The Countryside and School Closures

The local school is threaten with closure. Newspaper reporters dropped the bombshell to parents picking up their children. Placards are hurriedly being made.

Both my boys went to the school. We are in its catchment area but it still meant nearly an hour on the bus for them to get in, quite a deal for a five-year-old. The real local school, the one at the top of the hill ten minutes walk from our front door, closed decades ago. It had one room and one teacher, who taught all the kids in the village. Inside was a pot-bellied stove where the children would hang their wet socks and a cauldron of soup would simmer until lunch.

There have not been enough children to support that school for a long time and now sadly the same fate is befalling the next nearest school in the county.

This sleepy valley where I nurture my family and tend my vegetable patch in sometimes tedious reclusion was once a hive of activity. Farms, not much bigger than our smallholding, sustained generations of families who worked the land and excavated the mines. Meagre livelihoods were eked out in harsh conditions. Produce such as eggs, milk and vegetables would be taken into town to be sold.

Mechanisation instigated a change in farming practices and a drift towards the towns has continued ever since. Within a lifetime the face of our countryside has changed unrecognisably. It’s unlikely that families with young children will live in these rural parts now. It’s a privilege of the well to do. A retreat in which to retire. Derelict farm houses litter the valley.

Supermarkets seized on this migration and further drove the pace of change. Their demand for cheaper supplies in greater quantities forces our farmers to produce more for less and it’s the land that suffers.

And us.

So if you really want to hit back at those who hurt you I would make a soup, like the one that bubbled away on the pot-bellied stove at the school on the hill. The ingredients wouldn’t have been bought plastic-wrapped and ready-washed but grown, given or exchanged.

By making food from scratch, by using local seasonal ingredients we are in some part paying back into a way of life that saw fit to sustain a rural local school. And if nothing else, I’m sure it will taste great.

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