50 years of the Sedgefield Players
In May 1971, the newly formed Sedgefield Players staged its first production, ‘Bonaventure’, never thinking that 50 years down the line, & around 300 productions of plays, pantomimes, reviews & Mediaeval Fayres later, it would still be going strong.
As current Chairman of the group, I have been reflecting recently on why the group has stayed together for so long, and why so many members have been part of the group for so many years. Is it the choice of play, the scenery, the acting, the venue, the price of the tickets? Maybe those things are part of it, but really it is all about people, & three words:- friendship, enthusiasm & support.
Undoubtedly, Walter Howell, a founder member, and still a member today, has been its mainstay for the majority of those 50 years. Although no longer Productions Director, he is still very much a part of the group and contributes with advice, artwork and general support. Without his enthusiasm, hard work and dedication over the years, the group certainly would not be in the position it is in today.
Our membership still includes one other founder member, Thelma Flood , another member who has been very active and influential for over 40 years, Norma Neal, plus at least ten members, including myself, who initially signed up over 30 years ago.
Norma requires a special mention, not only for her fine acting, but also her hard work & dedication over the years. As well as being Chairman for many years, she has fulfilled many roles, on both stage & committee, & has been responsible for building the Sedgefield Drama festival into a thriving annual event with a reputation of being Britain’s ‘Friendly Festival’ among professional adjudicators and local groups.
However, we are certainly not a group of oldies. Our adult membership ranges from 18 to over 80 and Sedgefield Players Youth Section (SPYS) boasts 50 youngsters.
Over time, we have become great friends, sharing our lives like a family, supporting in good times & bad, laughing together, reminiscing (we do a lot of that), developing our skills, entertaining, competing and most of all, having fun.
We have travelled to festivals in the Isle of Man, York, Hull, Harrogate, Whitehaven and Grasmere to name a few, and organised trips with the SPYS to Edinburgh and beyond. We have also stayed home in Sedgefield, meeting together almost every Wednesday & Sunday for the past 50 years, the enthusiasm of the team still as strong today as ever.
When Walter decided to retire as Productions Director we were fortunate to have Tom Guest ready to step into his shoes. Tom had been a youth member before leaving Sedgefield to train, returning as a professional actor who took no time in re-joining the group. Over the last ten years or so, he has given a huge amount of time and effort, as an actor, writer, choreographer, musical director and director, to both the adults and the SPYS, and has contributed hugely to the continuation of the group.
Tom now shares the role of Productions Director and SPYS organiser with long time member Sarah Atkinson, whose professionalism, hard work and enthusiasm is admirable. Throughout these COVID times, Tom and Sarah have kept the group together, organising Zoom meetings, a virtual festival and writing or finding plays to read to keep the enthusiasm alive (please watch our efforts on YouTube).
I have named a few, and apologise for not naming the many, many members who over the years have joined the group and shared their ‘friendship, enthusiasm and support’. Each one, however long or short their stay, has played their part (please pardon the pun) in keeping the Players alive.
I mentioned ‘support’ key to our longevity. Without this, the Players would just have been a group of ‘enthusiastic friends’. Over the years we have had the support of so many people; not only our members, our families, our donors & sponsors, our friends in other amateur groups, festival participants, adjudicators, the SCA, and, most importantly, our audiences.
Without you, the audience, there would be no drama group – we could not perform a play without an audience (actually, we did once). At each production, we look forward to welcoming old friends and new to share and hopefully enjoy our efforts. Whether we make you laugh or cry or send a shiver down your spine, we hope to entertain, and really appreciate your loyal support.
Thanks to you all for keeping the Players alive for 50 years, and when all this COVID business is over, we look forward to seeing you all again in Sedgefield Parish Hall.
Let us raise a glass to our Golden Anniversary and start working towards our Centenary. Cheers!
Happy 100th Birthday to Les Butler
A much loved and well-respected member of Sedgefield’s community, Mr Les Butler recently celebrated his 100th birthday in fine style. The sun shone for the guest of honour and his wife Marjorie, whose daughters Pam and Elaine had set up a party area on the front lawn, complete with nostalgic wartime music. Sedgefield Village Veterans paraded with their standard and also provided beautiful flowers, a magnificent cake and bubbly to toast the centenarian. Other friends joined in the celebrations and the Queen’s telegram boy arrived to a rousing cheer.
Born in Birmingham on May 19th 1921 Les Butler came to Sedgefield at the age of 19, called up to serve with the Northumberland Fusiliers at Hardwick Camp. Les and his mates were made very welcome in the village, their regular camp dances proving very popular with the local girls. Many a romance - and subsequent marriage - began to the music of the Fernley Mitchell Band. Les and Marjorie married at St Edmund’s Church in September 1943. No fuss, no photographs, no fancy honeymoon. But married bliss was short lived. In 1944, Hardwick Camp closed down and, after combat and jungle training, Les was shipped off to fight in Burma. A very tough environment.
Les didn’t get back home until October 1946. He had to walk from Ferryhill Station back home to Sedgefield and a hero’s welcome from Marjorie and their baby daughter Pamela, two years old before her daddy met her. Sister Elaine came along a few years later and the family enjoyed a happy life in the village. For many years, Les did painting, decorating and occasional building work for Sedgefield Rural District Council, based at the Manor House. Thanks to his early apprenticeship with a Birmingham art company, Les was also in great demand as a sign writer for various local businesses and other organisations beyond the village. He also turned his hand to bell ringing at St Edmund’s and, in later years, helped out at Sedgefield racecourse.
Norma Neal of Sedgefield Local History says, ‘Les is a fascinating character with a phenomenal memory. He has been a great help to local historians, with a wealth of knowledge, reaching back over the years. It was a privilege to honour him on his hundredth birthday.’
Robots at Sedgefield Hardwick
Since returning to school after the May half-term, pupils in Year 5 from Sedgefield Hardwick have been incredibly excited to get to grips with another new piece of technology, Sphero robots.
These robots mean the children can use their programming skills and watch these skills come to life within a physical object.
Image: Year 5 students with Sphero robots
Children in Year 5 started the topic by mastering how to control the speed and colour of the robots. Then, the pupils took part in very competitive races, which seemed like mini versions of a Grand Prix, to see who could manoeuvre their robot the best around a circuit. Shortly, the children will use block commands to instruct the robot to do certain things, such as move forward, turn right and left and change colour at different speeds.
Once the children fully master the controls of the Spheros, they will once again compete against each other to complete an obstacle course using a coding program they have created, which will include the block commands they have worked on during the topic. Hannah, a pupil from Year 5, stated, “We all really enjoyed driving these robots around a circuit and we can’t wait to watch the robots move on their own.”
30 Days Wild
Year 1 at Sedgefield Primary completed the start of the ‘30 Days Wild’ challenge for homework in half term. Some of the challenges they participated in were: No Gadget Day, find all of the colours of the rainbow in nature, look for shapes in the clouds, place bare feet and hands on the ground.
Rebecca said, “I put my bare feet in the sand, it felt tickly between my toes. It made me feel happy.”
Junior said, “I was really sad about No Gadget Day but it was really fun and I got to go on lots of walks!”
Travis said, “I saw a T-rex shape in the clouds.”
We are planning on doing more outdoor learning and ’30 Days Wild’ challenges at school this half term. Some examples of these activities are: a picnic with the birds, create some wild art, identify wild flowers and threading a daisy chain.
Paralympics GB squad
Congratulations to Sedgefield based wheelchair rugby star Jack Smith, who has been selected in the Paralympics GB squad for the rescheduled Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games.
Jack now plays his club rugby for Leicester Tigers but still trains with The North East Bulls at The Hub at Sedgefield Community College, although he’s restricted to GB training for now.
If you are interested in playing wheelchair rugby, or volunteering, you can pop along to The Hub on a Tuesday or Thursday between 6:00pm and 9:00pm. Find out more at “NE Bulls WRC” on Facebook.
Plans to create an additional 270,000 sq ft of space are well underway at The North East Technology Park (NETPark) in Sedgefield.
Space at NETPark, managed by Business Durham is at a premium, with 100% of the available laboratory, office and clean room accommodation currently occupied or reserved by science, engineering and technology companies.
Since opening in 2004, NETPark had big ambitions to become one of the UK’s leading science parks, it is well on its way to achieving that goal with over 35 companies and 550 people employed on-site.
The success of NETPark is such that expansion space is needed so that companies can reach their full potential. In the Autumn plans will be submitted to Durham County Council to add an additional 270,000 sq ft of space. This would help to accommodate growing demand, both from businesses already established within the park and from companies looking to relocate or expand their operations to this thriving science community.
NETPark provides an abundance of resources on site, including CPI’s three National Innovation Centres, two National Catapult Centres and Durham University, a world top 100 University. These plans support Durham County Council’s vision of creating more and better jobs, to build a stronger competitive economy and helping people get into work.
To find out more about NETPark’s ambitious expansion plans visit www.northeasttechnologypark.com.
William of Durham and Walter de Merton (p2)
by Alex Priestley-Leach
At a similar time to William of Durham’s rise to prominence, a young man from Surrey by the name of Walter was making his name known in service of the new Bishop, Nicholas Farnham (Bishop 1241-49). Whereas William was perhaps born in Sedgefield and moved elsewhere for education and employment, Walter hailed from Merton (from London borough) and was brought up alongside other southerners by Nicholas who, as his name indicates, was from Farnham.
Image: The tomb of Walter de Merton in Rochester Cathedral, where he was appointed Bishop in 1274.
Again, his movements are not very clear, but parts of the Merton College Rolls indicate he held the parsonage after 1247 and the mention of the parish in his will demonstrates his affiliations. He likely did not spend much time in Sedgefield, returning to London to clerk for the Lord Chancellor, William of Kilkenny before 1249. From there he advanced quickly to a canon at St Pauls and then to Lord Chancellor in 1261 and Bishop of Rochester in 1274. During his time as Chancellor, he founded a ‘house of the scholars of Merton [Priory]’ which was transferred to Oxford and established as a permanent house under his supervision.
Walter certainly did not spend much time in Sedgefield; however, the current church was built around the time of his stewardship. It is perhaps due to this southern man’s influence, who often spent time in Oxfordshire, that it was dedicated to the recently dead archbishop of Canterbury, St Edmund of Abingdon (who himself is the namesake of St Edmund’s Hall, Oxford). As such, Walter’s influence upon Sedgefield is one of the most noteworthy and long lasting.
In researching all this, a feeling of lost potential arose. Here Sedgefield stands, forgotten by the establishments that its son and benefactor respectively founded. One hopes that in future these links can be rekindled, so that when one asks, ‘so where are you from?’, the answer does not need to be, ‘how good is your knowledge on New Labour?’
I thank Dr Robin Darwall-Smith, archivist of University College, Oxford and Julian Reid, archivist of Merton College, Oxford for their help in digging out these links. J. R. L. Highfield The early rolls of Merton College Oxford (1964) contains a biography of Walter de Merton. Manuscripts that Highfield references have proven to be a struggle to find by both Mr Reid and myself.
Volunteer needed for Sedgefield Baby & Toddler Group
Since restarting in May, it has been wonderful to welcome so many new parents, carers and children, and to reconnect with all of the families that we haven't seen since last March.
We have been amazed at the number of families interested in attending and we want to thank all of you for coming.
At the same time, it is also a bit sad because Sedgefield lost so many other baby & toddler groups during the pandemic. It is so important for young children to socialise and to be around other children, and equally important for parents and carers to have the opportunity to socialise with other adults and to feel a part of the local community. We are therefore looking to expand our weekly group to run twice per week on Monday and Tuesday mornings (currently we run on Tuesday mornings only).
In order to do that, however, we are looking for volunteers to help organise and run the sessions. If you enjoy working with families, this may be a great opportunity for you. Ours is a "stay and play" group, which means that parents/carers will be there to supervise their children, but we can really use help to make everyone feel welcome, to make the space welcoming and to run special activities such as crafts or singing - we are always open to new ideas! Other responsibilities will include setting up and tidying up and all volunteers will undergo a DBS check. If you are interested in becoming a volunteer, please get in touch with us via our Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/groups/sedgefieldplaygroup) or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
We plan to offer this expanded service from September. Likewise if you are a parent or carer and you are interested in attending our group, more information can be found on the Diary page of this Newsletter or again on our Facebook page.
Friends run for pancreatic cancer
THREE Sedgefield residents are running 48 miles in 48 hours to raise money for Pancreatic Cancer UK and are asking for your support.
Catherine Sutcliffe, Jo Bowman and Kate Stanley will run a four-mile route around Sedgefield, every four hours, for 48 hours – starting at 9am on Wednesday, July 14th and finishing with a final run at 5am on Friday July 16th.
The trio will run from The Meadows to Queen’s Drive, along Station Road, down Durham Road to Winterton, back to the centre, over the village green and alongside Sedgefield Primary School.
The gruelling 4x4x48 challenge was inspired by ex-Navy Seal and ultramarathon runner David Goggins and aims to push runners to the limits both physically and mentally.
They are running to raise awareness of pancreatic cancer, in memory of Kate’s father David Bowman who died of the disease ten years ago at the age of 67.
Kate, from Church View said: “Pancreatic cancer is known as the Silent Killer because it is extremely hard to spot and in 80% of cases is diagnosed at a late stage, when the cancer is too advanced. Dad died just four weeks after diagnosis and was robbed of his golden years of retirement and grandchildren.”
Some 10,300 people are diagnosed with pancreatic cancer every year yet research into the disease has been underfunded for decades, receiving only 3% of the UK cancer research budget.
Jo, from St Edmund’s Manor, said: “Funding is paramount and we hope that by doing this tough challenge we can encourage people to help us raise money for vital research into this disease.”
Catherine, from The Meadows, added: “We would love it if residents would support us and cheer us on. We will be easy to spot in our purple Pancreatic Cancer UK running vests!”
To donate, visit www.justgiving.com/48in48forCancer