Gillian does the honours - 40 years on

SUE SKINNER As a young council official, Gillian Watts gave a Norfolk village a helping hand to buy land for a playing field.

SUE SKINNER

As a young council official, Gillian Watts gave a Norfolk village a helping hand to buy land for a playing field.

So who better to ask to do the honours, 40 years later, at the official opening of a long-awaited village hall on the site on Saturday?

Particularly as the then Miss Watts is now rather better known as Baroness Gillian Shephard of Northwold, both a former government minister and Conservative MP for South-West Norfolk, which includes Outwell, near Downham Market.

In 1966 the local playing fields committee, under the chairmanship of Phillip Doubleday, raised a loan of £4,036 to finance the purchase of the land which became the playing field.

It may not sound much in today's terms, but would have paid for four average

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houses in the village at the time.

As the years rolled by, the committee tried to drum up enough money to build a village hall but as fast as the cash rolled in, the projected cost went up with inflation.

The breakthrough came when Outwell won £250,000 in prize money from the Waste Recycling Group's Village Hall and Community Centre Challenge in 2004.

The grant came from WRG's landfill communities fund, which is administered and distributed by the environmental organisation, WREN.

The new village hall, completed in the summer, boasts a main hall, kitchen, sports changing facilities and a small meeting room.

Baroness Shephard was working as a community services advisor at Norfolk County Council when she arranged the original loan.

"What it really meant was helping people to get playing fields and village halls and other facilities," she explained. "There was a grant system then and you got the grants from the county council or the government.

"You had to make sure the thing was on a proper footing and it was legally correct and technically they were doing the right kind of work, to make sure the money was properly spent."

Committee treasurer Paul Chapman said: "We are grateful to WRG and WREN for giving us this opportunity and also to the many volunteers who have contributed to our efforts and eventual success.

"The parish council has also been unswerving in its support and we are grateful to Awards for All for a £4,300 grant."