The ‘Do-it-Yourself’ approach of locals in Silverdale
PUBLISHED: 00:00 13 November 2017
This busy community might sometimes feel like the village that time forgot, but it’s full of people who help themselves. Martin Pilkington reports
That’s the candid view of the people who live there. For many, it’s great to be surrounded by the lovely countryside that creates an illusion of remoteness – less wonderful when you need simple jobs from the local authority, such as hedge cutting and street cleaning.
That probably explains who the villagers have adopted a ‘Do-it-Yourself’ approach. They will often stuck in and lead the way on projects that might otherwise be neglected.
A prime example is FOSS – Friends of Silverdale Station, which has a waiting room designed by the eminent Victorian architects Paley & Austin. ‘Two years ago we were waiting on the platform in a gale,’ says the group’s chairwoman Margaret Mackintosh. ‘We could see the trees smashing into the roof of the lovely 1860s building and feared that, for health and safety reasons, it would be demolished. We wanted to keep it so we formed FOSS.’
Since the formation, they’ve had bins installed on the platforms, made improvements to the building, they’ll shortly have two benches in place using ends cast to be in keeping with the architecture, and are planning to have wi-fi available shortly.
‘The rail-link is important now as lots of people commute to Lancaster one way and to Barrow the other, and even on to Sellafield, and it’s vital for taking children to the schools in Lancaster,’ adds Bill Robinson, the group’s treasurer.
They also have plans to use the waiting-room as an information point for visitors, promoting local businesses and attractions, foremost among them that RSPB site. ‘In the 1960s the society took over this land and has managed it specifically for wetland species like the bittern, and this year is the 30th anniversary of marsh harriers nesting here,’ says Jon Carter, the site’s visitor experience manager. ‘When they arrived here in 1987 there hadn’t been a pair in Lancashire in over 100 years.’
Jon and his colleagues aren’t resting on their conservation laurels. ‘We’re always trying to attract families and a new audience with activities here like pond-dipping and mini-beast hunts, and improving the facilities – we’ve recently renovated the hides, and have the Sky Tower to give a great view of the whole landscape.
‘We have to look to the future and need to maintain environmental awareness - if you don’t have an interest in something will you protect it, will you vote to save wildlife? It’s also about confronting what’s being called nature deficit disorder. One study recently revealed prisoners spend more time outside than children!’
There’s no reticence about getting out and about for members of the Arnside and Silverdale Landscape Trust, which organises walks, lectures and volunteering activities to showcase and protect this beautiful corner’s special nature, and again shows local keenness to get involved. ‘The Trust is a supporter organisation of people passionate about the area, with over a 1,000 members,’ says one of its officials, Dr Peter Standing. ‘This is the third tiniest AONB in Britain, with the highest ratio of members per hectare of any. The level of support is astonishing.
‘It’s a magnet for all sorts of people mad about the environment and geology and so on. This area has a high percentage of people fascinated by this sort of thing, and it’s often why they moved here.’
Peter, waiting to lead a walk to explore the walled garden of Roger and Natalia Walton, of Hazelwood Lodge, a normally private property, added: ‘We’ve done the total geography of Silverdale Parish, every aspect of the geology, geomorphology, the coastal features, the estuary, woodlands, flowers, mammals and so on. They’re not social but educational walks, though fairly gentle. We have an extremely educated population around here, the typical walk will have two or three retired professors and the odd fellow of the Royal Society!’
National Trust signs at every turn around the village indicate how special its landscape is, and the excellent condition of those sites is again in part attributable to local activism.
‘My wife and I volunteer for the trust every Wednesday,’ says parish councillor Terry Bond. ‘Jack Scout, Arnside Knott, Eaves Wood, Silverdale Lots, Heald Brow – this area has plenty of NT sites, and the average volunteer turnout here is about 25, which is pretty good compared to some other areas.’
He is keen to stress that Silverdale is a vibrant community as well as a picturesque location. ‘We’ve got great amenities for a village, including the school with a roll of 77 now, shops, three pubs – and a beer festival in October - the Gaskell Hall for the drama society and for loads of activities like fund-raising coffee mornings, scouts and guides, choirs, painting groups, the history society. It’s a good community.’
But he also emphasises that its relative remoteness from regional decision-makers brings some problems. ‘We continually have issues with services like road-cleaning and hedge-cutting, and feel we’re sometimes forgotten out here.’
As it can take some time for an ambulance some time to reach Silverdale, the council is working on improving first-aider first responder provision. The village has been quick too in taking up what B4RN – Broadband for Rural North – can offer, bringing it closer, virtually, to the rest of the world. But as Terry says, remoteness brings other benefits. ‘We’ve had no serious crime reported for three months. A bigger problem is the damage done by deer!’