Speaking up to help hall

Laurence Rees pictured before addressing Wootton residents at the hall

Laurence Rees pictured before addressing Wootton residents at the hall

First published in Witney Oxford Mail: Photograph of the Author by , Reporter covering Didcot and Wallingford. Call me on 01865 425425

Residents of an Oxfordshire village have come up with a novel way to pay for repairs to their hall – inviting a series of high-profile speakers to give talks.

The village hall in Wootton-by-Woodstock is in poor shape and needs thousands of pounds of investment to fix the roof and install a new heating system.

Last year, members of the village hall committee decided to contact a series of well-known names to see if they would give talks – and a large number have agreed.

One of the first people to sign up is novelist and journalist Henry Porter, who will be explaining the techniques of writing thrillers on Friday, January 23.

His award-winning novel Brandenburg is set in the run-up to the collapse of Communism in Eastern Europe and the fall of the Berlin Wall.

Andrew Morgan, a member of the hall committee, said: “The village hall is timber-framed and was probably built in the late 1920s.

“It’s badly in need of repair and there’s no central heating. At the moment, electric heaters are used and all the heat goes straight up into the roof.

“I’m not quite sure how much it would cost to completely refurbish the hall but we’re aiming to raise thousands of pounds.

“These talks are becoming increasingly popular and we have a ready-made audience in Woodstock, where people go to the Woodstock Literary Festival every year.

“It’s quite possible other villages will look at what we have achieved and start to do the same thing.

“I worked with Henry when we both started out as journalists and he kindly agreed to come and give a talk.

“One woman in the village claims to own some rubble from Hitler’s bunker and has promised to bring it along on the night.”

Mark Damazer, the controller of BBC Radio 4, is giving a talk on February 13, and perhaps the village’s biggest coup is getting Lord Geoffrey Howe to give a talk in May, at a date to be fixed.

The former Chancellor of the Exchequer and Foreign Secretary was Margaret Thatcher’s longest-serving Cabinet minister.

Talks that have already proved a success include those given by historian and broadcaster Laurence Rees, who spoke about the relationship between Churchill, Roosevelt and Stalin, which formed the basis for his recent TV series World War Two Behind Closed Doors, and Boris Rankov, a professor of ancient history at the University of London.

Andrew Warner, a plumber who is also on the hall committee, said: “Contacts have been made through friends of friends and there has been a certain amount of arm-twisting going on.

“I’m going to make a mini-Berlin Wall to welcome Henry Porter for his talk and children from the local primary school are going to paint graffiti on it.”

For full details of talks, see www.woottontalks.co.uk affrench@oxfordmail.co.uk


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