m not going to knock the over-65s too hard – I’m one of them,” says Carroll Reeve, chairman of the parish council.
“But we’ve got to make spaces for the young families coming through the school. We’ve got to plan for the future. And unless we start to address that issue we could end up as a retirement home.”
Pat Rockall, chair of governors at Lavenham Primary School, agrees and suggests young families are the lifeblood of the village.
“There has to be young life in any village. We have got to think about what this village will be like in 50 to 100 years, and we must do something now, to make sure it is a living, working, breathing community then.”
Article by bbc