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Victoria celebrates new life-changing community in rural Shropshire

After a relationship breakdown and spiralling private rent costs, Victoria Williams thought she would have to pack up her family and abandon the rural life she loved.

But she was thrown a lifeline when Severnside Housing, part of Housing Plus Group, built a £1 million development in Brook Close, Condover, Shropshire, offering homes for affordable rent for local people.

And because it was a community-led project involving extensive local consultation, the mum-of-two was able to join a steering group to help shape it before moving into one of the new homes in February this year.

Now on Friday July 7, during Rural Housing Week, her neighbourhood along with others involved in the development will be having a Big Lunch to help celebrate one of Shropshire’s newest communities.

The Big Lunch, which is usually held in June, with other events like Condover’s happening at other times too, is a national get together for neighbours to celebrate community, commonality and connections.

“Everyone in the new community gets on really well and seems to be settling in brilliantly,” said Victoria. “People are really looking forward to celebrating our new community with a Big Lunch. All the new residents and I have expressed how lucky we feel to have been given the opportunity to rent one of these properties.”

After growing up in Shropshire, Victoria fell in love with rural living during her time in Cheddington, Buckinghamshire.

“This was my first experience of living in a village,” she explained. “The fresh air and open space was wonderful along with its local activities for the children and community spirit so I soon grew to love village life.”

When the 36 year old’s relationship broke down, she had to re-think where she moved next but remained determined to carry on living in the countryside. Victoria decided her best move would be closer to her family home in Shropshire so she started house hunting there.

“When I found Condover it was the pre-school and primary school that first caught my attention,” she said. “I drove around looking down each street and then down to the park and instantly fell in love. The sun was shining over the park like heaven had opened up right there.

“It was truly a magical moment that made me think yes I’d really love to live here. The local preschool was so welcoming, and after visiting both schools and the local shops and amenities, I knew this was a special place.”

Although Victoria had now found a perfect place to live, it was under threat with the realisation that she was an unemployed single mum, with her time taken up caring for her two children, now aged 8 and 9. And like many other people living in rural areas she feared her chances of getting a job and affording to live there.

“I enrolled my daughter in the pre-school straight away and then began looking for a house in the area,” explained Victoria. “I could not afford to buy a home as I didn’t have enough for a deposit and, even if I did, the homes were very expensive so I managed to find a private let. This was a lovely bungalow in the village. I then began volunteering at the local preschool and then managed to get a job as a preschool assistant.

“This continued for a few years but as time went on my rent began to increase to a staggering amount and, although it had been worth the struggle up until then, financially it was becoming unrealistic to afford. I began to think I may have to leave a place we’d grown to love.

“This insecurity became a huge strain as my children got older, not knowing where I could go if my landlord was to sell.”

Then last year there was hope when Severnside Housing, working with Saxonby and Condover Parish Council, began developing eight new houses and two bungalows on the land owned by Severnside for people to rent who had local connections to the area. Part of the funding for the new homes was provided by the Homes and Communities Agency and Shropshire Council through a community-led housing grant.

“Most of the local people where excited to see new homes within the community and looked at it as an exciting new development within the village,” said Victoria. “Severnside Housing seemed to take care when thinking about how the homes would fit in with the already existing local community holding numerous information events, and giving the chance for the local people to have some input making sure that local residents were informed as the development took shape. I also joined the steering group as I wanted to help get it right for the local community.”

When the homes became available for affordable rent, she quickly submitted her application.

“I was so grateful and happy to find out we had been successful,” said Victoria, now a teaching assistant at a specialist academy in Shrewsbury who continues to support work to shape the future of Condover.

“It felt like a new beginning for my girls and I. They could continue their education at the local school and also meant that this would be affordable so I could save money for my children instead of it being used to fund rising private rent. We are settled now and things are looking positive for the future and I can’t wait to see what the next chapter of our lives brings here in the village of Condover.”

Welcoming the news that Brook Close was holding a Big Lunch, Peter Lefort from Eden Project Communities, who run the annual event, said: “It’s fantastic to hear about the opportunity Victoria will have to join the millions of people up and down the UK who will be taking part in The Big Lunch this year. It’s a great way for us to get to know our neighbours and connect to the potential support, friendship and fun available in the communities all around us.”