A SMALL town with a big heart is how Rector, Tom Benson, described Buckfastleigh.

Tom came to the town from Bideford in October 2012, where he was the vicar, and feels privileged and proud to have spent his time here serving the community of Buckfastleigh and area.

On arrival Tom was covering the parishes of Buckfastleigh and Dean Prior, but now covers those two parishes and additionally Landscove, Staverton, Littlehempston, South Brent and Rattery.

Over this time he has been supported by curate Marissa Cockfield, who is now vicar in Bideford.

She was succeeded by Fiona and is now supported by the Rev Laura McAdam. Tom was most anxious to praise all the support he received from church wardens and all the team.

He was anxious to say he was not the centre of all the church did, but as we spoke the organiser of the food bank came through where we were talking and she mouthed over to me – ‘he is the centre of everything’.

When I asked why he had been attracted to Buckfastleigh he told me he recognised it was a town with issues but with a big heart, which he has found to be true.

The town had undergone some major changes with industry closing, but he now feels it is recovering its confidence and has a bright future. He told me about the amazing response from everyone during the Covid pandemic.

The food bank had provided food to make the equivalent of 24,000 meals. They had never had to appeal for donations; it had arrived plentifully in the form of goods and money and each of the parishes that Tom serves made use of the food bank. They also had a lot of volunteers who delivered medicines and this was co-ordinated by Val Hoare, the retired chemist from the town using NHS staff and retired NHS staff, as it was vitally important to deliver the correct medicine to the correct person; not quite like getting a parcel from the internet that could possibly go astray.

Covid has meant they could not hold traditional services, and as the internet was unreliable at the church, some 262 pre-prepared services were presented on YouTube and Tom was keen to thank his curate, Laura for organising those.

I asked about congregation numbers, pre-Covid and Tom explained that in line with the rest of the country traditional service numbers had shrunk a little but other services had increased, family services, messy church, baptisms, and there were strong wedding congregations, and the church also works with wedding venues. There are issues with the fabric of the building and much work has been undertaken with more needed.

Currently there is a consultant architect, guiding the PCC and the diocese on future requirements, but whatever the outcome I was ensured that a Church of England presence will remain in Buckfastleigh, and there are many plans for the starting up of new groups.

When Tom moves onto Braishfield, just outside Winchester, on June 6, he will look back at his time in the town with great affection.