Wednesday, 27 August 2014

A Walk Through (generous people’s) Time

OUR new eastern seafront - from Charmouth Road car park and along the seawall - is nearly ready. Protecting a critical part of town, this magnificent engineering also brings a new seaward dimension: a coastal walk from the eastern car park all the way to Monmouth Beach, with barely a glimpse of road traffic.

It offers, too, a fresh way into my periodic pursuit of volunteers who keep Lyme Regis thriving - for it’s not coastal protection alone that sustains the town and guards its future. 

Let’s walk this route one imagined day in late November when the footpath and steps are open.

First, look across to the vibrant Lyme Regis Football Club - voluntary to the core, everyone working for free. Howard Larcombe chairs a 15-strong fully-involved committee which, representing all club aspects and ages, keeps a busy show on the road. 

Secretary Rob Thom deals with league matters: player registrations, referees, fixtures, correspondence. Teresa Golesworthy keeps the books in order. Others focus on youth football, marketing, fundraising, match programmes, bookings for the clubhouse... and all roll up their sleeves for the nuts-and-bolts: bar staff, gate-keeping, the social events that feature so strongly.

Volunteer groundsman, handymen and willing helpers keep the Davey Fort and its clubhouse shipshape. Four “tea ladies” providing refreshments for players and spectators also walk the touchline collecting donations at home games: life-member Kath Wellman, a founder of the LRFC Ladies Supporters Group, to give them their proper title, has 30 years of doing this.

And the football? With three teams - almost, now, enough players for four - the Seasiders buck the trend towards playing on screens rather than on grass. 

“We’re stronger this year than ever,” says Howard. 

Well-led by first team manager Tim Edwards, the other managers and their assistants, and training twice-weekly throughout the summer (weekly in the season), they play to demanding standards, with a high profile and reputation for quality.

Moving the first team to the Devon & Exeter League is strengthening the club’s attraction for players some way from Lyme. 

In this, it reflects what I saw with B Sharp and Lyme Regis Majorettes: ambitious excellence in a small town creating the “critical mass” of a larger population.

Before descending the path, imagine the soon-to-be skatepark, admiring (in my case, envying) agile displays of fitness and skill. Persistence by Lucy Campbell and her young helpers over recent years - researching, consulting, planning designs and equipment, building momentum - has turned decades of wishing into a coming-reality.

Alongside, a small volunteer band led by Pat Campbell and Cheryl Reynolds put long hours into gathering an important £13,000 for the project. Starting with a Nag’s Head auction (£3,000 in one night), their effort embraced duck races, quiz nights, produce stalls, and other events. 

My Sundays in the Jubilee Pavilion last summer always saw Cheryl and one of the team on Marine Parade, determinedly selling tickets for a skatepark lottery linked to Guitars on the Beach and raising £3,000 from advance sales, with over £750 on the day.

Fundraising is tough - not just when the open-air disco coincides with heavy rain. Each event is backed by many hours of imploring, planning, organising, and getting the legalities right. Name me a town organisation without its hardy fundraisers: there can’t be many.

‘Lyme punches above its weight’

Now down and along the seawall - relish the view while resting on a seat, its timber backrest recycled from the old groynes.

Above is St Michael’s Parish Church, no longer at risk of losing graves to the sea. A prime example of the cliché that “Lyme punches above its weight” is the new Skrabl organ. 

Reputedly the finest new organ in the south of England, it’s outstanding in the beauty of its sound and of David West’s carved pipe shades - also for meticulous preparatory research and an astonishing funding effort. Andrew Nicholson’s group raised nearly £350,000 during five (financially hard) years. Some grants and many concerts helped; but most came from individual donations - a remarkable achievement.

The founding of the Lyme Regis Organ School, a non-profit trust chaired by Andrew with Dr Richard Godfrey as music adviser, is one consequence. The trust runs an annual residential and several day courses, and promotes a series of early autumn concerts.

This special church organ complements, but mustn’t overshadow, the quiet voluntary work underpinning an active community. The 12 elected Parochial Church Councillors have broad oversight: finance; policy - whether liturgical or organisational; administration; liaison with St Michael’s School. 

Two churchwardens, Margaret McConkey and Linda Nicholson, manage the building, its upkeep and the activities within it, meeting the regulations of Diocesan and civil authorities. The Church Hall, too, is voluntarily managed.

Retired clergy assist with services, while lay assistants from the congregation help with, for example, administering Holy Communion to the housebound and in care homes. A dozen bell-ringers, on duty each Sunday, practise one evening a week, as do a similar number in the choir. 

Then all those on the various rotas - flowers, collections, readings, intercessions, brass-cleaning, coffee-making, locking and unlocking a church that’s (uncommonly) open all day, welcoming visitors, Sunday public cream teas during the season... weekly pew-leaflets must be prepared, website maintained, Parish Magazine compiled and published ten times a year.

So the life of the parish church draws heavily on a tradition of centuries - the offering of time and talents by friends as well as church members inspired by their faith, with some helpers having multiple roles. Such support is vital in keeping this historic building, and the communal spirit that it fosters, in good order for our town.

Reliance on people who volunteer for several jobs, within and between organisations, characterises so many voluntary groups. (Who at the football club is vice-chairman? Reserve team manager? Occasional player? Bar supervisor? Maintenance overseer? Regular labourer? Gerard Hitchcock, one and all. You’ll know equivalents all around town.)

We’ll meet this theme again next month as we pass the Marine Theatre, the museum and beyond. It’s admirable - but with serious implications. 

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