Life in the Somerset village dubbed ‘kindest in the UK’
Written by Somerset Live on May 14, 2022
It was once dubbed the UK’s kindest village. Congresbury earned the prestigious accolade as a result of the Love Congresbury community group launching the 800 Acts of Random Kindness campaign to celebrate the 800th anniversary of St Andrew’s Church in 2015.
The campaign encouraged villagers to be ‘kind to one another’ and led to more than 800 selfless gestures – from feeding a friend’s pet to handing out Christmas presents to elderly residents. That kindness, and togetherness of the community, is still very evident today with the village, with a population of around 3,500, boasting a plethora of local groups from a thriving community cafe to a mums group, guides, karate and a youth club.
One of the village’s main community hubs is Conygar’s Cafe in Broad Street where the historic cross – a scheduled ancient monument – stands. The cafe was taken over by husband and wife team Sonya and Ian Stocker in December 2019, three months before the coronavirus lockdown hit.
The couple have lived in Congresbury for the last 25 years. “We wanted the cafe to be a real community hub for the village,” said Ian.
“We felt it important to address the issue of social isolation, especially with the pandemic. It was important for it to be a space where everyone is welcome.” The cafe opens six days a week and sells a delicious range of home cooked cakes, toasties and sandwiches alongside a range of locally made craft items.
It also hosts workshops, from fused glass to creative writing. “We love it here,” said Ian. “We always said if we were to move, we’d stay in Congresbury, or not move at all.”
The cafe is also home to Re:Store zero waste shop, run by Jo Underwood and Claire Jones. Re:Store opened in June 2020 and sells an impressive range of goods from spices, herbs, pasta, rice along with loose leaf tea and store cupboard essentials.
It also offers fabric conditioners, cleaners, soaps and shower and bathroom essentials along with a ‘green’ cleaning range. People bring their own containers to fill up and every product on the shelves is tried and tested by Jo and Claire themselves.
Jo, 34, moved to the village from Bristol after wanting to escape city life. “We were keen to move into North Somerset and get out of Bristol,” she said. “From a practical point of view it’s within easy reach of both Weston-super-Mare and the city and has good transport links.
“The lifestyle here is so nice and it’s so friendly.” Jo quickly immersed herself in village life and is a member of a thriving mums group with more than 100 members. “Everyone seems to know everyone in the village, which is a positive thing and does not feel stifling in any way.
“And it’s wonderful how the local community has got behind and supported the shop.” Jo and other businesses along Broad Street – which include the newly opened Ziggi’s deli, an estate agent, charity shop, chemist, beauty salon and a takeaway have recently set up a traders group.
“We want to work with the council to continue to improve Broad Street as a place to come,” said Jo. “We’d like to see further environmental enhancements such as cycle parking and some more planting.”
Congresbury has a smorgasbord of community groups. There are the Congresbury Singers, a history group and a friendly society among dozens more.
The village also has three pubs – The Congresbury Arms, The Old Inn and The Plough – winner of many CAMRA awards. Other hostelries have since gone by the by. The Bell Inn on the A370 was demolished in 2011 and replaced by a Tesco Express and new homes.
The Spotted Horse on Brinsea Road was demolished in 1999 and replaced by houses. Along with Broad Street, the other hub of the village is the precinct complete with the Welcome Congresbury village store, a bakery and sandwich bar, butchers, door company, fish and fish and chip shop and a village Post Office as well as the long standing Tinknells Country Store.
Postmaster Jagta Seehra and wife Sukjhvinder had run the post office for nearly 35 years but retired in March handing over the reins to Ashish Bhoyar who took over six weeks ago. Ashish had run a number of post offices in Bristol before deciding he wanted one of his own.
And since arriving in the village, which is named after Saint Congar, Ashish says he has received a warm welcome. “I’ve worked for the post office for 15 years and wanted a business of my own,” he said.
“The best part of the village I have found so far is its close knit community. In Bristol everyone was always rushing around. Here, people know each other and always take time to chat.
“Everyone has welcomed me into the village. I certainly don’t feel like I’ve only been here for a few weeks.”
As well as the pubs, there is also the village war memorial hall which has its own social club and large hall used by local organisations and for events. There is also the Methodist Church, the Old School Rooms and the village recreation club at the King George V Playing Fields and many sports clubs.
The village school St Andrew’s Primary is rated as good. The 13th century church – St Andrew’s – is also a focal point of the village. A few years ago parts of the shrine of St Congar – the saint after which the village is named -were discovered under the floor of a barn in the grounds.
There are many interesting facts about the church which welcomed its first vicar Theabold de Bucketot in 1228. The Refectory dates from about 1446 and is of national importance. It holds the record for having the longest continuous occupation as a parsonage in the country.
The church bells have the fourth heaviest peal of eight in the world and in the cemetery is the grave of a local farmer who captured a highwayman. In a local legend, similar to that of Joseph of Arimethia’s thorn at Glastonbury, it is said when St Congar wished for a yew tree to provide shade, he planted his staff in the earth and on the following day it put forth leaves and grew into a wide-spreading tree.
Surrounded by countryside and popular with walkers, the village is also a stop off point of the Strawberry Line which runs from Yatton station to Cheddar. Like many rural villagers, Congresbury has seen development over the years.
During the 1960’s the population of the village doubled and by 1971, the census showed 3397 residents. The Southlands estate was built after the war and was followed in the 1960s and 70s by estates in the Park Road area, Stonewell/Silverstone/Yew Tree/Silver Street and Cobthorn/Verlands/Weetwood and Wrington Mead.
Sheltered housing for the elderly was built in Chestnut Close and Yeo Court and a number of smaller developments were all completed by the mid-70s with Bramley Square and Cadbury Square completed by the end of the 1970s. Development over the next few decades was more limited with the addition of social housing and some infill developments.
But in more recent years the developers have returned to circle the parish. Congresbury Residents Action Group (CRAG) was set up in 2014 in response to the continued threat and over the years had fought off plans for hundreds of homes in the village – including plans by Barratt Homes to build 80 homes on land on land at Silver Street in 2015.
It also campaigned against plans to build homes on green fields at Wrington Lane and at Venus Street. In its latest battle the group is battling proposals to build 90 homes on Park Farm.
Villagers say the development – which developers are calling Pineapple Farm -would bring unacceptable amounts of traffic to the residential streets and Brinsea Road and add to the congestion at the junction with the A370. Concerns have also been raised about the impact on local wildlife the development would have.
John Mills, a CRAG committee member who has lived in the village for more than 30 years, said: “Developers have been circling Congresbury since 2014. These developer want to take all of the open space around the village and swallow up its green buffers.
“Is it our aim to fight to keep Congresbury as the village we all love.”