At home on the hill
PUBLISHED: 10:34 29 November 2010 | UPDATED: 15:30 20 February 2013
Set within Epping Forest, Buckhurst Hill is an ancient town with a strong identity. Nicky Adams meets some of the town's locals to discover why it is so special
ALTHOUGH more recently grouped together with its neighbours Loughton and Chigwell as the county's 'Golden Triangle', Buckhurst Hill is a place of individual character where an extremely self-contained community has been able to flourish.
Its proximity to the capital made it a popular retreat for Henry VIII who often stayed at the Poteles hunting lodge at Buckhurst Hill with Anne Boleyn and today commuters use the Central Line station for fast and efficient access to the City.
The characteristic streets of suburban Victorian semis, as well as the modern family houses and stylish apartment blocks give a clue to its still growing popularity as a place to live and, for many, work. But despite these changes, Buckhurst Hill retains its community spirit. We meet some of the town's key characters.
Chairman of Buckhurst Hill Residents' Society
Tony Oliva chose to make his home in Buckhurst Hill in 1990 principally because it offered him an easy commute to his job as a finance director in the capital. But before long he found himself involved with Buckhurst Hill Residents' Society and doing his best to protect the authenticity of this forest town. 'There are few places where you can be 10 or 12 miles from the centre of London, with a tube station and the North Circular, M11 and M25 on the doorstep, and also right in the middle of a forest,' he says. 'The town does have a unique atmosphere.'
When Tony took early retirement last year he was elevated to the position of chairman of the Residents' Society and became actively involved in representing the views of the 500-strong membership. 'We do have a lot of early retirees in the area, and they are the ones who often join the society,' he says. 'Some people come and go, and, of course, younger people are busy working and bringing up their families, so it is often the people who have lived here for a while who have the most interest in making sure the flavour of the town is not lost. Having said that though, when we took up local people's concerns about parking in the town earlier this year, we gained 130 new members, so the society really is going from strength to strength in all age groups.
'The town is becoming known for its niche retailers and this is certainly attracting people. It's a wonderful place to live and work because it still has much of its original heritage, thanks to the Local Authority, which, with the support of the Residents' Society, keeps a close eye on development.'
Parish councillor and care worker
'I'm a bit like a mother hen,' laughs Joyce Darby as she explains her role as pastoral care worker for St John's Church in Buckhurst Hill. Although today Joyce looks after the wellbeing of the 120-strong congregation as well as plenty of others in her capacity as parish councillor, when she first moved to the town in 1966, she knew only one person.
'That was enough to get me started and, 42 years on, I'm surrounded by family and friends here,' says Joyce. 'It's a very pleasant place to live in lots of ways and it's a lovely feeling to arrive here from anywhere else, driving through the forest and finding Buckhurst Hill among the trees.'
The church brings together a large section of Buckhurst Hill's population, offering them a sense of belonging. 'I'm involved with the Anglican Churches Bereavement Support Group and also the new Willows Pregnancy Advice Centre,' says Joyce. 'Being on the Parish Council presents an opportunity to bring news of this type of initiative to a lot of people who won't have heard of them before, and I would love to think that I could be instrumental in building community spirit. I joke that I couldn't possibly move house because I have too much clutter, but the truth is that my life is here and I just wouldn't want to.'
Headteacher, Buckhurst Hill Community Primary School
For the past 22 years, Lesley Howes has commuted all the way from Cambridge every day to Buckhurst Hill Community Primary School, where for the past 16 she has been the headteacher. But, she says, it is well worth the effort. 'It's a great school to work in,' she enthuses. 'When I started I didn't expect to be here this long, but because of the nature of the pupils, parents, staff and a very supportive governing body, I have been very happy to stay.'
Over her time, Lesley has seen plenty of changes at the school and in the local area, including an influx of new families, which has prompted Buckhurst Hill Community Primary to expand to accommodate them all. 'The area is well known for its good schools and the demand for places has risen dramatically,' she explains. 'We have recently had a class base extension and added a new learning support centre, and, as many of our pupils now have two working parents, we have extended our family support networks to include grandparents and carers.
'The school is heavily involved with the wider community too, and regularly welcomes its neighbours to join children for social events. Lots of our ex-pupils come back to visit and tell us how well they are doing. It's very satisfying to know that you have been able to make such a difference to young lives.'