Our Green Space, a Cumbria-wide project was developed and managed in partnership by Friends of the Lake District (FLD) and Action with Communities in Cumbria (ACT).

It was funded by the Heritage Lottery ‘Your Heritage’ grant scheme and Friends of the Lake District and run with the support of many other individuals and organisations. The project employed two part time Project Officers and initially ran from January 2008 to December 2010 but was subsequently extended to December 2011.

About Newbiggin Dacre Parish Penrith

Newbiggin is an ancient farming village situated in the rural parish of Dacre. It is one of the smaller villages within the parish and lies on a limestone ridge along a line of springs.

These springs would once have been a vital water supply and have been channelled into wells and troughs along the length of the village. Two of these wells are situated in the heart of the village “Prospect” on a registered village green and “Sunbeam” on an adjacent registered common.

The wells had been neglected for the past sixty years and had returned to an unmanaged natural habitat area with the potential to sustain high biodiversity value and a sanctuary for rare species. The community aimed to restore the wells historic built environment, provide access and manage the surrounding wetland habitats.

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  • Renovate the village springs and provide an attractive feature at the village entrance.
  • Enhance the village green so that informal recreation could take place and seasonal events and celebrations could be held.
  • Provide a place for quiet contemplation, restore a wetland meadow area for nature observation and provide a reservoir for biodiversity.
  • Involve the local community and children from the local schools in historical research and planting. Create an educational resource for formal and informal learning. 
  • Carry out cross generational historical research and oral history interviews.
  • Revive the ancient traditions of well dressing and well blessing, maypole dancing and seasonal fairs.
  • Provide skills training and learning opportunities.
  • Restore and protect the village’s past physical and cultural heritage while sympathetically representing the needs of the present day community.
  • Provide an economic asset in the form of accessible natural spaces which reflect the cultural and environmental wealth of the village.
  • Strengthen the community; preserve community spirit and sense of place.
Restoration of the Wells

The two wells - Prospect which stands on an area of registered village green and Sunbeam, which is on a close piece of common land, both needed hydrology surveys to determine what drainage and feeder problems needed repair. This is specialist work and needed to be carried out in order to determine the average expected water flow and whether any field drainage would be required to improve the area of village green, which had become rather boggy.

The wells are ancient, records suggest they existed well before 1794, when they underwent their first restoration and since their installation many things had changed in the village, including construction of the through road which raised the level of the land. This in turn meant that the field drainage on the green had no real outlet and would need replacing. The community worked with the hydrologist to study old plans of the area to determine the site of hidden pipe work.

“The weather had then been an issue, when it was either too wet to survey or too dry. Not getting this done meant other parts of the project had to be put back. One person said “people didn’t see anything happening, but once planting started, people got curious”. (Community steering group member)

The wells are made up of two areas, one a cobbled area which was used to water livestock. These areas housed sandstone troughs each beautifully crafted which work on a flow system with each trough filling the next in succession until the final trough overflows and water is carried away via pipes – probably to a system of animal field troughs in the surrounding land.

Artefacts found onsite during the excavation of the original cobbles included a small clay ceremonial smoking pipe of the Masonic Honorable Order of Buffalos dating back over a century. Artefacts such as these have been catalogued and housed at the Tullie House Museum in Carlisle.

Applying for Adverse Possession

In 2008 the Land Registry – the government department responsible for registering land ownership in England and Wales launched an initiative in Cumbria to encourage landowners (including parish councils) to register what they own.

More than 50 per cent of land in Cumbria is unregistered - some 362,816 hectares. Each hectare is the equivalent size of an average football pitch.

Many local councils decided to go ahead and try to register their land, which often included registered town and village greens or registered common land.

In Newbiggin’s case it was the registered common on which Sunbeam well stands. The land had no known recorded owner and this meant that the parish would need to claim adverse possession of the land in order to register their ownership. In order to do this the parish had to fill out a Land Registry application and employ legal support to make their claim. The difficulty is that the legal definition of adverse possession requires the claimant:

Newbiggin’s application was turned down for lack of evidence of sole management and usage over a 12 year period. However it seems that the legal definition takes priority over evidence of use and management and that even after gathering further evidence or being able to show 12 years of management and usage, that the community may not be able to make a claim of adverse possession under the current law. This was a real blow to the community who had spent a lot of time and money on the application.

When public land has no known owner the District Council may take management control over it under a Scheme of Management, it was decided that it would benefit the parish and community if the District, in this case Eden, would agree to a Scheme of Management under the 1899 Commons Act and delegate the management of the land to the Parish Council. The process required that the District Council draft a Scheme of Management. They would then be required to advertise for 3 months to see if there were any objections (i.e. if anyone came forward and said they owned the land) and then devolve management down to the Parish Council. The cost of the advertisement could be high and the Parish would have to cover the cost.

For further information please refer to the Open Green Spaces Guide – An Introduction to their Legal Status and Protection produced by the project which is available for download free at www.ourgreenspace.org.uk

School Visit to the Wells

Around 50 Key Stage 2 children from Stainton Primary School visited the Newbiggin wells by coach in 2009. During the afternoon visit the pupils learned more about both the built and natural environment of the wells.

The pupils drew maps to remind themselves how to get to the Newbiggin wells from Stainton Primary School in the future. Some Year 5 pupils from Newbiggin village commented that: “the wells were really interesting”, it was “the first time that they had been to the springs” and that the restored wells and managed habitats “made Newbiggin look better.”

In 2011, the community arranged another visit to the wells so that the children could see established wildlife habitats including the young saplings that families had planted in autumn 2009.

May Fair – Creating a New Community Event

The community wanted to celebrate their village green and the newly restored and accessible wells. In 2010 they held their first May Fair, which they wanted to be a traditional country fair with all the activities and festivities one would expect.

A portable maypole was purchased as part of the project. This maypole was then used by Stainton Primary School for practising maypole dancing weekly. Year 5 pupils said “it was fun” and that “they had not really done dancing before.” This fitted the PE National Curriculum. As a result of the practice sessions, the pupils did two demonstration dances around the maypole at the first May Fair in Newbiggin and spectators joined in.

The pupils had enjoyed the dancing so much, and the school clearly felt it was worthwhile, that in June 2010 there was an After School Club of maypole and country dancing for a month which about 20 or so pupils decided to attend.

This May Fair proved a great success, with around 250 people attending. One mother from the village said that the May Fair was a “really lovely village event which reminded her of her childhood”.

The Our Green Space group hopes that there will be well dressing in the future which the children can get involved in. One mother from the village said that she hoped they “do the May Fair again” as it was such a “community event”, and the school feels that “links with Newbiggin village have been enhanced through the Our Green Space wells project.”

Celebratory events like the May Fair and Christmas carol events are cross- generational, it’s lovely to see grandparents and grandchildren all enjoying the activities on the green. The communities have been careful to create tranquil areas around the wells where elderly people can sit and relax and enjoy a shady seat.

Training and Learning Opportunities

Throughout the project the community has had to access to site specific training and other useful training sessions including wetland management, surveying, coppicing, publicity and promotion, website design, how to write successful funding bids and food hygiene. These will support them in future funding bids, publicity drives and practical events management. The project’s aim was always to embed relevant skills and knowledge within the five participating communities. Newbiggin has already achieved so much – they now have a fantastic new village hall facility, which has already become the hub of the community, with a weekly café and an exhibition space funded by the project with displays about the wells project and the various archaeological findings. There are two meeting rooms which will benefit from hand-made wall hangings and furnishings developed by the local embroiderer’s guild, which is producing quilted hangings of embroidered signatures.

Children have worked with a professional author in creative writing workshops to produce accounts of village life in both poetry and prose.

All of this forms part of the community’s interpretation of the wells and village heritage. There is now a wider recognition of the role of community green spaces within the village and how they are linked. The area of green space behind the village hall will be developed as a community orchard and space for events and recreation. The skills and knowledge developed over the course of the wells project will be applied here too.

Strengthening the Community

It is rare to see such a dynamic and integral change to a community come about over such a short length of time. It has been an inspiration to see what the community has achieved in Newbiggin and the knock on effect this has had in terms of further community ventures and developments within the village. Not only has the project succeeded in a physical transformation of the wells and the green but it has rekindled community spirit and a real sense of belonging, ownership and empowerment. It is hard to believe that this is the same village – seeing the massive amount of support for the May Festival and the involvement of schools and local volunteers, it is hard to imagine that it all started as a meeting of four or five key people.

The community fully intend to take the project further. Current plans include creating a walkway between the two wells which will allow for safe access along the main road, and they would also like to create access to and renovate “Kells Well” further along the village.

There is no doubt that via the project the community have breathed life into and firmly put the heart back in the village.

Ongoing Objectives and Legacy – Future Challenges
  • Secure a Scheme of Management with Eden District Council for Sunbeam common, whereby Dacre Parish Council take over management rights of the space.
  • Continue to hold annual village green festivities with a heritage theme.
  • Utilise the space as an outdoor classroom for Stainton Primary School and youth groups.
  • Sustain the management and development of native flora and fauna in the wetland meadow areas around the wells.
  • Restore and create access to other wells within the village, with the involvement of volunteers.
  • Develop the interpretation and exhibition space at the village hall to show the restoration and development of the wells project.