A village with heart

Words by:
Melanie Burton
Featured in:
May 2017

A wealth of community spirit abounds in the North Kesteven village of Ruskington, which has all the amenities and facilities of a small town but the feel and welcome of a traditional rural settlement.
Ideally situated just four miles north of the market town of Sleaford and sixteen miles from Lincoln, Boston and Grantham, it still has its own railway station and a regular main bus service making it a great location for young families and retirees alike, and a popular place for people who perhaps want to live ‘out of town’ but easily commute to work.

It boasts a variety of services including a modern medical centre, a selection of quality retail units, many clubs and societies and a supermarket which also houses the post office, meaning residents literally have everything they need on the doorstep.

Though situated on flat fenland, Ruskington has features that have significant historical importance including an Anglo-Saxon burial ground and Roman road within the western boundary of the village.

However, it is notable for its parish church, All Saints, which has been a place of worship since the twelfth century when it was built on the site of an earlier stone church erected in the eleventh century. This earlier church is thought to have replaced an even earlier Saxon wooden church.

The Rev Canon Christine Pennock, who is rector at All Saints and is also Rural Dean of Lafford, hails from Yorkshire but has lived in the village for twelve years.

“All Saints has been at the heart of this village for 1,000 years. The village has grown up around the church and every generation has added something to the building. It has the history of the village in its walls.,” she said.

“The history of the church and the village go hand in hand. At one time the church council was the council that looked after the village. Up to the mid-nineteenth century all village business went through the church.”

Ruskington was an unusual village in the sense that back in the nineteenth century it not only had a rector but also a vicar at All Saints, sharing the care of the village at a time when it had less than 1,000 people in it.

Uniqueness is not a term to be used lightly, but Ruskington has it in abundance. It was home to the first Airborne Reconnaissance Squadron and Parachute Squadron, otherwise known as the men of Arnhem, who were billeted around the village and who the villagers took to their hearts.

“The villagers saw them off when they went off to fight and when so few returned the villagers were so upset they used to hold a special service every year in honour of those that died,” said the Rev Pennock.

“There is a war memorial to those men and the standard and the bugle that they took into action with them is housed in the church. That is one feature of the church that is unique, and another is that there are also photos on the wall of the men who trained here before they went out to battle.”

All Saints is the oldest building in the village but it is served by several churches, such as the Ruskington Methodist Church, South Lincs Church (a Pentecostal church formerly known as Emmanuel Christian Centre) and the Ruskington Free Church.

“That is also unique. There are about 6,000 people in the village being served by four denominations. For the size of the village that is unusual, as is the fact that it has two primary schools. Normally a village would have only one,” said Rev Pennock.

A place, though, is not just about its history, its amenities or what it has to offer; it is also about the people and the community spirit they create, a view the Rev Pennock shares.

“What makes Ruskington special is its people. They are very friendly. You can’t walk down the street in Ruskington and be ignored, which is a unique feature in these days where people are rushing here, there and everywhere. Ruskington folk speak. That is always the special thing about them. You can’t be ignored in Ruskington.

“That is the heart for this village. It is what makes it special. Hopefully it will remain like that. Shopkeepers know everything and look out for everyone. Here in Ruskington there are no strangers.

“There is no attitude when people arrive. People welcome them and tell them about the village, about the different clubs, societies and amenities and the buildings etc. You are brought in and taken to their heart. They are lovely people.”

An example of the community looking out for each other is the local café’s intervention when one of their regular customers wasn’t seen for a few days, said Rev Pennock.

“The lady concerned visited the café every day and they contacted me because she had been missed. In fact, she had collapsed in her bungalow, so had the people at the café not alerted us to the fact that she hadn’t been seen, the outcome could have been very different. Her life was saved because they wondered why they hadn’t seen her. It does make Ruskington a special place.”

It has been said, though, that tradition decrees the only way to become a Ruskingtonian is to fall in the Beck, which is a well-known feature of Ruskington and runs through the centre of the village. It is also home to the Ruskington ducks.

“A villager who married in the mid-fifties received some white ducks but they kept escaping. Once they escaped and were found in the Beck, so the owner decided to let them stay where they were,” explained the rector.

“The wild ducks have joined them and now there are still white ducks as well as the grey ones. But when the ducks cross the road, they really get going and are a sight to behold.”

The most recent proof of how great the community spirit is in Ruskington is the ‘Love Ruskington with bells on’ campaign, which aims to prevent the historic bells at All Saints Church falling silent forever.

The urgent work on the six bells, which range in age from 1593 to 1911, is estimated to cost between £43,000 and £50,000. The problems came to light earlier this year when the tenor bell got stuck and an expert went up the tower to re-hang it at a cost of £5,000. It was discovered that a lot more work needed doing urgently because maintenance work had not been carried out on the bells for more than 100 years.

A fundraising group was formed at the beginning of last year to raise the much-needed funds and the village has rallied with its support ever since.

So far they have been selling T-shirts with the slogan: ‘I love Ruskington with bells on’, the schools have been writing stories about the bells for a book to sell with their own illustrations and the committee has been gathering evidence showing the community is in support of the campaign.

A gift day raised £2,000 at harvest festival time and a sponsored bike ride and afternoon tea has helped reach a total of more than £6,000. A further £1,000 has just been donated by DC Baxters’ garage and Spar shop in the village and back in December the fund had exceeded the £9,000 mark.

The bells campaign is not the only thing the community is involved in either. The village has a volunteer led community library which is open three days a week and is staffed by volunteers. It officially opened its doors just a year ago in March 2016 but had been up and running for six months by then.

So popular did it prove to be that the previous footfall figures of 1,500 people a year using the library when it was run by Lincolnshire County Council was exceeded within six months of it being taken over by the community.

The library is on the junction between Station Road and Church Street and is used by pre-school children, university students and the elderly alike. It also runs a variety of clubs.

There is nothing quite like hearing the church bells ring out wherever you are – whether in a village, a town or a city.

But that prospect was facing the residents in Ruskington when it was discovered that the bells at its parish church of All Saints had not undergone any maintenance work for more than 100 years and were at risk of falling silent forever.

The bells, six in all, are very much part of everyday village life but are also a big part of Ruskington’s history, with the oldest having been installed 400 years ago during the reign of Elizabeth I.

The community faced a daunting task – a restoration project costing between £43,000 and £50,000 with a deadline of November 2018 to meet. But up they stepped. A fundraising committee was formed, the villagers were alerted to the problem and the wheels were set in motion.

Debra Wadsley, a member of the All Saints Ruskington Bells restoration committee, explained: “We started the campaign at the beginning of last year and our aim is to restore the bells and maintain them to make them safe and sound for the next 400 years – 400 years being the age of the oldest bell.

“We see the bells as a positive for the village. They are a big part of life in Ruskington and are a community asset. Talking to people, everyone has echoed the feeling that they love the bells, they are part of village life and they don’t want to lose them. They are supporting what we are trying to do.”

The team of six have been very active over the past year, attending various village events such as Party in the Park, the Christmas Fayre and the Village Celebration Day.

“The biggest focus at the moment is the grant application to the Heritage Fund,” Debra said. “We have been collecting signatures as evidence that the community is supporting us and getting the evidence of what benefit it will be to the community if the campaign is successful.”

The team are also involving the local primary schools in the campaign with an imaginative book idea to capture the imagination of readers young and old.

“We are involving them to create a book about the bells. There are six bells so we have created six characters for the bells, such as Boo – the shy bell who doesn’t like people hearing him ring; Billy Bell, who is very naughty and won’t do as he is told and has a pet bat called Belfry; and Bessie Bell, who is the oldest bell and is very regal,” said Debra.

“The children have really engaged with it, we have a professional on board and we are hoping to get a publisher so we can sell the book.

“We have explored the self-publishing route but it is not the right way for a charity, so we are seeking a sponsored publisher. We want to be as big as the Teletubbies.”

The bells have been part of Ruskington’s heritage and its soundscape for more than 400 years. Back in 1593, when Queen Elizabeth I was on the throne, the first two bells rang out in the bell tower for the first time. Later on in 1882 and then 1911, four more huge cast iron bells were added, making the glorious six-bell peal heard by the villagers of Ruskington for more than 100 years.

“For us all to hear the bells ringing out for the next 400 years, action is being taken now to raise the £50,000 needed to make the bells safe and sound,” said Debra.

Lunettes Opticians on Ruskington’s High Street offers the highest standard of eye care services, reflected in the practice’s recent triumph after beating other nationwide opticians to be selected as Young Practice of the Year, in the prestigious Association of Optometrists Awards.

As well as highly trained and skilled staff, Lunettes Opticians houses state-of-the-art equipment including OCT scanning. They also stock an extensive selection of stylish eyewear and supply high quality bespoke lenses.

Established in 1992 by expert optometrist Tushar Majithia, Lunettes Opticians in Ruskington opened in 2012 and became part of the independent group alongside practices in Sleaford and Grantham, which have been serving the community’s eye care needs for over twenty-five years.

All three practices provide NHS and private eye tests, colour vision testing and contact lenses. In addition to this, Lunettes Opticians offers Low Vision Services commissioned by Lincolnshire CCGs, to provide a high quality, Low Vision Service in local, accessible settings to the people of Lincolnshire. Lunettes is also the locally commissioned Minor Eye Conditions Service (MECS) provider.

To book your next appointment at Lunettes Opticians in Ruskington, Tel: 01526 834466, or for more information about the practice’s various services please visit the website www.lunettes.co.uk

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