Community is an important word in the market town of Ossett and neighbouring Horbury

PUBLISHED: 15:11 13 September 2012 | UPDATED: 21:52 20 February 2013

Community is an important word in the market town of Ossett and neighbouring Horbury

Community is an important word in the market town of Ossett and neighbouring Horbury

Community is an important word in the market town of Ossett and neighbouring Horbury, near Wakefield, discovers Tony Greenway. Photographs by John Cocks

It was the late Stan Barstow, author of A Kind of Loving, who dubbed Ossett and Horbury border country. That was a good label because, here, the north-west coalfields meet the south-west wool towns.

Ossett and Horbury are also, pretty much, slap bang in the middle of England. Ive never tried it, but they say that if you stand at the top of Trinity Church - a local Ossett landmark - you can see both coasts on a clear day. You can certainly see Trinity Church for miles around, so it might be true.

The areas 19th century wealth was built on wool and shoddy, but you can forget your dark, satanic mills. Ossett and Horbury are now both attractive places to live. Take Ossett.

It has, count them, nine primary schools and one secondary school; great transport links and a collection of smart independent shops, cafes and eateries. It even has its own brewery.

Smaller Horbury, meanwhile, has a lovely neo-classical parish church, designed by the Georgian architect John Carr (whos buried in it). And did you know that a former curate, the Rev Sabine Baring-Gould (1834-1924), wrote the hymn Onward Christian Soldiers for local children as they marched to the church at Whitsuntide in 1865?

These days, Horbury has good food shops, cafes and bookshops, a town trail and a great local show on the last Sunday of June which attracts several thousand visitors from all over the region. Like Ossett, Horbury also has a well-attended Christmas light switch-on event.

Both places tend to get under your skin. Local Peter Savage, a trained dancer, left Ossett for London in the 1960s to begin a career in the professional theatre. He accomplished his dream and made it to the West End, and even became part of the Black and White Minstrels for a time. But he returned to Ossett to put down roots in 1991.

During his showbiz years, Peter had been back to Ossett to visit family and friends; but once he was living in the town again, he realised it had changed profoundly.

The whole place was different, he says. When I left, most of Ossett was like a collection of small villages. But when the housing started sprawling out, it all merged into one town. There had been a lot of modernisation, too, while I was away; so a lot of the old buildings and old churches were lost, unfortunately. But thats progress.

Fortunately, says Peter, the centre still has its town hall, which celebrated its centenary in 2008, and was built by AW Hanstock of Batley, who also designed Horbury Town Hall.

Its a beautiful building and, if you remember World of Sport and Grandstand, was once a venue for televised professional wrestling.
The front seats in the balcony of the town hall have seen better days, however, and need to be renovated and Peter, who works with the Ossett Civic Trust and the Ossett Town Centre Partnership, says that a voluntary group will be organising a fundraising drive for that purpose. Each seat costs 100 to refurbish, says Peter, and there are106 of them, so weve got a lot of fundraising to do.

Peter loves the pedestrianised precinct by the town hall. Its a big area which is absolutely superb, he says.

At the town centre partnership, we organised a Diamond Jubilee picnic in the precinct. We encouraged people to bring their own tables, chairs and food and had competitions for the best dressed table and it was packed. By lunchtime we couldnt get another table in.

Thats a good example of how local groups pull together and, says Peter, theres a real sense of community spirit in the town.

Journalist and broadcaster David Hepworth is another local lad. Hes also a former editorial director of publishing giant EMAP, and was the driving force behind such magazines as Empire, Q, Heat and FHM. Plus he presented the BBCs Whistle Test and, in 1985, was one of the anchors of Live Aid.

David was born in Ossett but his parents came from Gawthorpe, a small village on the outskirts, so he spent a lot of time there, starting his schooling at Gawthorpe School. He came back to the area for Yorkshire Day on August 1st, so I asked him for his memories of the place.

When I look back, its the usual blue remembered hills of childhood, he says. Zion Congregational Chapel, the maypole, one grandfather who had a shoe-mending business and the other living in grand style at Temperance Villa. And there was a butcher who was literally the only gay in the village.

Furthermore, its just struck me that when I was a small boy, Ossett had its own cinema, called The Palladium, which seems incredible now.
Davids dad was in the shoddy and rags business so a lot of my time was spent inhaling staggering quantities of dust while helping to fill bales of rags.

The town has changed a lot but Im pleased to see that theres a lady tweeting as @ossettobserver - the name of the defunct local paper - whos doing a lot to regenerate community spirit.

That lady is actually Jacqui Wicks, who has spent her professional life in the arts. Ossett hasnt kept pace with the rest of the world in terms of a cultural offer, she says. Its still a good little town with lots of specialist shops - a milliner, cake-maker, dancewear shop, art shop, but the things that attract to me to a place are the arts and cultural activities. My partner and I find that we always travel outside to get that cultural fix.

With that in mind, Jacqui and a group of like-minded residents got together to see what they could do to change things. Sitting in a coffee shop in Ossett they generated various ideas and, after months of hard work and fundraising, the result was Flock to Ossett, a carnival-style day, which was delivered in June with help from Arts Council cash.

We put together a programme of activities, says Jacqui.
For example, we worked with John Godbers theatre company on a first reading of A Kind of Loving, presented spoken word and music, and because of Ossetts wool history created a yarnstorming project. This, says Jacqui, is where wool is applied to things in the great outdoors so that they are turned into semi-permanent works of art.

If the idea of Flock to Ossett was to get people to come to the town,
it worked and feedback has been excellent. There is now hope that it will become an annual event.

Ossett and Horbury are great places to visit. Scratch the surface and theres a lot to see and do. There must be something about the area, says Jacqui.

Housing stock is good, the schools are good, but I dont think the people who live in Ossett use the town as much as they should. I can see its faults.

But you know how in a family that you can criticise your brother or sister but if anyone else does it, you want to kill them? Well, thats Ossett!

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