Life in a Somerset village - Wedmore
PUBLISHED: 00:00 21 May 2020
Copyright: Image copyright Nigel Hicks
In our special series Catherine Courtenay takes a look at village life in Somerset
Just over 30 years ago a small group of people living in Wedmore were sat round a kitchen table and hatched a plan.
“We decided it would be good to do something with a bit of music and we stumbled on the idea of La Traviata.”
To stage an opera in a small village in Mid Somerset was ambitious, to say the least. But as musical director Carolyn Doorbar goes on to say: “We had a tenor and a soprano living in the village at the time and a network of good singers.”
Held in the village hall, La Traviatia was a success and Wedmore Opera went on to stage yet more operatic productions. As it developed, young professional singers were invited to take the lead roles and it achieved a national reputation for its high standards. Sometimes the operas were staged in an outdoor marquee and organisers even commissioned two new operas, Jago and Eleanor Vale.
Hundreds of local people get involved in all aspects, whether that’s set building, costumes, technical work or singing in the chorus. And there are plans for something special, ‘something completely new and very approachable’, next year, reveals Carolyn. “We’re assembling a new team and looking for volunteers,” she says.
Many would agree that if any village was to embark on something so ambitious, it would be Wedmore. This is because Wedmore is pretty special. It’s a destination village; before the coronavirus restrictions, visitors flocked to enjoy its shops, cafes and pubs – of which it has an impressive three – The Swan, the New Inn and The George. And they will again.
Wedmore’s shops attract people from far away, like Compton House of Fashion which is famed for its mother of the bride outfits. The shop began life as The Borough Venture and was opened by Suzanne Metters when she ‘retired’ to the village with her husband. Suzanne admits she didn’t have a particular plan for the shop that she took on, but she ended up selling big name fashion labels. It was a slice of luxury, along with coffee and cake, in the heart of the Somerset Levels.
The success of Borough Venture led to similar high-end shops opening in the village. The village still had all the essential shops and services and, to this day, it still caters as much for locals as for visitors. Along with several fashion shops, including menswear, it has home furnishings, antiques, a butcher, greengrocer, farm shops, a deli and a florist, along with a chemist, dentist, a post office and a village store, which is referred to by Suzanne and others as ‘our little Harrod’s’. “They do a tremendous job and sell absolutely everything, it’s wonderful what they are doing,” she says.
The village has festivals and annual events, from historic traditions, like Wedmore Harvest Home, to the annual arts festival, a real ale festival and Wedmore by Lamplight.
Even the playing fields has its own sports bar, serving food and drinks from the pavilion overlooking the grounds.
The village has upwards of 50 different clubs and societies, creating a strong community network, which has also shown itself in response to the coronavirus. Members of the parish council, along with the vicar, leafletted every household in the parish giving their contact details for anyone who was worried or in need. Council chairman Polly Costello says they ended up with around 100 volunteers.
Wedmore is facing challenges, says Polly, mainly as a result of the housing developments planned for the village. But she’s hopeful that new residents will use their local shops and services and that Wedmore will continue to draw in the visitors, which help keep it thriving. She moved to the village around 15 years ago and opened the deli. She remembers how welcoming the village was then, something that continues to this day.“Wedmore will always be a nice place - it is called the jewel of Sedgemoor.”