‘Notties’, as the locals are apt to call Nottingham Road, began as a railway station to serve Fort Nottingham, a garrison set up by the Sherwood Foresters in 1856 to protect farmers from raiding Bushmen and grew into a thriving farming village. Today Fort Nottingham has an fascinating museum in the old stone barracks depicting life at that time. Nottingham Road’s oldest building (now part of Kings school) was used as convalescence home for British soldiers during the Second World War.Nottingham Road locals are a friendly bunch, no doubt in part due to the popularity of the Nottingham Road Brewing Co that produces beers with delightful names like ‘whistling weasel pale ale’, and there are plenty of interesting things to do.
The Nottingham Road library began in a cupboard outside the Farmers Hall in 1930. “People just helped themselves, but soon the cupboard was overflowing and it moved into a room in the Farmer’s Hall and the Women’s Institute took it over” Hazel Monk tells me. “We are privately run, very casual and all the better for it” she adds.
Hazel is a regular volunteer at the Notties Library (one of 20) and has been a member of the local Woman’s Institute (WI) for 40 years. WI is very supportive of this little library, as is the Nottingham Road Landowners Association. Rose Baldock has been involved since she was a little girl and long-time resident Annie Hayhoe is the backbone of the library. The library is open three mornings a week (Sue Moller keeps things ticking over smoothly) and has a surprisingly good array of books. “We get new books from the Natal Provincial Library every three months and book clubs regularly give us books they no longer want.” Sue tells me. “We understand that it is difficult for country folk to get to the village regularly, so don’t charge fines on late returns. We simply ask for a donation.” To illustrate their story, at that moment a woman arrives with a book, saying “A very tall lady at Church asked me to return this book for her. I don’t know who she is but she said it is overdue and gave me a donation for you.” Pop the money in the box is the cheerful reply as they skim through the cards to work out who the original borrower was. Enchanted by this approach, the errand runner (who is new to the area) fills in a membership form and pays her R20 joining fee – for life!
Vera Cekwane checks out her selection. “I enjoy coming here every week to get new books, love stories or action. I usually take Zulu books too. We are lucky to have a library close by.” Actor, John Cleese is a member, having joined during the filming of Spud. The volunteer that day had no idea who he was and asked him to spell his name a couple of times. Only afterwards, did someone make the connections. It is all too quaint for words, a delightful taste of authentic country life.
It’s easy for small towns in Kwa Zulu Natal to start to look a little dishevelled but the enthusiasm of Nottingham Road residents has ensured that their village is not heading that way. Unpretentious and not at all exclusive, Nottingham Road Refreshed (NRR) intends to enhance the authentic country feel that draws visitors to the area.
A small group of volunteers formed the organisation in 2009, to stop the slide into ‘unkempt and tatty’ and now has an impressive plan to revamp much of the village. Their first project was transforming the intersection at The Junction, from an overgrown mess symptomatic of the neglect the village felt, into a neatly fenced and attractive road island. Then they tacked the front of the Post Office, creating stepped planters filled with low maintenance plants. More recently simple stone walls were built around the unloved verges alongside bottle store and taxi rank and planted with Aloes which are an absolute picture in winter.
NRR has worked hard to build relationships with uMngeni Municipality and collaborates with other community organisations such as the Nottingham Road Landowners Association and the Nottingham Road Tourism Association ensuring that this community initiative has thrived. Labour and contractors are local, strengthening community and the local economy. Litter management is a priority and clearing alien invasive vegetation is on-going.
Andrew McGregor, a new resident, wondered what it would be like to be involved in a small community when he relocated from Johannesburg 18 months ago. “I realised that the best way to integrate was to say YES, no matter what the question. So I was thrilled to be asked to contribute to NRR and am so impressed at what a small committed group can achieve.” NRR has made a big impact and with more support from the community it serves, will ensure Nottingham Road remains an attractive and welcoming village by tackling one project at a time. If you live in the area, why not commit to contributing a monthly amount to their projects? For details contact Andrew McGregor 083 824 7278 or Kari Greene 082 824 7278