Beech Village Hall
New Hall Opening
In the bright sunshine of early March a cool breeze fluttered the bunting. From the newly paved terrace a band essayed a little Mozart, while to their right a distinguished guest glanced at familiar – but somehow unfamiliar – surroundings. Frequently a visitor to the hall in the past, he had arrived not at the decayed doors he had grown used to but at an imposing green-oak and glass entrance that put him in mind of the doorway to perhaps a more lofty building than the Beech Village Hall he had known from his time in the village.
For the moment however the entrance was barred to him. A posse of local dignitaries, notable among which stood (in an unaccustomed suit but forgoing a tie) Peter Cox, Chairman of the Board of Trustees of the Village Hall, together with Phil Ladds, the Board’s Treasurer, and Councillor Patrick Burridge, plus assorted other Trustees and village elders. Under the watchful eye of a large crowd of villagers, the delegation warmly welcomed former Beech resident, Mr Alan Titchmarsh MBE.
The shuffling of sheet music drew Alan’s attention to the band. In his honour they struck the opening bars of a familiar tune. Their leader offered his baton, and Alan needed no further encouragement. To the wonder of the onlookers Alan efficiently and joyfully conducted the Sandhurst Community Brass Band through a full-length rendering of the theme to his television programme “Ground Force”. The keynote for the day had been struck, almost literally.
A few lucky autograph hunters briefly impeded Alan’s progress into the new Beech Village Hall. Eagerly followed by the crowd, and accompanied by his wife Alison, his first port of call was the new bar where he accepted a glass of champagne. More villagers waited inside, with some seventy people in and around the bar-lounge alone and another thirty or so in the Main Hall. Beech was out in force to greet him, and Alan spent some time chatting to old friends including Parish Council Chairman Ed Neish.
Eventually Peter Cox ushered Alan into the adjoining principal chamber. Mounting the platform and surrounded by excited villagers, Peter, with his usual easy style, underlined the communal feeling of pride in the Village Hall by touching briefly on the history of the building. He recounted its construction in1894 (not from personal recollection, it has to be said) and traced its history through to the recent completion of Phase 1 of the major rebuilding and refurbishment programme.
He praised the work of Charles Cockburn’s team who laid foundations for the project during the first years of the twenty-first century, and he thanked the project team set up in 2006 to turn the dream into reality, a team directed by Phil Ladds and ably assisted by Norman Adams, project co-ordinator, Vic Richards, works supervisor, and the sadly missed Mike Smith, the hall’s architect, and he reminded everyone that the project became a reality through diligent work in securing a National Lottery Grant to supplement capital raised by the Trustees and through the generosity of villagers. He also thanked all those residents who gave their time and efforts to the project. But he omitted to mention one person who unfailingly inspired and encouraged the team over several years, but we can name that person here: he is Peter Cox.
Introducing his honoured guest, Peter welcomed Alan to the platform. Alan, so much accustomed to public appearances, seemed a little awed by his task but with his usual charm and humour warmed the village’s hearts. He reminisced about his twenty-one years living in Beech, the home of his television garden “Barleywood”; and he mentioned the times he had spent in the old village hall. He expressed admiration for the new hall and said that on finally leaving the village, he had taken care to seek a new home within easy reach of the area he loved so much, and he was no more than a few miles away in Holybourne. His regular gardening column was, to that very day, still composed while sitting on a Beech Village Hall chair, and he offered to return it should it ever be needed.
He closed his speech by unveiling a plaque commemorating the opening of the new Beech Village Hall and declaring the erection formally inaugurated. Amid applause, prominent resident Helen Lamb presented him with a home-made cake while to Alison she presented a basket of flowers. Free wine and soft drinks were served and the kitchen team circulated with canapés. Alan was free to enjoy light snacks and a bit of informal socialising in a gathering that had the feel partly of a cocktail party and partly of the aftermath of a successful rugger tournament. Such a sense of occasion lent the day a wholly delightful atmosphere and a satisfying feeling of a notable achievement having been well and truly celebrated.