Peter Steward should be known as 'Mr Hethersett'. He has lived in the village for more than half his life and has helped it to win a string of awards, writes Evening News reporter DAVID BALE
PUBLISHED: 10:22 11 February 2013
It did not take long for Peter Steward to sell Hethersett to me - about 30 minutes, in fact.
Before meeting him I thought Hethersett was just a small village off the Thickthorn roundabout, although I’m sure my colleagues who cover Hethersett for the paper were more enamoured of it.
But meeting Mr Steward, who is involved in countless voluntary groups in the village, was my eye-opener and I will never think of Hethersett in the same way again.
“Hethersett’s not perfect, but it’s pretty good,” he said.
“It’s a good place to live and is very receptive to ideas.
“David Cameron has talked a lot about the big society and has tried to make out that it’s something new, but it has existed in places like Hethersett for many years. Hethersett works and exists because of its voluntary groups.
“People put in tireless effort for the benefit of everyone else in the community. They have been doing it here for 25 to 30 years.
“There is a really good community spirit and an awful lot of people work very hard voluntarily to ensure there is something for everyone here. That’s what the Norfolk community of the year award we got said.
“As far as we know, there is something for everyone in the village, and if there isn’t, then we will do something about it.”
The cynical among you may by now be thinking that Mr Steward is a touch too effusive about his adopted home, where he has lived with his wife for more than 30 years. But don’t take his word for it.
Hethersett has been recognised as a role model for communities in Norfolk and held more events per head of the population during the Olympics last year than anywhere else.
It won our sister paper, the Eastern Daily Press’ Pride in Norfolk Community of the Year in 2006 and 2012, and was runner-up in 2008.
That community spirit could be tested when a huge housing development planned for the village becomes reality, but Mr Steward, who also runs the Hethersett village website, doubts it.
Mr Steward was born in Reepham Road, Hellesdon, at his parents’ greengrocers shop, which is now part of Dixon’s shopping centre.
He attended Kinsale Avenue infant and junior schools in Hellesdon and won a scholarship to the Norwich School.
After A-levels he became a trainee reporter at Eastern Counties Newspapers, now Archant, the publishers of the Evening News and EDP.
He went to journalism school in Harlow and recently attended a 40th anniversary reunion.
“We had to wear badges with pictures from 1972, and we all had long hair then,” he said. “It was hard to recognise anyone.”
He moved to the Midlands and worked for Raymond’s news agency in Nottingham, which he hated.
“It was a completely different style of journalism, which I was not cut out for.
“I was editor of Belper News for a short time, but then came back to Norwich and worked for the Mercury series.
“I was the first civilian press officer for Norfolk Constabulary. I was with them for 16 years, leaving in 2007.”
Working on the Beccles and Bungay Journal with chief reporter Tony Clarke had opened his eyes to working in the community, he said.
“He instilled the fun into the working concept, but sadly died a few years ago. I got to his funeral a week too early. He would have enjoyed that joke.
“What I’m doing now with my voluntary work in the community is an offshoot of working at the Beccles and Bungay Journal. Tony was so good at being integrated into the local community.”
Voluntary work took over his life when he left the police, he said.
He had already been a member of the Round Table, which he had to give up when he reached 40, and was a Samaritans helper for many years.
He said: “When I came to Hethersett I got integrated into the village. When our boys were younger, I joined Hethersett middle school PTA, and was vice-chairman for a number of years.
“I stood as parent governor at the junior school and spent 10 years as chairman of the governors, which I really enjoyed.”
Sport, music and literature are his real passions, and he has been heavily involved with Hethersett Athletic FC. He has coached and run teams and is still the club’s chairman.
He’s also a trustee of Hethersett memorial playing field, and joined Hethersett Parish Council a few months ago.
He’s on the Hethersett Olympic legacy committee and is the development officer for Hethersett and Tas Valley Cricket Club. Last year Mr Steward received an Inspiring Achievement Award from the South Norfolk Queen’s Jubilee Community Awards, for his contribution to Hethersett over the past 20 years. As another claim to fame, he was also responsible for discovering that the ancestors of US presidents George Bush junior and senior lived in the village.