Wensum by Jim Harding, December 1, 2015

The 11th Christmas Tree Festival held in Fakenham Parish Church - ENGANL00120121116155317
The 11th Christmas Tree Festival held in Fakenham Parish Church - ENGANL00120121116155317
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Fakenham’s Christmas tree festival gets underway on Thursday
 at the parish church

Since the first of these back in 2001 there’s been a massive shift in both enthusiasm and involvement.

At the outset there were doubters about the whole concept which had been introduced to the parish by newly appointed rector Adrian Bell. Would it work, would it be popular, would people turn out in all weathers, would serious money be made, would charities feel the benefit, would it become a regular feature in the church diary? These were just some of the questions floating around at the time.

I recall that initial festival as a fairly low-key success. It definitely caught the imagination and set the pattern for subsequent years. Since then it has not only become a Fakenham highlight but a magnet for visitors around the county and even further afield.

Lessons have been learnt and new ideas brought forward and somehow this pre-Christmas celebration has expanded far beyond its original conception. Who would have thought from the outset that the Norfolk Tourist Board would come to describe it as a ‘spectacle not to be missed’? Last year, for example, over 20,000 people chose to visit and the various charities responsible for their own trees collected combined donations of close to £18,000. This year there will be 70-plus trees – all kindly donated again by Fakenham Garden Centre – and 60-plus charities taking part.

Each charity decorates its own tree and visitors are encouraged to bring along small change and contribute to any which particularly catch their eye or which have special resonance.

Additional attractions include a Christmas bazaar, a tombola and a grand draw. There are also plentiful refreshments throughout.

In keeping with past practice, prayers will be said on the hour for individual charities and six prayer trees will be available for all to write their personal thoughts should they so wish.

The festival runs from this Thursday to Thursday, December 10, with doors open from 10am to 8pm. The only change to this is on the Sunday when it opens at midday following the morning’s festival service at 10.30am. Entrance is free, there’s disabled access and both toilet and baby changing facilities. Enquiries can be made to the festival office on 01328 862268 or log on to the website at www.fakenhamparishchurch.org.uk

n A chance meeting with Andrew Tatham when he was working part-time in our library in 2008 led to me following up his personal voyage of discovery into his family’s history. This was prompted by a First World War photo of the 8th Battalion Royal Berkshires which included his great grandfather Colonel William Walton, its commanding officer. Of the 46 men in the picture, mounted in the home of Andrew’s grandmother, only 21 survived after fierce fighting on fronts in Ypres, the Somme and Loos.

With this stark fact in mind, Andrew decided to find out about the individual histories of each soldier, even travelling as far as Australia, Canada and South Africa to interview family connections.

Following years of research he devised an animated film, called A Group Photograph, to bring this remarkable story to a wider audience. I watched it spellbound in the library along with a bunch of others. Now I hear that Andrew’s dedication has led to a major exhibition being displayed at the In Flanders Fields Museum in Ypres. This includes stained glass window portraits of the soldiers, artefacts donated by their families, a large reproduction of the original group photo and photos drawn from the hundreds collected over recent years. Published to coincide with the centenary of the Battle of Loos in September 1915, a glossy A4 book written by Andrew complements the exhibition which continues until early 2016. You may thumb through a copy of this marvellous study in the library and it’s available for sale at £20.