When a crumbling wheelwright's yard in a rural Warwickshire village won a multi-million pound makeover on a live TV show, there were celebrations – but not everyone has been happy since, as Emma Pinch found out
Away from the cameras two months on, the #1 million windfall won on BBC's Restoration by Chedham's Yard has split the tranquil village of Wellesbourne.
Residents claim the project, far from bringing the village together, has – thanks to the lack of information and influx of curious visitors – caused deep divisions.
So much so that some residents have compiled a petition detailing their demands and dissatisfaction, and sent it to the clerk of Wellesbourne Parish Council.
Chedham's Yard beat off stiff competition from seven other UK finalists to scoop the prize, which campaigners have since swelled to #2.35 million.
The blacksmith and wheelwright's shop – in the Chedham family since the 19th century – has all the original grindstones, lathes, bellows and hearths.
The Chedhams' family business closed when young Bill Chedham locked the door in the 1970s and remains one of only a few complete examples of the wheelwright's craft.
Petitioners claim the scheme was forced through by a small group of enthusiasts – collectively known as Friends of Chedham's Yard – without those living yards away from it even knowing it was being put forward to Restoration.
Chedham's Yard is reached via Church Walk and Chestnut Square, a narrow, crooked street, home to a hotchpotch of some 30 thatched, timber-beamed cottages.
With many homes opening straight on to the road, householders' Range Rovers and Volvos crowd each side of the street. Access to the Yard is via a private stretch of land – a fact ignored by most visitors.
The most common complaint is how the venture has already affected the severely limited parking. Villagers said an open day a month ago, which attracted 1,000 visitors, caused havoc, with tourists peering into their windows, trampling on private land and blocking parking spaces and access with their cars. Studies commissioned into the feasibility of opening the Yard as a heritage attraction sounded warnings about the financial viability and relative public interest in rural and industrial sites, and the lack of tourist infrastructure to support the venture.
Residents heartily agree.
"It started at the open day," said one neighbour who did not want to be named.
"I had people staying for the weekend. People were coming down Church Walk and looking through the window and looking around me into the room. One even climbed up on a pile of logs to see inside.
"We are living here, we're not part of a tourist attraction."
Most felt the nearby water mill, already a tourist attraction, would be the best destination for the Yard.
Developer Ken Shirley who lives 50 yards away from Chedham's Yard, is galvanising residents into making their voices heard. He said a feasibility study into its restoration should have been done before it was even entered into the competition.
"I'm into restoring things and if it was done properly, no problem. But the fact is that our environment is being changed and we are not being informed about it.
"Why should we lose our parking spaces? We have had one letter from the parish council saying they were about to have an open day and that was it. We feel frustrated and ill-informed."
Wellesbourne Parish Council project officer Elaine Hughes said residents would be informed about what was going to happen at Chedham's Yard as soon as the definitive restoration plan was drawn up. She said there was little question of it being moved to a different site, but when completed controlled opening would be the key to it.
"All of the residents of Church Walk had a letter about the open day," she said.
"Residents are making a lot of assumptions and in due course they will be consulted when we know what we are going to do. There will be no cement mixers or JCBs moving in over the winter."
Technical consultant Steve Lovatt, aged 39, said most residents had not expected Chedham's Yard to win the TV contest.
"I think the assumption by the parish council was that everyone would be delighted," he said. "I didn't think it had a cat in hell's chance of winning. When it did I thought 'good for them'. But the whole thing doesn't seem to have been thought through.
"It is probably the worst place they could have chosen for parking facilities. When the BBC came they clogged up the road for filming and there are already worries about emergency vehicles passing through."
Jo Adams, aged 43, a Citizens Advice Bureau worker, said: "We are quite pro-Chedham's Yard. We didn't know there was this part of Wellesbourne's heritage here, and yes, we voted for it. We haven't found anything problematic so far. It would be a pity to see it crumble away because so much industrial heritage is lost if it is not grand or impressive. Every village would have had two or three of these at one time and they just don't exist any more."
Debbie Teece, who lives with her husband Dave and their two teenage children, said she was doubtful the attraction would bring in the hordes of visitors other residents were dreading.
"I don't mind a bit of hustle and bustle, I just hope it doesn't cause problems with parking," she said. "But I couldn't see it being that much of an attraction."