Meet the group trying to put community spirit back into ‘ghost town’
PUBLISHED: 08:38 24 October 2019 | UPDATED: 09:06 24 October 2019
In a 1935 edition of a community magazine, an unknown author declared Molehill Green to be ‘Happiness Village’.
"No sounds of modern locomotion here to disturb one's peace...not even an aeroplane in the sky", the article in The Pennant reads.
Molehill Green is just over two miles from Stansted Airport's terminal, and 84 years later, driving to the village, I catch sight of the vast building before entering the roundabout which takes me to the village, made of up about 50 houses, the Three Horseshoes Pub and a village hall.
In 2008, Stansted's then-owners BAA sought permission for a second runway and consequently, purchase orders were made on properties in the village. This led to many residents moving out, and, according to some, a loss of community spirit. The plans for a second runway were abandoned two years later, but the damage was already done.
Now, however, a group of about 25 volunteers are determined to improve the quality of life in the village once more through DIY projects and initiatives.
Martin Carr, 53, has lived in the village for seven years but grew up in nearby Broxted. His parents, who later moved to Molehill Grill, were one of a small number of people who did not accept the purchase order as his father had built their house on land long-owned by his family.
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Martin, who works at Stansted Airport, said: "Once development started on the airport, there was a certain degree of unrest, although many long term residents worked at or near the airport, it also bought a new feeling of uncertainty.
"Then when the airport announced planning for the second runway and the plans showed how it would basically eat up Molehill Green, and the purchase orders were made on properties to allow for the provisional expansion. Most people in Molehill Green took the decision to take the airport up on their offer, leaving only a handful of properties privately owned."
The homes bought by the airport were rented out, Martin said, adding: "People for years have just come and gone, and what was a vibrant community, was now almost like a ghost town, no one really knowing anyone."
Bird boxes and bug hotels are dotted around Molehill Green when I visit. They have been crafted by a Men's Shed group who were approached by the Molehill Green Residents' Association, which formed in March. Member Sarah Kirby shows me a sign bought by the group from Amazon and pinned to a telephone post, which reads "Slow, children and animals". Some drivers go as fast as 60mph down this lane, Sarah says and there are plans to start a community speed watch next year.
"The kids here haven't got anywhere to play other than the street. Anything to do with traffic and speed could take years, so it is thinking about what we can do now to help the situation a little," said Sarah, who moved to Molehill Green with her husband Andy in 2017.
A patch of grass next to a community notice board, also made by the Men's Shed group, is now neat and populated with painted flower boxes, again thanks to the residents, who cleared the area. Before, a "smashed-up BT phonebox" took pride of place and the area was "covered in weeds and bushes", Sarah said.
Fortnightly litter-picks also take place, using equipment bought by the the Three Horseshoes Pub landlord, to combat rubbish left by drivers using the airport.
Despite the neater verges, a new bus stop installed by Essex County Council thanks to Sarah's interventions and signs of housing development in the village, it is still clear Molehill Green is not what it once was. Molehill Green Stores now stands empty, apart from the leftover cash registers inside. However, Sarah, who shows me a new, bright red post box next to the shop's faded sign, remains positive, and can list many projects the group have their eye on. "Before February this year there was no residents' group, it has started to make people feel change is possible and we do have the power to instigate changes."