A Very English Tradition: The Best Kept Village Competition

The Best Kept Village Competition (BKV) may conjure up images of conventionally picturesque communities that attract the attention of greeting card designers and tourists. However, there is more to the competition than just pleasant scenery or charming chocolate box houses and shops. 

Here’s a look at the history and purpose of the competition, and the story behind those distinctive Best Kept Village signs

The origins of the BKV date back to the 1950s, when the competition was started among local parish councils to encourage village residents to take pride in their communities. It wasn’t just about the visual presentation of the area, but just as much about fostering a sense of community spirit among the residents.

The competitions have been nationally organised since the 1970s by the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) and are judged on a standardised set of criteria. The winners of the BKV are not just conventionally pretty and historical places with an immaculate village green, thatched cottages, and cobblestone streets; they can be surprisingly diverse.

The judges tour the villages of England between May and June to make initial assessments, and then follow up with further inspections in July and August. 

The villages are divided into four categories: villages that have won in the past five years; villages with a population of between 500 and 3,000; villages with a population of up to 500; and villages that are new to the competition or have not entered within the last decade. The standard format involves awarding points out of ten for the following ten criteria. 

The judges will inspect the condition of communal spaces such as village greens, playing fields, noticeboards, signs, seats, and school yards; and assess if there is any evidence of litter or fly tipping on grass verges.  

They will also inspect the condition of public and private gardens, buildings, and allotments; the condition of churchyards, cemeteries and war memorials; the condition of public halls, sports facilities, and car parks; the cleanliness of public toilets, bus shelters, and telephone kiosks; and the state of the footpaths, stiles, field gates, signposting, ponds, and streams.

However, above and beyond all of these factors, the judges want to find that magic ingredient: evidence of community spirit and usefulness. 

The BKV competition can encourage better communication and participation in community activities; a sense of communal pride in the condition of individual homes as well as public space; a reduction littering and vandalism; positive publicity that encourages more business and tourism; and wider name recognition and desirability of the village as a place to live. 

It can foster a sense of pride in the community, making it a more inclusive, dynamic, and close-knit neighbourhood where residents work together to take the best care of their surroundings. This makes it more than a ‘dormitory village’ where the residents only have a weak relationship and sense of investment with the place that they live. 

Winners of the group receive a shield, a certificate, and a Best Kept Village road sign.