Mayoral send-off for founder of Writers’ Conference

Press Release: 08/10/2013

Barbara Large's Retirement

A special reception was hosted by the Mayor at Abbey House to mark the retirement of the Founding Director of Winchester Writers’ Conference.

Barbara Large stepped down after 33 years at the helm of this unique event. The annual Conference, held at the University of Winchester, has helped countless aspiring writers and illustrators to become published names – and inspired hundreds of Hampshire’s young people write through its popular competition programme.

Although Barbara said her official goodbyes at this year’s Conference, this was an opportunity for those who run other local festivals and cultural organisations to reflect on her career and wish her well for the future.

Cllr Rob Humby, the Portfolio Holder for Economic Development, made a speech which congratulated Barbara on her three-fold achievement. He said:

Barbara has created one of Winchester’s finest cultural institutions, which is no small feat in itself. But in so doing, she has been responsible for nurturing new talent and supporting many people on their journey to become published authors and poets. And she has left behind her a fine annual festival which will run for years to come, reinforcing Winchester’s reputation as a creative centre.

Hampshire poet Keith Bennett read aloud a tribute he had written to mark the occasion, in the form of a sonnet. Best-selling author Jack Sheffield shared his own experiences of coming to the conference for the first time, following his retirement as a headteacher, and rapidly finding himself matched with an agent. Jack had come straight from a meeting with his publisher in London, now over 70 books into his career.

The Mayor, the Right Worshipful, Cllr Ernest Jeffs, invited Barbara to say a few words, and she spoke fondly of the great writers and firm friends she had met through the Conference. She was particularly appreciative of the support of successive Mayors of Winchester, who had hosted the winners of the children’s writing competition for many years at Abbey House. She also said that she felt she had much more to give to Winchester’s cultural life, and looked forward with being involved with new projects in the future. She was touched to be presented with a special letter of appreciation from the Mayor, alongside Keith’s poem and a bouquet of flowers.

Barbara said:

I have never received such a wonderful accolade in my career and I will never forget the warmth, kindness and generous thoughts that encompassed this lovely occasion.

The invited guests enjoyed tea and scones, in traditional English style – emphasising the fact that although Barbara is Canadian by birth she has very much adopted Winchester, England’s ancient capital, as her home town.

The Conference’s new director, Judith Heneghan, was among the guests. A lecturer in children’s writing at the University of Winchester, she is looking forward to developing the successful Conference formula over the coming years.

Barbara, meanwhile, will continue her association with the University of Winchester which is the home of the Conference, through her ongoing work with the Hampshire Writers’ Society which she also founded.