A house away from home

PUBLISHED: 14:44 13 November 2008 | UPDATED: 15:35 20 February 2013

The village pond

The village pond

Determined residents of Writtle are revamping the village's Longmeads House as a way to strengthen the sense of community. Elaine Sivyer finds out more

PULL UP on the drive to Longmeads House and you will be greeted by a grand, redbrick Victorian building of impressive size and character. With a forecourt and an expanse of grounds to its rear, the house was once home to one of Writtle's most distinguished families.

Although past its heyday now, the house has long been an important feature of the village and today serves as the local community club. However, while there are still remnants of its former glory, over the last 20 years Longmeads' condition has increasingly deteriorated and much of its previous grandeur has been lost. The interior has particularly suffered with adaptations made on a piecemeal and utilitarian basis.

Yet the estate's fortunes are currently being reversed, as a number of village residents have stepped up alongside the Writtle Community Association in an ambitious project to bring new life to Longmeads. These volunteers are determined to reinvigorate the house and gardens, so creating an excellent resource and focal point for their community.

Among their number is Jimmy Johns who is coordinating the volunteer working groups and is passionate about the cause. Over the page, Elaine Sivyer speaks to Jimmy to found out more about this exciting new project and how it will improve the lives of Writtle residents.

A Writtle round up
Longmeads House was built around the early 1880s by Robert Woodhouse and remained in the family until 1930 when it was sold to the Seabrookes.

During World War II, Mr Seabrooke was the local Home Guard commander, drilling troops on the house forecourt and holding training sessions in the garage. After the war, Seabrooke opened Longmeads' grounds for fetes in support of the British Legion. Sadly on the morning after one such event, a donkey was found drowned having strayed into the garden swimming pool overnight.

The estate was eventually acquired by Essex County Council in 1950 and partly used as accommodation for female students at Writtle's Institute of Agriculture. In 1969 the house and grounds were let to the village's newly-formed Writtle Community Association for the community centre - the purpose for which it continues to serve today.

For more information about the Writtle Community Centre call 01245 420676

What are you hoping to achieve with Longmeads House?
Longmeads House is a fantastic opportunity and a real asset for the village. It's been rather ignored over the past few years, but now we're looking to raise its profile again and create somewhere really nice to go. At the moment it's generally a bit shabby, so we're trying to recapture something of its feel of the past - not so much an institution but a house that's physically welcoming. This isn't a restoration project however, and we're not trying to be too historical or nostalgic. Our main concern is rejuvenating our community today and the house is an ideal springboard for that.

Who is helping out with this project?
This is a real collaborative effort and groups of volunteers are working together. There's a mix of people split between the older and newer residents, which is a nice balance and further helps bring the community together. While lots of valuable work is happening, it's also about getting people to meet, work together and achieve together. We want to get people to use their imaginations and come forward with ideas - this is very much all of our project. Even the smallest contributions are a great help.

So how will the house be transformed?
We're working mainly on the gardens and the interior décor of the house. One of our first projects will be the hallway. We're actually going to recreate a silhouette of the village green - which has some really interesting buildings - around the top of the hallway above the picture rail. The background will be in Wedgewood blue and the design will be made to look like plaster work. This was a style used in the past, but we're bringing it into the present day and making it relevant to the community.

We're going to continue this theme into the main hall featuring trempe l'eoile artwork, which is a style that literally 'tricks the eye'. Three oval foliage frames will be painted on the walls, each containing a different view of Writtle - so it's like you're looking out across the village. With all this we're trying to recreate the feel of a grand family home - but one that is ours and something people can identify with.

And how will these changes benefit the community?
The aim is for Longmeads to be a base and focal point for the community. At the moment there are people who don't even know that we're here. We want to widen our scope and the services offered. For example, we're looking to liaise with the local primary school to show the children old street games.

With Longmeads House we have a huge opportunity to really boost our sense of community. There is a general decline in the importance of communities, but in fact people do want to feel a part of something. Writtle is a fantastic village and has a lot going on, but there's also the danger of it becoming a dormitory area for commuters. Chelmsford is also very close so there's a draw of recreational life away from the village. We really want to bring new life to the area and create a sense of belonging. Writtle has a great mix of people and is a fantastic place, so let's celebrate and enjoy it.

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