Here it is – our “unique hall of fame”. This band of extremely committed villagers have created something quintessentially British, in a village that fits that exact description and they have done it with a level of true humility that ought to cement each of them a place in Wootton’s very own hall of fame.
Jeremy Paxman, Esther Rantzen, Jon Snow, Pru Leith, Bill Turnbull – no not pictured above, but the list of some of the speakers that have starred at The Wootton Village Hall Talks. The list goes on and on – well to 55 actually with Paddy Ashdown coming in January – and it is a compelling who’s who of British public life. This week’s Oxford Mail & Oxford Times gave it an excellent level of coverage – as you can see here http://www.oxfordmail.co.uk/news/10668800.Tiny_village_that_created_a_unique_hall_of_fame/:
“Speakers are arranged by journalist Andy Morgan, but he stresses the events are a team effort, with 10 people looking after the website, bookings, technical equipment, photography, food and drinks, backdrop design and posters.”
And there is no doubt about it the village of Wootton is incredibly fortunate to have this group of locals that volunteer with such commitment. The article continues: “The team is still amazed at how many well-known people agree to come and speak for nothing”. But actually the question that the village asks is: “Andy how do you do that?”
The Village Hall itself has a colourful past: endless societies and organisations have used it; every vote cast in every election I know of has been done so in it; it has come to the rescue of the school, the church and many more when needed; a plethora of young stars from the Oxford School of Drama have honed their skills on its stage; for those 40 somethings and above it was probably the venue for their very first smooch; and some 20 years ago a rather over enthusiastic local tried to go about selling it on behalf of the community – with the very best of intentions I am sure! It is quite simply a community heirloom and one that no village would want to lose.
So the talks. They began for a reason driven by necessity. Over £30,000 has been raised to update a timber building that has stood for about 90 years, into the current sparkling version with new kitchen, lighting, bathroom, and more besides. And that is the remarkable thing about this entire project. It began as a very simple idea to raise some funds for some urgent repairs. What it became is something to literally take a moment to step back and wonder at in awe. Go and see for yourself here: http://www.woottontalks.co.uk/. The unforeseen outcome is once again proof that when a community decides, a community can literally do anything.
For those in need of a fresh idea in their own village they should seriously consider looking at the model and simply borrow it. Every single community has their own extraordinary people that could not only replicate the structure, but no doubt be called on as speakers. Wootton’s experience shows just that:
“Speakers have also come from Wootton itself – talking about subjects such as lute-making, third world diseases, the blues and botanical art – and also talking to full houses. Simon Heighes, a BBC Radio 3 broadcaster and Wootton resident, spoke about Christmas music and is also found dispensing wine and good cheer as a part of the talks team.”
I mentioned that those in Wootton’s own hall of fame had created something quintessentially British. Absolutely zero debate about that. The sense of coming together when the chips were firmly down; the rolling up the sleeves, piling in and making the best out of the materials they had; the creation of something both very refined and yet often raucously humorous; and the real desire to do it as a community, waving away any thanks or personal mention in public. This group is something that the entire community is very proud of, I should know my lovely little Mum is one of them!