A CORNER of rural Northumberland has scored top marks for community spirit at an awards ceremony. Branton First School in the Breamish Valley faced closure after pupil numbers fell to six.
Last year the school was celebrating after being given access to part of an adjacent nature reserve which had been created from a quarry by Cemex UK on the edge of Northumberland National Park.
But delight at having a site on the doorstep which attracts more than 50 species of birds was dimmed by the prospect of closure because low pupils numbers put the school’s financial viability in doubt.
But after a packed public meeting, the local community pledged money and embarked on fundraising events to finance the school for the coming year.
Plans were also laid to help future viability by opening a nursery at the school.
In April the closure threat was lifted and now the school has won the Thriving Communities category in the annual Northumberland National Park awards.
And on Tuesday the Duchess of Northumberland will officially open the Breamish Valley Community Nursery at the school, where local county councillor Anthony Murray will display the award.
The school now has seven pupils and five youngsters in the nursery.
Locals have also volunteered to take on maintenance tasks at the school.
Branton headteacher Alison Lloyd-Harris said: “If it had not been for the community rallying round and being determined to keep the school, we could not have done it.”
The community victory was welcome news for Jimmy and Jean Givens, who live half a mile along the valley.
Jimmy, former national park head warden who retired in 1993, was a pupil at the school, where Jean was also cook for around 13 years.
And the couple made it a valley double by winning the Curlew award for dedicated service to the national park.
Jimmy was one of the first wardens in the park and for many years has carried out maintenance jobs in the valley.
He still helps grow thousands of wildflower plugs for planting in the park.
Jean took care of facilities at the valley’s park visitor centre at Ingram until its closure last month due to budget cuts, and she is part of the cleaning rota for the local church.
“Everybody in the valley does their bit,” said Jean.
The Welcoming National Park award went to Joyce and Colin Turner, who run the Forest View Inn at Byrness on the Pennine Way, where many of the guests are walkers and cyclists.
The couple took over what had been the Byrness youth hostel and installed solar panels to heat water and a wood pellet boiler.
They have created accommodation for 17 in single, twin and family rooms, with Joyce’s home-cooking restaurant and a bar.
But they stepped in to provide a key service after a bed and breakfast provider between the inn and the end of the Pennine Way retired.
That left walkers facing a 27-mile trek so the couple now pick up hikers at the halfway point, take them back to the inn, and back again the next day so that they can complete the trail,
For 12 years the couple provided accommodation for officers attending courses at South Shields Marine School.
“We semi-retired to Northumberland but then the hostel became available. When we started work it was exceptionally basic,” said Joyce.
“It is used by lots of walkers because of its location and we have a boot room and drying room so we can make them welcome with a cup of tea in their hands quickly after they arrive.”
Lord James Percy was the winner of the Living-Working Landscape Award for wide-ranging projects on his Linhope estate.