This year's winners in the Oxfordshire Best Kept Village 2002 competition have been announced.

Kennington litter warden Alan Pope, parish clerk George Ross and parish councillor Ian Sillince savour victory

In the large villages section, Kennington was placed first by organisers, the Oxfordshire Community Council, pipping Horspath and Blewbury to the title.

The news delighted retiring parish clerk George Ross, who said he had been hoping his village would win the title for a quarter of a century.

Kennington has seen new housing development, a refurbished playing field, a new children's play area and other improvements to its amenities this year.

The villages were judged on their appearance and how well facilities such as litter bins and parks were maintained.

Mr Ross said: "I was ever so excited that we got this in my last year of office. We've been trying to win this for the past 25 years. It means a lot to the villagers. We must have finally done something right.

"We've never won it before, but then we weren't always classed as being in Oxfordshire.

"It's all about keeping the village well kept. It's not just about being picturesque it's about providing adequate facilities like litter bins and useful amenities too."

In the medium villages section, Combe won, ahead of Freeland, Steventon and Aston. Combe was praised for its closely-knit community and cleanliness.

Parish councillor Sue Goodman said: "It always looks lovely here and I think our success is down to lots of individuals working hard to keep their gardens pretty.

"We're also a mixed community with quite a lot of young people and a variety of things to do, which must have helped."

The best small village was Longcot -- which also chosen as best new entry -- followed by Great Milton and Hailey. Ardington and Lockinge and Duns Tew were all equal fourth. Longcot's newsletter was commended by the judges, as was its churchyard management scheme.

Parish council chairman Philip Young said: "Entering this competition was very much secondary for us to keeping the village in a good state.

"We have a band of volunteers in the village who have done a lot of work on the churchyard and the rest of the village. They wanted to make a difference and that's great."

In the winners' class, which is made up of the four victorious villages of the previous year, Shipton-under-Wychwood came first, followed by Souldern, Hornton and Deddington.

Parish clerk Alice Burns said: "There's a very caring community in our village that has a lot of pride in our environment. That's shared by everyone here and we've worked hard to keep Shipton-under-Wychwood in the excellent condition the judges found it."

The winning entries will be given award plaques to erect somewhere prominent in the village.

Peter Lund, of the community council, said: "The standard in this competition is always very high, and it's never easy to separate different villages.

"What we look for is community involvement and those villages that have made the most of their buildings and situation, not just the prettiest ones."

Ardington and Lockinge came fourth in the small villages section, winning praise from the judges for its noticeboards, public seating and well-maintained allotments.

Clive Knights, the clerk of the parish council, said: "The village will think it's done rather well. We won in 1997, so it's good to be returning to winning ways."