30 June 1995

HOW FEN

VILLAGE RE-BLOOMED

"A Postcard from Coates" was the theme and money for church repairs the aim of a Fenland flower festival which also boosted community spirit. Ann Rogers reports on the colourful scene

OUTSIDE the door of Holy Trinity Church, Coates, stood a cart laden with vegetables, farm produce, old harness, milk churns and flowers.

Just inside the door an arrangement of yellow and gold flowers caught the sunlight. This was a contribution to the church flower festival from one of the village-based businesses and fingers of golden rod reached out to link with an array of miniature John Deere tractors to represent the local dealership.

Both items were created by Lesley Beeton, a farmers wife, a former florist and the festival organiser, and both reflected the important part that farming plays in the life of this Cambridgeshire village even though most people in its expanding population head into Peterborough for work.

Coates is a village as full of life as its church was packed with flowers. Scores of villagers had worked to decorate each pew and to put on every ledge an arrangement that was "A postcard from Coates."

Local enterprises and organisations ranging from the Mums and Toddlers group (who decorated the font) to the Silver Lining Club (the senior citizens display at the rear of the church featured club activities) had contributed arrangements to represent themselves or the history or the fabric of Coates.

For example, the Womens Institute is responsible for the handsome village sign on South Green and members reproduced this in their "postcard". The old wheelwrights shop that used to stand on North Green (the two greens are separated by the main road) was represented by a decorated cartwheel. The Methodist church which flourishes in the centre of North Green made a contribution too, tracing the history of its form of worship, while the village stores was represented by a mini harvest festival of goods and flowers.

The aim of the festival was to raise funds for repairs to the 150-year-old parish church. Cracks high on the walls are thought to be the result of movement below ground and the cost of repairs is expected to be heavy. With tea, coffee and cakes served in the schoolroom and a flow of 800 visitors over three days, the festival reaped £2000 towards the bill.

Coates is in Fenland and is arable farming country. It has little livestock these days, save pig enterprises as reflected in the farming scene created by farmers wives Pauline Wheatley and Megan Minett. But animals were not forgotten. Denise Hall was invited to represent them in her "postcard" and produced a work which incorporated pictures of her family with their cattle in years gone by and remembered the wildlife of the area, including the herons which gather on the north bank of the River Nene at nearby Whittlesey.

Besides the floral artists and those who gave flowers or the money to buy them, floor sweepers, cake makers, tea servers and many others contributed to the festivals success. "The great thing is the way people have worked together," says the vicar. "I would not have imagined it in the beginning."

The ecclesiastical parish of Coates includes the adjoining villages of Eastrea and Turves and was one of the first to have a female vicar. The Reverend Barbara Way took up her ministry there last September. Her husband serves an adjoining three-village parish.

Though a newcomer to the area, she has developed an affection for it. "Theres something about this part of the world and the wide skies," she says. "People talk about the flats as if they are boring but actually they are not. People lose themselves in hills – you can lose yourself in space.

"The festival has brought people together and shown theres life in the old place. So many ages are involved from the toddlers of two to people of 80 odd. It cant do anything but help."