Watermead is one of the newer parishes in Buckinghamshire, with plans first drawn up in the 1980s. Built as a new village, it is situated about half a mile north of Aylesbury. The plan was to create a self-contained executive area that would bring new sports facilities and a better quality of housing to the town. It is also a civil parish within Aylesbury Vale District.
The parish is distinct for its lakes and extensive public amenity land, providing walks and places to enjoy nature that are open to the public. Watermead was built on green belt land, and at the planning stage the designers were required to pay special attention to the ecology of the local area to protect the environment. The centrality of the lake in the plans has resulted in a haven for wildlife and wildlife lovers.
Plans were drafted in the 1980s, with building completing in the 1990s and the central park in 1987. Watermead Parish was set up in 2001; “Watermead was voted one of the top villages of its type in the country in the early 1990s and won awards for its design and original ideas”. (3)
It is now an active parish, providing allotments and other local services. It meets once a month, with the exception of August and September. Prior to the parish being set up, a core group of community members created a residents association, a representative from the Parish noted;
“forming the company to protect what had been built and create a relationship between the residents and the developer; It’s quite normal to have a residents association to work with developers, as it means that there are go to people you can approach to bring up issues”.
Since the parish council has been set up, this representative said, “not that much has changed, everyone looks after what they’ve got. The parish council does the upkeep. Things have got busier though, with developments going up around on the other side of the main highway across from Watermead. But the characteristic of the place hasn’t really changed. We get threatened with more developments though. On the back of Watermead are lovely open fields, and twice developers have put in application for 25000 new homes. We keep fighting them back”.
The main objective of the parish council is to keep Watermead as it was initially designed to be: a recreational leisure and housing development. All the open land was handed to the parish council. The parish representative says they see this as giving them their remit, and they have objected to many planning applications for new homes around the development,
“to be honest, we spend most of our time fighting off development applications. Other than fighting these, there aren’t really any challenges everything runs quite smoothly. The community is really strong, and pulls together”.
Funding mostly comes from the Parish Precept, as well as from other revenue streams that are put back into the community. For example, the Village Hall is rented and income is put back into running and maintenance costs. Advertising revenue from Village View, the community magazine, is put back into the magazine. Every now and then, the parish receives grants, for example to put a new ceiling in the village hall. When there are projects the Parish can’t afford, they look for grants.
Speaking with a representative of the Parish, they noted; “Communicating with people is a core part of how we function. Including at a Parish Council level (which can only have seven people at a time), there’s a gardening society, which has 55 members. In the last two years, we’ve worked with local pubs to do events. This is usually with 12 community members, but helpers also come out on the day and we get close to 50 volunteers. Same with Village View, our local magazine. There is a small committee, but all people come and help, notes a representative from the Parish “there are monthly council meetings which is a public forum and everyone is welcome to these. People know that they can call and email at anytime. We run events, and support local businesses. All the councillors live here so were very approachable”.
The wildlife, residents and people of the wider Aylesbury surroundings.
What are the risks and challenges for initiating and also maintaining this initiative?
The biggest objective for the council is to keep Watermead as it is, and protesting against new developments. In this part of England, this will inevitably come into tension with the housing growth aspirations of government and the district council.
For those setting up a new parish, building on the work of a residents association, a core group of residents is essential. Communications is also key, and it’s important that the community can feel that they can communicate with the parish. The experience of Watermead also shows how volunteers can be used to benefit a local community. There are several core groups in Watermead using volunteering. The parish sends out the message to residents that the parish needs you and the community needs the parish, a mutual need.