Syston in Lincolnshire is an exceptional village.
It sits in a beautiful location: looking out of the window, the view is one of a bucolic idyll; tree-covered hills border fields worked yearlong by the local farmer, which are separated from the houses by a trout river. Surrounding the prominent spire of the village church lies an old school house, a manor house, and other buildings that were originally built to service the old hall, which formerly sat on the hill in Syston Park. Some of the buildings in the village date back over two centuries. These and others built during the 60’s and 70’s, now make up the homes of the residents. It is in every sense a typical English semi-rural village.
It is also very small – just 3 roads (2 of which are essentially dead ends with no passing traffic) and around 30 houses.
There is no pub. For that, you have to walk into the next village – probably all of 500 yards away. It is close but, in many ways, quite far away: the feel of the 2 villages is very different indeed.
But what makes this particular village remarkable are its people. They are (or in many cases, were); teachers, nurses, engineers, military, accountants, farmers, scientists, solicitors, railway workers, gardeners, architects, lecturers, business owners, judges, police officers, house wives and more besides. That’s quite an array for such a small place. Many residents are very actively retired, although there are a few younger families. Some have lived in, or around, the village for almost their entire lives; others, like us, are more recent blow-ins.
We moved here as a family five years ago, and we were instantly taken by how sociable the village is. There is constant activity throughout the year; parties and gatherings from the New Year all the way through to Christmas, ranging from the simple to the more ‘elaborate’. The spring and summer months are filled with activities such as garden parties, weekly village walks, and fundraising events. The summer festivities culminate in the annual village show in the early autumn, shared by the neighbouring village of Barkston. And as gloomy December descends, the village’s houses are lit up by the Christmas lights competition. Many avid gardeners reside here and excess fruit and veg is often shared out, as are the fruits of the country sports such as the odd pheasant or fish (although not fish from the local river – ‘taking’ from there is verboten). There are musical groups, travel groups, and dieting groups (led by a biting, sarcastic, queen of the hive with dagger-like wit). Neither age, nor stage of life, is a barrier to active participation.
These events help to maintain the fabric of the village, but beneath all of these is something else which came as a real surprise to us.
We have lived in many parts of the UK, and beyond. We’ve lived in large villages (including the largest village in the world), large and small towns and small cities and even a mega-city. But, in none of these places have we ever experienced such a strong level of community caring as we have experienced here, and it is that which makes the village exceptional. It comes, I think, from familiarity – people living together for many years, even decades. From families being raised here. From people looking out for each other, especially as the inhabitants age. From people becoming very comfortable with themselves and each other. Shared experience and stories; shared grief and shared joy.
Covid-19 and the resulting ongoing 2020 lockdown has brought that caring aspect to the fore. The village has pulled together even more, making a tight-knit community even tighter. Social media and messaging groups have helped to ensure communication, albeit virtually. Group grocery orders and deliveries into the village (managed at what is now known as Lynton Larder) both from the local farm shop, and also when individuals place supermarket orders, or brave a run to the surrounding local stores. There are now daily newspaper deliveries for the older pensioners by some teenagers in the village. It is wonderful and very comforting to witness and experience.
There is a saying “the best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago, the next best is now”. I’ve been wanting to capture the people in this village for a few years but never quite got around to doing it. The lockdown, however, has given me the impetus to crack-on and get it done. As a moment in history being lived by a small community, I wanted to capture those that are living here through another shared , although unprecedented, experience – one that is bringing anxiety but also a great deal of joy precise because of the strong village support mechanisms – and that is testament to those that dwell in this exceptional village.