Queen’s honour for churchwarden Janet
In her four decades of living in the small South Norfolk village of Brockdish, Churchwarden Janet Croxson has made a big contribution, which has been recognised by the Queen. Jenny Seal reports.
On October 7, in recognition of her dedicated service to the local community, Janet, a Churchwarden of St Peter and St Paul’s Church, will be presented with a British Empire Medal awarded in the Queen’s Birthday Honours list.
Husband Peter Croxson describes his wife Janet as the “gel that holds the community together”. “She won’t say it,” he says, “so I will!”
Janet’s many roles serving the pretty village of Brockdish speak for themselves.
As well as being Churchwarden, Jan is also the Chair of Brockdish Village Hall where she recently raised funds for a village defibrillator. She is Chair of the Village Magazine, that keeps each of the 265 households updated with local happenings and, until 2016, Jan was a Governor of Brockdish Primary School, which had to close that year due to lack of numbers. She also coordinates the Open the Book team, going into Harleston Primary Academy each week to share Bible stories.
Janet, 75, was nominated for a Queen’s honour in recognition of her ‘services to the community in Brockdish’, by her husband Peter and two others, including Rev Nigel Tuffnell, Rector of the Benefice of Redenhall with Scole.
"It's lovely to be recognized and appreciated for what you do,” said Jan, “but let's be honest, if I didn't enjoy doing it and want to do it, I wouldn't be doing it. I think there is something in you [she points upwards] that makes you feel it’s your role. It becomes a way of life. I don't think it's that special."
“It’s special to people in the village,” interjects her husband Peter gently.
Originally from Kent, Jan moved to her cottage in Brockdish just over 40 years ago from Canada where she lived for 12 years with her first husband. “I was told after 30 years of living here that I was now of the village!” she jokes. “I was no longer an in-comer!”
Close to the southern border of Norfolk, Brockdish is a historic, rural village – almost a fifth of its houses are listed buildings. “We’ve got no shop”, said Jan, “we’ve got the pub which is quite a hub, the church and the village hall.”
It was in the early 1990s that Jan rediscovered her faith and started going to St Peter and St Paul’s, the medieval church that stands apart from the village. It was here that Jan got the urge to do something special for the community.
"One Sunday I was just sitting there when all of a sudden, I thought this church needs a flower festival," she said. "That was the first big thing that I did. I didn't know how to go about it. It was a big learning curve. But that was the start of it all and I've been doing it for the church ever since. It brings the community together. I absolutely love it."
Ever since Jan has been motivated to make the church a welcoming and open place. “If anyone moves into the village,” she said, “I make a point of writing a ‘welcome to your new home and village’ card, on behalf of the church. It’s the same with births, deaths or marriages.
“We want people to know that the church is here, and they are welcome to come regardless of whether they are Christian or whatever – the door is open, please come in. It’s just a little reaching out. If we can draw people in, it’s so important.
"And our congregation is getting bigger," she said with delight. "We're in double figures now! Percentage-wise, considering the size of the population and how many come to church, we're as good as Harleston as a town, so we're quite chuffed."
As churchwarden, Jan has put together a rota to ensure the church is open every day from dawn to dusk. "Our church is rather special,” she said. “Every window is stained glass. It dates back to the 11th century. There is a great sense of peace. It's very welcoming. We're very proud of that. A lot of people who do the Angles Way call in and there are always lovely comments in the visitors' book."
In 2016, Jan invited Baroness Elaine Murphy, a fellow resident of Brockdish, to write a history of the church. “She did a fantastic job and we’ve got a wonderful church guide,” said Jan. This month, for the first time, Baroness Murphy will give a guided tour of the church.
Presently, as her husband recovers from an operation, Jan is using the time to book next year’s calendar of community fundraising events for the church’s upkeep and parish share. “We do regular quizzes and we usually have about 100 people,” she said. “Because Peter’s not able to get out, I’ve been sat here planning three concerts next year and six quiz nights, and possibly an Open Gardens.”
Janet endeavours to keep the cost of the concerts low so the whole village can enjoy them. She said, "Whenever there's an event, there are always Jan's Jams for sale. Peter helps me. We make lots of jams and lots of marmalades and that helps us buy refreshments for the concerts. So we manage to keep the prices down which encourages people to come. I feel my role is helping to keep the community as a community.”
In May, the letter arrived telling her she was to be awarded a British Empire Medal in the Queen’s Birthday Honours List, a month before the public announcement.
"I just started crying, I was just so overwhelmed,” she said. “It was a big secret and, of course, they ask you not to tell anybody. So, I couldn't tell anybody for a month and I just wanted to tell my children."
On the night before the Queen's official birthday, Janet and her husband Peter were babysitting their granddaughter at their daughter’s house. "In the morning when it was finally official," Janet said, "I went into my daughter's room and woke her up to show her the letter – it was 6 ‘o' clock in the morning!"
On October 7, the Lord-Lieutenant of Norfolk, Lady Dannatt, will present Janet with her British Empire Medal at the Great Hospital. “We get afternoon tea and next year we will be invited to go to a garden party,” she said. “So that’s all rather lovely.”
Pictured: Janet Croxson in her beloved village of Brockdish in South Norfolk