Website's scathing attack on Belton

Dominic Bareham (DOMINIC BAREHAM) with pics of village, residents and Simon WEBSITE has launched a scathing attack on Belton, describing the rural village as a home to gangland rivalries and “rabbit hutch houses.

Dominic Bareham

(DOMINIC BAREHAM) with pics of village, residents and Simon Knott

A WEBSITE has launched a scathing attack on Belton, describing the rural village as a home to gangland rivalries and “rabbit hutch houses.”

The cyber bashing on the Norfolk Churches website has angered the village's parish councillors who fear the criticism could deter visitors and undermine Belton's charms.

In the article, the author Simon Knott describes a visit to All Saints Church for the website which carries reviews of churches across the county.

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He was less than enthused about the village, portraying it as, “a bit of surburbia which has floated off, and drifts in isolation from the urban conveniences, but is without any of the charms or attractions of much of rural Norfolk.”

He goes on to add: “My heart sunk as we threaded our way through the estate of rabbit-hutch houses to find a lane that hardly seemed to be there, as if it had been forgotten, or left behind. This led on to the edge of the village, and there at a sharp bend in the road was the church of All Saints.”

He subsequently found the church, which dates back to the 13th century, padlocked shut and the church sign chipped, faded and covered in graffiti, describing it as, “possibly the tags of rival gangs.” He was also concerned services were being held at nearby Waveney School while the church was shut.

Malcolm Scott, chairman of Belton Parish Council, was offended by the review and said his community had much to shout about including a low crime rate and a strong community spirit, embodied by the 47 community organisations.

He told a meeting of the council on Tuesday he had e-mailed Mr Knott and posted a message on the website to deny the claims made in the article.

He told the Mercury: “I am a bit surprised that Mr Knott pitched onto the village. We are not a graffiti-strewn village by any means. There are certainly no gangs running around Belton attaching their tags to message boards and I think it is offensive to describe people's homes as “rabbit hutches.”

“Belton is a commuter village and it is designed that way and I was particularly offended that he did not find 'any of the charms in Norfolk villages' because it is a very strong and active community at Belton. We have one of the lowest crime rates in the county and one of the highest youth populations as well and we are constantly making efforts to link up with them.

“So I just felt the article was over the top.”

Mr Scott defended the church saying it was still holding weddings and funerals, while the new community room built onto the church hosted a youth club and other organisations. Services are currently being held at the school because of problems with the church's heating.

“The fact that they don't worship there all the time does not mean it is locked up and closed. The community room is used all the time so to say the church is boarded up and in disrepair is not true and there are special services during the year that get requested specifically to be held in there. Belton is a very active church community,” he said.

He said Belton was a thriving and expanding community, highlighted by the number of new developments which were set to take place in the village including the new sports pavilion on New Road playing field and a new doctors surgery.

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QUIZZICAL looks abounded when the Mercury approached Belton residents to see if they were familiar with the village portrayed by the website.

Mother-of-two Jo Balagan, 37, has lived in Heather Road for three years and said she preferred Belton to other villages she has lived in during her lifetime, including Fulmer in Buckinghamshire, Winkfield in Berkshire and Geldeston in Norfolk.

She said although a lot of new houses were built during the 1970s to meet demand, she would not have described them as “rabbit hutches” because they provided plenty of living space and often had extensions.

“I would not describe them as 'rabbit hutches,' as they are nice, roomy family homes.”

With regard to Belton lacking the charms of other Norfolk villages, Ms Balagan said it did not fit the “quaint” stereotype of other Norfolk villages, but still had many strong points.

“As far as villages go, everyone expects them to look quaint, but Belton is not a quaint-looking village. It has got a lot of history, though, and grew a lot in the 1970s because of the need for extra housing.

“As a community it is the best village I have ever lived in and I have lived in lots of villages across the country. Belton is friendly, happy, warm and everywhere you go you meet someone you know,” she said.

Natalie Clarke, 28, also defended the village during a shopping trip with her daughter Lucie Grey, five, to the village's Tesco Express store. The Rosedale Gardens resident disagreed with the “gangland” tag in Mr Knott's article and said she had never had any trouble even though she lived near a pub.

She said both Lucie and her other daughter Jade Grey, eight, both attended Moorland Primary School in Belton and enjoyed living in the village. The Tesco employee added: “Everyone knows each other in the village and gets on really well. It has got a really good community spirit.”

Derek Brown, 75, of Moorland Way, shared this opinion and said he and his wife Diana, 70, had got all the amenities they needed in the village. Mr Brown, who has lived in Belton for 25 years, said he had made many friends over that time and believed the village was no different from others in the area, such as Ormesby and Hemsby.

He said: “There has been the odd little problem here, but in general the village has improved a lot over the last 12 months. I have got no complaints and I have got everything I need in the village.”

MR Knott explained he set up the website as a way of keeping a record of his visits to churches in Norfolk and Suffolk because he has a passion for churches and their unchanging role at the heart of the community even as the world changes around them.

He started out by chronicling his visits to churches in his native Suffolk in 1999 before moving on to Norfolk churches in 2004 and has since compiled blogs on 750 of them on his website.

But such has been the popularity of the site that he has received between 3,000 and 4,000 hits a day, including many from as far afield America and Australia.

The 47-year-old, who lives in Ipswich, said many of these were from genealogists interested in tracing their family trees by finding out if their relatives were buried in these churches.

He said his comments were his personal observations, adding he had only visited Belton once and was willing to change his opinions.

“It is great that the residents say there is a real community spirit in Belton and I would love, if I am up that way again, to see them. I am really pleased to hear that,” Mr Knott said.

But he said he regarded the church as the “touchstone” of the village community and said it was possible to get a feel for the village as a whole in the way that its church was maintained.

Having found All Saints Church locked shut and with graffiti scrawled on the sign, this coloured his view of Belton.

He invited residents to e-mail their opinions to him through the website and responded to Mr Scott's e-mail by admitting that his criticism may have been 'a bit harsh.'

He has added the chairman's comments as a postscript to the article and said he planned to be in Norfolk in the spring and would be interested in visiting Belton again and meeting Mr Scott.