How it Started
That Sherborne, with only some 10,000 people, should support one of the largest NADFAS Societies in the country – over 625 – is a surprising fact.
It began in 1989, informally, almost casually, with about a dozen people meeting with Pauline Heard for coffee. One of them, Sally Gent, had raised the idea of a Sherborne DFAS. We were middle-aged and exclusively female, though later we would recruit a male treasurer.
Typically of our generation, some had given up their careers on marriage, others, mostly unmarried, had held responsible jobs. This mixture produced both enthusiasm and expertise.
Two of those present had belonged to NADFAS since the time of Patricia Fay. Margaret Harris, the oldest of the group, was happy to be an advisor, and became Acting Vice Chairman. The Acting Chairman’s job fell to Jacynth Hope-Simpson, who had been Chairman of the West Country Writers’ Association.
The Acting Secretaries were Margaret Hanbury-Tracy, a trained nurse, and Sheila Powell, a School Secretary for Sherborne School for Girls.
Elizabeth Bell, later our second Chairman, also joined the Committee. As an ex-WRNS Officer and former Domestic Bursar at Sherborne School, she set rigorous standards with her insistence on having everything “seamanlike”.
We had a year to get started. First we needed a venue. The Digby Hall, the main one in Sherborne, could not, at that point, guarantee us a set day each month, so we booked the smaller Digby Memorial Hall. Then we found that its blackout did not fully protect the platform from the afternoon sun, so we paid to get extra blinds made. Only five years later we needed to move to the larger hall.
Paying for things turned into a major problem. All Committee members put £20 into the kitty to act as their first year’s subscription, or if necessary to be lost. We recruited members early, and had to ask for their £20s straight away, so that we could buy a screen and projector.
We needed 100 members to be viable, and initially got well over that number. In this preparatory year, we were trying to fit into a national organisation without being quite certain what was involved. The points on which NADFAS House proved most helpful were providing a specimen constitution and, of course, the Directory of speakers. In general we were feeling our way, which had the long-term advantage of establishing our own ethos as a Society.
We began with two simple ideas. We wanted the Society to be friendly and we were anxious not to impinge on other organisations. Above all, we had to consider the Blackmore Vale DFAS, based only a few miles away. In the event, their Chairman and Committee gave us the most generous support, and our different approach to planning our programmes have helped to shape our identity. They arranged lectures around a theme, changed annually: we decided to choose a mixture of topics.
We opened in September 1990 with a lecture by Douglas Mackay on The Golden Age of English Furniture and have never looked back.
In 1992 our Church Recorders group was started with Diana Duff as leader assisted by Bunty Reeves. Since then ten Churches have been recorded. St Martin of Tours, Lillington is the latest to be undertaken.
Heritage Volunteers started work under Christine Meek, the wife of a Sherborne School Housemaster. Their projects have been many and varied, from refurbishing and cleaning a brass chandelier and making cotton covers and padded coat hangers for the copes at Sherborne Abbey, to repairing books in the Library at Sherborne School and stewarding at Montacute House, Sherborne Abbey and Sherborne Castle.
Young Arts has been well supported in Sherborne by us over the years, with grants being given to schools and individuals, the most recent being to Maddie Kirby, a talented harpist.
Maddie is a gifted musician who will shortly be attending the University of Birmingham to study music and German.
Maddie played at our recent 25th Anniversary Party where she gave us an excellent recital and played some superb background music.
Expansion to Evenings
By 1998 our numbers were such that we decided to add an evening session to our existing afternoons. This was very successfully launched by Mick Burton Brown, a retired prep school headmaster, our first male chairman. He was succeeded by Shirley Marshall, previously PA to the Headmaster of Eton College in 2001, and by Anne Brunker with Public Relations and Film background in 2004. She was, in turn, succeeded by the late Michael Coates, another retired headmaster who was followed by Christopher Shores in 2011 and our current chairman, Jennifer Huitson, in 2015.
This rapid expansion had three main causes; the consistently high standard of NADFAS speakers, the particular ethos of Sherborne itself, and the dedicated work of successive members of the Committee, based on what is a firm foundation.
Up to Date
To bring our history up to date, during 2014/15 we introduced this website (www.sherborne-dfas.org.uk), and began using the latest technology to communicate with our members and to streamline our administrative tasks.
We have undertaken several successful foreign trips including Amsterdam and Munich with more planned for next year.
And we continue to organise visits and study days for our members.
After 25 years we are still a thriving and vibrant society welcoming new members to join us.