Pateley Bridge - the village with winning ways
PUBLISHED: 00:00 07 August 2017 | UPDATED: 20:00 08 August 2017
Credit: MSP Travel Images / Alamy Stock Photo
Small but mighty Pateley Bridge shows where a healthy dose of community spirit can get you.
Pateley Bridge might look like a lovingly recreated film set for ‘The Picture Perfect Rural Village’, starring Eddie Redmayne as a doctor relocating from the big smoke to look after his ailing uncle’s country practice and Felicity Jones as a free-spirited librarian (she wears glasses and is not averse to letting her skirt blow up as she cycles down the high street).
But don’t be fooled by its quaintness, its steep, winding high street packed with little shops (most of which look like they’ve been run by the same family since before the war… of the roses) and its abundance of jaunty bunting. This isn’t a film set and the people popping into the shops for a pound of sausages or a quarter of mint imperials are not actors. Film sets are two-dimensional fleeting moments of perfection, while Pateley Bridge is the real deal – a thriving village where real people do their best to make a real difference.
Among them are the tireless team of volunteers at Nidderdale Museum, a community-run venture in The Old Workhouse in King Street, set up in 1975 to share the history and heritage of the area and the traditional rural life of its people.
Around 7,000 visitors a year make their way round the 11 wonderfully evocative rooms of fascinating, locally-donated exhibits, taking in all aspects of country living from the field and the kitchen to the dock and the poorhouse, ably guided on their journey through time by friendly, well-informed volunteers.
The museum doesn’t look much from the outside, but it’s a real treasure trove within, maintained with passion and enthusiasm by the award-winning team. They’re probably too modest to mention it themselves, but they recently received The Queen’s Award for Voluntary Service – the highest award given to UK volunteer groups and the equivalent of an MBE.
‘We were really chuffed and surprised,’ said Anna Donnelly, secretary of Nidderdale Museum. ‘We couldn’t tell anyone we’d been shortlisted and then we had to keep it secret that we’d got it until it had been officially gazetted. When it was finally revealed, we were absolutely thrilled – and I think the village was too.’
As well as the committee, there are 80 volunteer stewards who man the museum every day from April to October. Most are local and most are older members of the community who are happy to share their time and knowledge with visitors, including local history groups, people studying their genealogy and school parties.
‘The children can’t believe that people used to have their shoes mended, and that the Victorian parlour doesn’t have a television,’ said Anna.
‘We get a lot of repeat visitors because they can’t take it all in in just one visit. There’s so much to see; so much detail. And we also get tourists from all over the world, who are fascinated and baffled in equal measure.’
Most of the current crop of volunteers have worked at the museum for a long time and, while there are some concerns about where the next generation of volunteers will come from, they seem a pretty chirpy bunch.
‘There’s a very happy atmosphere among the volunteers,’ said Anna, who’s originally from Cork and moved to Pateley Bridge in 2000. ‘There’s so much laughter you wouldn’t believe it. I’m sure people wonder how we ever get anything done, but we do. We have a great rapport and we all look after each other.
‘I think it’s the same across the village as a whole. The general feeling in Pateley Bridge is that we all just feel very lucky to live here.’
As you stroll back to the high street from the museum, you’ll pass The Playhouse, a dinky little theatre in what was once a Primitive Methodist Chapel, where you can see Pateley Bridge Dramatic Society’s female version of The Odd Couple this autumn, and, within a few short strides, you’ll find yourself amid a plethora of small but perfectly-formed shops like The Oldest Sweet Shop in England, Crow’s Nest Antiques and Kendall’s Family Butchers.
It should come as no surprise that Pateley Bridge fought off stiff – but impeccably polite – competition from Kirkby Lonsdale in Cumbria and Langport in Somerset to win the village category in the latest Great British High Street Awards.
As he handed over a cheque for £5,000, high streets minister Andrew Percy said the Nidderdale residents behind the win deserved the very highest praise indeed, adding: ‘Their community spirit and creativity really made them stand out, with ballads, bunting and a battle bus to boot.’
Come on, you’ve got to love a village that’s got its own battle bus. And if Steven Spielberg ever gets round to shooting ‘The Picture Perfect Rural Village’, can we suggest that Penelope Wilton drives it.
To find out more about what’s going on at Nidderdale Museum, or to add your name to the roster of volunteers, visit nidderdalemuseum.com