Article - Change is necessary but only if set against continuity

I see that, as so often before, villages in west Dorset have scored highly in the recent Dorset-wide Best Kept Village competition.

Looking at the criteria used by the judges on their judging sheet I was impressed by the thoroughness with which they have gone through the various aspects of maintaining a village in tip-top form.

No aspect of preservation, refurbishment or cleanliness has escaped their eagle-eye.

I'm sure that Portesham and Askerswell will be justly proud of their respective victories in the large and small village sections of the competition.

Both of these villages have strong traditions of careful maintenance and kempt appearances.

But there are, of course, very many other west Dorset villages that could run Portesham and Askerswell close in any year and take the crown in some years.

Right across west Dorset, our villages are places in which the term "community" still has a real meaning. Our villages themselves are small but the society in them is definitely "big" in the sense that it consists of a set of social relationships that lead the inhabitants to care about one another and about the condition of the village as a whole.

The physical maintenance and cleanliness of these places, while important in itself as a contribution to the quality of life, is in the end just an outward and visible manifestation of the social capital that has been built up in our villages over the years and that sustains and nourishes those of us who are lucky enough to live in them.

Of course there is more to the life of the country as a whole than just its villages and hamlets. Without our towns, and indeed our great cities, neither our economy nor our culture could be sustained in anything like its present form.

Most, though not all, of the really exciting discoveries and innovations that have made Britain such a huge contributor to the cultural life of the planet, and to its science and technology too, from the plays of Shakespeare to the splitting of the atom and the discovery of DNA, have urban origins. And an enormous proportion of the wealth and growth of Britain is generated in just a few cities.

But the character of the country as a whole is formed as much by its villages as by these greater centres of population.

If the great cities provide the main energy of the country, the rural areas - as well as furnishing a high proportion of the food we eat and giving all our citizens the opportunity for rest and recreation in a more tranquil setting - provide links with our past that hugely enrich us.

Change and discovery are necessary and desirable - but they have their proper place in our lives only if they are set against a background of continuity and connection.