As I walked into the Memorial Hall at 8 a.m. on the 21st May 2016, I was a little surprised to see Lesley and Eric Blacker with Alison, they had obviously been at the Hall for a good hour before my arrival and were already cooking the food for the Family and Fun Down.
I was a little doubtful as to whether the activities would be able to proceed outside as it was very overcast and looked as if it would rain at any moment. Jessica and I had had a marathon on the 19th May setting up the Heritage Engagement Exhibits and I knew I was under strict instructions from Barry to make sure that the mini red curtains that Maureen his wife had kindly made to go over the plaques in the rooms/halls that were being re-named were in place so the Bishop would be able to remove them in the course of renaming the rooms. so I quickly ran around and did that. I finalised the Churchill exhibit, stuck back up the exhibits that had fallen down and then began setting up the screen and projector to run the old Edwardian films I had found which gave and insight into the fashion, travel, makeup, politics and working life of people from the era when the hall was first built.
Chris put his head round the door and I mentioned my concerns about the weather he quickly reassured me that if it did rain though some things would be transferred into the hall the food and plants would go into the church.
Daren and Dave were being amazing moving tables and chairs outside and I ran up to the Upper Hall (now the Birchnall Hall) to show them were the extra tables were. I find it difficult to pull up the banners on my own and Chris asked them to help and they were very kind and helpful and had that all done for me in no more than 5 minutes, then they were off to the next thing.
Suddenly it was manic, stalls were going up, bouncy castles were arriving, the plants arrived in a wonderful profusion of colour which lent a real sense of joyfulness to a very grey day. Rector Ian was dashing around making sure that everything was in order for the Bishop’s visit.
Before you knew it there were the Guide Leaders, Clare, and Anthea manning the hot dog stands, Anita was face painting, Jane and John and his wife were selling plants fast and furiously and people were going up the Tower which was open for the first time in many years. Chinese lanterns were bobbing in the old Beech tree which stands like a protective sentinel between the Church and the Hall as the Chinese food was served by James and his wife from a stand which was next to David’s popcorn maker. Opposite Peter and Bridget manned their lemonade stand and the young people from Quest sold delicious deserts.
All the while children were playing happily on the bouncy castle, people sat chatting away and catching up with each other, and people wandered by with coconuts they had won on Adam and John’s Coconut Shy and of course there was a never-ending supply of tea, coffee and cakes being supplied by the ladies of the church. In this joyous midst of this joyous madness there was the Prayer Tree so that people could remember members of their family and friends who could not attend and those who needed a bit of extra help and guidance.
As I rushed around putting up final notices and setting out chocolate eclairs as part of the Churchill exhibit and various other cakes as part of the Pankhurst exhibition I was slowly becoming more anxious because I had promised to pick up Heather to enjoy the festivities. I now realised that I would be leaving the original Minute Books of the Trustees going back to 1899 and original letters and plans, which could be removed or damaged during my absence. What was I to do? AND people were looking around exhibition. Well a quick visit to the Guides and they confirmed they could help by doing a relay protecting watch until I arrived back.
I was still a little concerned but had promised to pick up Heather and a promise is a promise, somewhat anxiously I ran around Chelmsford Road to pick up my car and there was Georgina, I quickly explained the situation with the original documents and Georgina due to her work as a researcher for many years immediately understood and I dashed on secure in the knowledge that everything would be protected.
Having brought back Heather to the Family and Fun Day I realised that the Bishop was due to arrive shortly. I dashed back into the Exhibit and of course Georgina had everything under control. A quick chat with several people who were looking at the exhibit and as I was talking to Sarah who assisted in obtaining the Heritage Lottery Funding for the refurbishment of the hall I suddenly heard the Bishop’s voice, a quick dash outside and I began snapping pictures on my little old Samsung phone. A brief introduction was made to the Bishop and in just a few moments it was clear that he had a lovely dry sense of humour. Viveca was videoing his visit and suddenly there was a bit of a surge as the Bishop and Ian made their way to the front hall. A short speech and he had opened the curtains on the first plaque and the room was re-named the Roberts Hall, then on the new Churchill Room and Pankhurst Room. Throughout Tamsen very discreetly took the curtains from the Bishop so that he wasn’t wandering around with them.
Though Helen Pankhurst, Sylvia Pankhurst’s granddaughter and Churchill’s grandchildren had been invited unfortunately they were unable to come. There was a lovely moment when Tony Woodhead who had been the leader of the young Conservatives in the 1960s confirmed to the Bishop that indeed Churchill did use to come and give chats to the young Conservatives during the late 1950s and 60s at the hall in the very room that was being named after him.
Finally all the rooms were re-named and all that was left was for the Bishop to sit down to a delicious tea that Jackie had prepared. There was a lovely moment when the Bishop went over to talk to Bob Birchnall’s wife and daughter, and when he realised that there wasn’t a chair handy, rather than their having to stand to speak to him, he knelt so that they could speak to him with ease.
Then it was all over and he was leaving, everyone was packing away madly, Daren and Dave appeared again as if by magic and all the chairs and tables were returned. Without my asking them they kindly took down the banners. Phillip came and said he would take Heather back for me. I rushed around trying to get the exhibition down in an orderly fashion and Lesley Eric and Alison somehow managed to clear the kitchen despite problems with the hot water.
When I went outside to check what was happening it was totally clear, plants, popcorn stands, face-painting, hot dog stalls, lemonade stands, coconut shys etc had all disappeared as if by magic and I thought that the old saying “many hands make light work” was indeed true. Rector Tarrant came to double check that everything was okay, I finished clearing the exhibition and the day was over, but it had been a brilliant day.