This year’s Village of the Year Awards come against the backdrop of a global pandemic bringing unexpected challenges to the lives of all of us.

Amid all the doom and gloom of the past few months, it is perhaps more important than ever before to take some time to celebrate the wonderful places and people right on our doorstep who, on a daily basis, continue to make a difference in their local communities.

This year’s competition, run by the Salisbury Journal in conjunction with Wessex Water, has aimed to achieve just that.

The winners of this year’s contest are: Wilton HELP (Best Village Hero); Swallowcliffe (Best Hamlet); Coombe Bissett (Best Small Village); Winterslow (Best Large Village) and Fourway Stores in Great Somerford (Best Village Shop).

Head of community engagement at Wessex Water, Kirsty Scarlett, said: “Congratulations to the residents of each winning village and all the people who nominated and voted in the competition. We are delighted to celebrate this much-needed community spirit during such difficult times. 

“It is clear from the nominations and winners in the competition that Wiltshire is a county full of beautiful villages that pride themselves on providing support for those who need it most, as well as caring for their local environment. I was particularly pleased that the nominations featured village shop and hero categories, as it was so inspiring to hear about how even just a few people coming together can really help and improve their local community.

“As a local company we are proud every day to serve our Wiltshire customers and to help communities across the region with funding and volunteering, so it’s been a delight to support the Wiltshire Village of the Year competition.” 

Best Hero - Wilton HELP

Salisbury Journal: Volunteers Pete Blackman, Hannah Abbey, Adam Cooke, Charlotte Blackman and Steve Milton Picture by Spencer MulhollandVolunteers Pete Blackman, Hannah Abbey, Adam Cooke, Charlotte Blackman and Steve Milton Picture by Spencer Mulholland

With a total of 997 medical prescriptions delivered, 597 shopping trips done and 310 errands completed, it’s no wonder community group Wilton HELP has won this year’s Best Hero.

Run by 113 volunteers, the Wilton-based voluntary group was set up in response to the Covid-19 pandemic to deliver food and medication as well as provide telephone support to vulnerable residents and people who were shielding.

The group was set up by resident Larissa Tonkin, with the help of Steve Milton from Wilton Town Council and Adam Cooke who created a bespoke computer system to support the scheme in a record-beating timescale. 

Wilton Town Council financially supported the scheme to allow volunteers to claim back expenses such as shopping for the residents who were later billed for the cost of their shopping only.

During the initial five months, the system operated seven days a week. This was then reduced to six, then to five and now provides background support, always ready to respond as the local situation changes or new needs are identified.

With Wilton Town Council being unable to support the scheme in the long run, Wilton HELP is developing into a social enterprise, run by and for the community, to enable residents to continue to benefit from the scheme.

Founder Larissa said: “Wilton HELP receiving a nomination for the Best Hero was incredibly exciting. 

“To actually receive this accolade is fabulous and we are astounded and grateful for each of you who voted for us! Thank you to everyone!”

Best Hamlet - Swallowcliffe

Salisbury Journal: Barry Fitzpatrick, Caroline & Pippin Willis, Sophie & Caolilaa Menage, Chairman of the Parish Council Stephen Banas and Judy Fitzpatrick. Picture by Spencer MulhollandBarry Fitzpatrick, Caroline & Pippin Willis, Sophie & Caolilaa Menage, Chairman of the Parish Council Stephen Banas and Judy Fitzpatrick. Picture by Spencer Mulholland

The village of Swallowcliffe, with a population of less than 500 residents, has been crowned Best Hamlet.

Entering the village in the competition was resident Sophie Menage, 41, who moved to Swallowcliffe from Downton two years ago.

“I couldn’t imagine living anywhere else, I just love it here. It’s such an old-fashioned, community way of life,” she said.

“During lockdown we had to quarantine and the village really came together for us, bringing us parcels of books, puzzles. I love how everybody looks after each other.”

In March, the village lost its pub The Royal Oak. However, former Top Gear presenter James May revealed at the end of last month that he bought half of it.

Sharing the news on Twitter, the TV presenter said the pub would reopen in a Covid-secure way on October 28. 

Mr May also confirmed that the venue had taken its first booking for Christmas Day, before joking that they would need more bookings to justify buying a whole turkey.

Ms Menage said she was “totally and utterly pleased” to find out the village had scooped the Best Hamlet award and said it was well-deserved.

Stephen Banas, Chairman of Swallowcliffe Parish Council added: “Although Swallowcliffe has a small population of around 180 it has a big heart with a very strong community spirit where people go out of their way to help each other. During the Covid crisis residents have been able to offer support shopping, fetching prescriptions, sharing jokes and generally lifting spirits on our social media groups.”

Best Small Village - Coombe Bissett

Salisbury Journal: Picture by Karen SmithPicture by Karen Smith

Coombe Bissett has been voted Best Small Village after being nominated by resident Karen Smith.

Karen moved to the village from South Africa in December last year and hasn’t looked back.

“It’s quiet, everyone is so friendly and welcoming, it’s been such an easy transition,” she said.

Among the aspects of rural life she appreciates the most is the feeling of safety and freedom she enjoys in the village which she says “is on another level”.

One of her favourite places is the nature reserve at the top of the hill where you can spend hours sitting on a bench looking over the stunning countryside.

She added: “The quietness and being in the countryside is really good, we even brought our dogs over and they love it.”

Talking about her beloved village’s success in the Village of the Year awards, Karen said: “I’m thrilled, I didn’t expect it but I’m happy that we did win. It’s just nice that the village has been recognised and I hope it will put us on the map.”

Derrick Rattue, Chairman of Coombe Bissett & Homington Parish Council added: “I’m very pleased, very pleased indeed. We’re very fortunate, we’ve got a pub, a shop, a good school for the children, we’ve got all the facilities on hand and we’re only three and a half miles from Salisbury. It’s a lovely place to live.”

Best Large Village - Winterslow

Salisbury Journal: Picture by Camera Club member Ian GrimesPicture by Camera Club member Ian Grimes

Scooping the title of Best Large Village with a population of around 2,000 is Winterslow.

Located around seven miles east of Salisbury, the village is praised for its proximity to the A30 Salisbury to London road which allows residents to travel easily to the capital and major airports as well as Porton Down.

Its well-supported school and sports facilities as well as the Lord Nelson pub, Central Stores shop, its four churches and numerous walks around Bentley Wood also make it a pleasant place to live as does the warm community spirit the village prides itself on.

Resident Karis Thomas who nominated the village in the competition said: “Our village has such a great community. All year round there are different big events that everyone gets involved in like fetes and plays and pantos craft fairs and various more. And when times are tough especially at the moment the community really helps those in need out.”

Its many organisations, societies and clubs, such as the Horticultural Society and the Scouts to name a few are also very active as is the parish council, always on hand to help.

David Newton, Vice Chairman of Winterslow Parish Council has lived in the village for 43 years. He said: “In the road we live in, a lot of people have been here for as long as we have, there’s a lot of people who know one another. It’s a nice village to live in.”

Best Village Shop - Fourway Stores

Salisbury Journal: Rohit Babbar with his staffRohit Babbar with his staff

He might have only run it for two years, but his dedication to make it a vital part of the community has won his store the title of Best Village Shop.
We’re talking about Fourway Stores in Great Somerford and its owner Rohit Babbar.

Great Somerford and Startley Parish Councillor Meriel Griffiths who nominated him said: “We are absolutely delighted that they’ve won, we really think they deserve it, Rohit and his team. He’s only had [the shop] for a couple of years but he’s made an absolutely great effort to make it part of the community, sourcing products everyone needs and very quickly organising a group of volunteers to deliver food and groceries during lockdown.”

Rohit, 39, who moved to the village from Aldershot shortly before taking over the store, thanked everyone who supported him, adding: “It wasn’t just me but all the staff, the volunteers and customers. It was very much a collective effort.”