Middle England doing nicely in Meriden
It may no longer hold the title of the official centre of the country, but Meriden is still a magnet for visitors, including Alison Jones.
It was once Meriden's proud claim to be the dead centre of England - a centuries-old sandstone pillar in the middle of the village bears testimony to this fact.
However, the men with the medieval measuring tape lacked access to global positioning systems, which is what the clever bods at Ordnance Survey have used to calculate that the true centre is, in fact, some 11 miles north-east on a farm in Leicestershire.
However, the ancient, Grade II listed monument makes a rather more romantic picture than a muddy paddock, which is where the metaphorical x that marks the spot should now be drawn.
The people of Meriden are rather fond of monuments. Apart from the centre marker, there is a crucifix that is the village's war memorial at the bottom of Berkswell Road, just across from the duck pond, which is where the Remembrance Day service traditionally ends.
On the village green, rather overshadowing the ancient pillar, is the impressive obelisk that was erected in 1921 in memory of all the cyclists that gave their lives during the First World War.
Meriden was purposely chosen as the site for this national memorial because of its central location, which made it accessible for all cycling enthusiasts who wanted to come and pay tribute to their fallen brethren. Some 200,000 turned up for its official unveiling.
Tribute continues to be paid to this day as there is an annual celebration of cycling service organised by the Cyclists Touring Club.
Two-wheeled transport has played an important part in Meriden's recent history as it used to be home to the Triumph Motorcycle factory, which moved from Coventry during the Second World War.
The company, whose product was made famous on screen when Marlon Brando rode a Thunderbird in The Wild One, went bankrupt in the early 80s.
A new company bearing the Triumph name was set up in Hinckley in the late 80s and continues to thrive.
The biggest employer based in Meriden now is Pertemps, the national recruitment agency headquartered at Meriden Hall.
The parish of Meriden actually encompasses three settlements, including Millison's Wood, which is about a mile away from Meriden, separated by a hill, and Eve's Green, which includes a community of static trailer accommodation.
But the inhabited areas only take up a fraction of the parish itself, the rest being given over to farmland, fields and woods that attract walkers and people enjoying a drive out from the nearby cities.
"The Meriden Gap is the green belt that separates the Birmingham conurbation and Coventry," explains Iain Roxburgh, chairman of the Village Appraisal Steering Group.
"That is seen as very important. We're host to large groups of walkers, especially on days like this (which, for the record, is a cool but sunny spring day with crocuses and daffs in bloom). Go into the pubs at lunchtime and it'll be filled with people from urban areas coming to enjoy the countryside."
Indeed for a relatively small village of only about 1,400 households and 3,000 residents, Meriden is well served with some top-quality places to eat.
They include a branch of one of Coventry's most popular Asian restaurants - the Turmeric Gold and Exotic Thai, "one of the finest Thai restaurants I have ever eaten in" according to Iain Roxburgh, which has now moved to the Queen's Head Pub on Old Road, Meriden.
The Bull's Head pub has such a good reputation for its creative yet hearty cuisine that on Mothering Sunday it was packed with customers.
An old coaching in, a sign outside indicates it was open for customers needing rest and stabling for their horses as far back as 1603.
In the courtyard there is a finger post marked the "Centre of England" indicating the distance to other major cities to the north and south.
Just up the road there is more stately accommodation in the form of the Manor Hotel and on the other side of the road, adjacent to the Porsche garage, there is the somewhat cosier looking Strawberry Bank Hotel and Restaurant.
With its well-maintained green, charming cottages, busy little row of shops - including grocery stores, chemists, a charity shop, post office and small library - and sense of community that is evident from the Meriden Mag, a quarterly magazine recording the comings and goings of village life that is well supported by local clubs, businesses and residents, it seems to be the picture of a thriving, picturesque village.
Finding ways to maintain that and, indeed, improve on it, is something of particular concern to residents at the moment and they are all being encouraged to take part in Meriden Parish Appraisal and Plan.
The idea behind this, says Iain, is to achieve the standard of a quality parish, which is "a passport to more powers and more responsibility for the parish and local community".
It is also a way of uniting residents on issues of concern, so they can present a consensus of opinion and influence the decision makers about the future development of the area.
In spite of its rural atmosphere, its position within six miles of Coventry and Solihull and a little over twice that to Birmingham, coupled with its close proximity to major transport routes and Birmingham International Airport, make it a highly-desirable location for businesses.
The area known as the Meriden Shafts is the only remnant of a once thriving mining industry, the former mineheads now given over to woodland.
However, raw materials continue to be pulled from the earth over at Cornets End, where gravel is quarried from pits.
Opposite Millison's Wood there is a small business park which has attracted a range of high-tech companies. There are also a number of small engineering companies within the village.
The appraisal is being conducted online and there will be a questionnaire delivered to every household probing people's likes and dislikes about the parish, its problems and future challenges.
These could range from small specific issues, such as the structural concerns over the doctor's surgery which is housed in the old school building, to the safety of Meriden's busy main road, the reduced frequency of the 900 bus route between Birmingham and Coventry to the impact that a new housing development being constructed by Bryant will have.
"Meriden covers a wide social spectrum and has a healthy mix of population," says Iain.
"Other nearby villages are just uniformly rich, but here it ranges from very substantial properties up by the church (St Laurence - currently closed for major roof repairs, which has meant worshippers are enjoying the hospitality of the local Methodist church) at least one of which is probably worth several million, to some social housing.
The issues of providing affordable living for young people who want to remain in the village and also giving teenagers somewhere to let off a little steam, should both be addressed through Bryant's new build.
"The current playing fields are basically just a big field with goal posts at one end, some derelict tennis courts and an outdated children's playground," says Iain.
"When the deal was done between the Parish Council, who own the fields, and Solihull Borough Council, the planning authority, to release the site for housing, the chosen developer would first have to build another playing field site with facilities for cricket and football as well as a modern play area for young children."
The new estate should increase the population of the parish by about 10 per cent and of the village itself by about 15 per cent.
It should include 40 per cent affordable housing of which 70 per cent will be social rent and 30 per cent shared ownership.
"I think there is a lot of support for affordable housing, which means people who have grown up in this area can buy here, so there isn't a Nimby type spirit towards it," says Iain.
"It is also important that it shouldn't start to feel like a suburb of Coventry or Solihull, but should maintain its village character.
"Obviously the new buildings are going to have an impact on the infrastructure and there are also questions about how the school is going to cope with additional young people, as well as the surgery.
"The Parish Council and the Appraisal Steering Group will be meeting with the developer to see how we can work together to minimise the impact of construction and also to try and convey a perception of how what they are building will fit in with the village."