Report by Celia Livesey
A celebratory retirement tea was held in the elegant Abbey House, official residence for the Mayors of Winchester. The current Mayor, Cllr Ernie Jeffs and his wife, Barbara, the Mayoress, paid tribute to Barbara Large for the tremendous success and international reputation of the annual Winchester Writers’ Conference, especially with this year being the 33rd and also the last under the direction of its founder Barbara Large.
The Mayor said he was keen to recognise Barbara’s contribution to the the cultural and economic life of Winchester by marking the end of her era with an impromptu celebratory tea. He went on to say that Barbara is a well know local figure, full of energy, inspiration and fun. Council officers and a succession of Mayors have enjoyed working with her, and participating in some unforgettable events over the years.
Although Barbara has already had her official retirement ‘send off’ from the University of Winchester many collegues from a range of local cultural organisations, friends, authors and members of the Hampshire Writers’ Society, (of which Barbara is also the founder), had come along to wish her well for the future.
Cllr Robert Humby, Deputy Leader and Portfolio Holder for Economic Development gave a short address. He said that just as he was getting to know more about Winchester’s cultural life, the guest of honour, Barbara Large – was taking leave of one of the City’s finest institutions after an incredible thirty-three years at the helm.
He said that Barbara has achieved what many of us hope to achieve in our lifetimes… She has not only created something of great value to very many people. She has also left a Conference with a national – even international reputation that will continue long into the future to the benefit of Winchester as a visitor destination, a place for academic study and a cultural centre. And she has left a legacy of countless writers and illustrators to whose first books she has, in some senses, played the midwife.
She has maintained her smile, her energy and her passion throughout these thirty-three years. She has been the official face of the Conference, but she has also been a loyal and caring friend to many of the delegates and authors, and also many people here today.
Cllr Humby said they were proud that Barbara is ‘of Winchester’. And it was felt that the end of her time at the Conference needed to be signaled in a suitable way. So poet, performer and playwright Keith Bennett, with whom Barbara has worked on numerous writing competitions for the Conference, had been invited to write a few lines on the occasion of her retirement.
It was particularly apt that, Keith should start by launching into Old English. It was because of Alfred the Great the English language became further developed as a written language.
Hweat, we Gardena in geardagum theod cyninga, thrym getrundon un tha aethelingar ellen fremendon
So the Spear Danes in days gone by and the kings who ruled them had courage and greatness.
Keith said that he had known Barbara for a number of years and had come to realise that Canadian was a language, which although sounding similar to English, had a completely different meaning in some instances. For example, when he said no to Barbara – it was always changed in translation to yes, I’d love to.
Keith then read aloud the poem he had written for the occasion:
A Celebration of Barbara Large
founder of the unique, highly successful Winchester Writers’ Conference
A moment’s pause in the hectic pace of life;
celebration, trumpets, fanfare, drum-roll
of thunderous proportions, most un-like
Barbara, who has relinquished control.
Large enough to let her baby grow, not
founder like those lesser shows but shine out
of her generosity of spirit and thought,
the honesty, support and without doubt
unique approach she brought to this endeavour;
highly wrought, each year outdid the last,
successful in every way success can come.
Winchester applauds its Canadian treasure.
Writers too, without hesitation raise their glass,
Conference, and Barbara Large MBE, well done.
Copyright © Keith Bennett, September 2013
A framed copy of the poem, together with a letter formally thanking Barbara for her contribution to the cultural life of Winchester over many years was presented.
Cllr Humby invited Barbara to say a few words in response, which started by Barbara thanking the Mayor and Mayoress and Cllr Humby and everyone for the wonderful reception in her honour.
She went on to say that although she had retired from the Winchester Writers’ Conference, she had no intention of slowing down. A new website had already been launched, and she had just recently come back from presenting a poetry festival in a castle in darkest Wales, which featured Carol Ann Duffy, the poet laureate. Barbara assured the Mayor that if he needed anyone to help with cultural matters in Winchester, then she was his girl.
Barbara said that Abbey House, and this reception room, held very special memories for her. The Children’s Poetry awards from the Winchester Writers’ Conference have been held here year after year, and to see children all dressed up in their best clothes stepping up to the microphone, eyes shining, was something she would never forget.
Barbara spoke about all the authors who had been discovered at Winchester, and asked Jack Sheffield to recount his story, from arriving at Winchester as a ‘rookie’, to beginning a second career and being told he was marketable. Jack presented Barbara with a copy of his latest book, School’s Out to be released on the 26 September.
The Mayor and Cllr Humby presented Barbara with a bouquet of flowers, and again thanked everyone for coming and helping to make this a very special occasion.