The Choir

How time flies! It was in February, 2015 when I first interviewed Richard Dewland, then Director of the Lee Singers (now the Lee Choral Society). St Faith’s at the time was advertising for a new organist to replace the much-loved John Witham who had died in the previous October. I was so impressed by Richard’s infectious enthusiasm for all kinds of music, his vibrant personality and brilliant mastery of the organ and piano that I prayed he would apply for the vacant position but at the time he had other plans. Happily, as things turned out, my prayers were answered and a few months later having altered his original plans he became our new organist and music director.

Music, for me, is one of most enjoyable and uplifting elements in worship and one of the reasons that attracts me to St Faith’s. Building on John Witham’s legacy, Richard has continued to make music an important and integral part of our services. Unlike many churches we are lucky to be blessed with a wonderful pipe organ, a great organist, an adult, newly-robed four-part choir and a junior choir to lead the congregation and sing anthems. But like many churches fortunate enough to have a choir, there is always a need for more singers (especially, though not only, bases tenors, altos and children). It was for this reason that Richard asked me to write on the subject in the hope of enticing anyone in the local community who enjoys singing to join us.

Singing in a choir is known to be beneficial in all kinds of ways. Not only does it provide an opportunity to form new friendships (and St. Faith’s is one of the friendliest churches I know) but it raises spirits after a long day, encourages a sense of well-being and, not least, exercises the grey matter. Richard stressed that some of the music can be a demanding but enjoyable experience and who doesn’t love an enjoyable challenge? The ability to read music is an advantage but not essential especially if you have a good ear and stand next to someone who knows their part! Choir membership also requires a level of commitment – turning up for practices and services etc., though Richard promises to turn a blind eye to the occasional absence!

The adult choir would welcome new members from the teens to adults and meets for practices every Friday from 7-8 pm. The junior choir would also welcome newcomers aged around 7-14 and meets for practices on the first three Fridays of each month. As well as weekly Sunday services (once monthly for the juniors) there are opportunities to sing on other occasions in other places. In the past, for example, the choir took part in the Lee Festival of the Arts and this year on Saturday, 5th of August they will be singing at the 5 pm Evensong in Portsmouth Cathedral. There are also opportunities for the choir and community to listen to music at St Faith’s. Last year we heard the newly-formed ‘Solent Baroque’ and ‘Summer Sounds’ and this autumn the will be choir and organ concerts in September.

To sum up, Richard would love to welcome anyone in the community who would be interested in joining the adult or junior choir – so much so that he asked to include his home email address: If you haven’t considered joining a choir before or were once a member and would like to rejoin a choir, please contact him. He’ll be thrilled to hear from you and I’m sure you’ll like him as much as I do. Knowing I love Bach he usually manages to slip in a short piece somewhere in the service just to keep me quiet. But don’t worry if you don’t like Bach. He provides for all tastes. Why not give it a go? I’m sure you’ll enjoy it.

March 2019 – “Use it or lose it”
The Book Shop’s new owner, Sarah Veal

Use it or lose it! I often think how lucky we are to have a book shop in Lee and that it’s still surviving under its new owner, Sarah Veal, not that the transition was easy. As soon as Sarah had agreed to buy the shop her father fell ill with an inoperable brain tumour and her only priority then was to help care for him in his final months. But eventually, on October 27th, 2018, her dream became a reality and the shop was opened for business under her ownership.

Sarah’s infectious enthusiasm and friendliness was immediately apparent from the moment we met. An avid reader from her childhood in Elson, to own a bookshop was always her greatest wish. She was raised in Elson with three younger sisters, Becky (now a police officer in Southampton) Lizzie (Becky’s twin sister, a primary school teacher) and Rachel (a bio-lab Manager at Southampton University). All now married with children, they spend time every year camping together when up to 40 family members enjoy what they’ve Christened ‘VealFest’, with different holiday themes like ‘Really Big Game Show’ and grand opening and closing ceremonies.

On leaving Brune Park School Sarah worked at Lloyds bank serving in Gosport, Lee, Stubbington and other local branches. She married in 1995 and raised three children, twins Josh and Jake, and daughter Jazmine. Josh suffered illness throughout his early years when much of her time was spent on hospital visits and caring for him. Happily all are all now working, Josh at the Lee Fruiterer’s shop, Jake at RAF Odiham and Jasmine in Lee at the Jemco Furniture shop. As Sarah put it, ‘the family are gradually taking over Lee!’ As soon as the children had started school, she worked for a while at home and then part-time at a Beauty Salon in Fareham before spending ten years at Fleetlands.

By now divorced and in a new relationship, her partner, Scott, encouraged her to follow her dream and look for a book shop. Fortuitously Lee came up where Sarah is now enjoying every moment. When I asked what pleased her most about her new venture she answered immediately, ‘I love the staff and wouldn’t change a single one of them and I love meeting and getting to know my customers.’ The staff members she inherited have been really helpful allowing her to settle in and teaching her about the trade. Likewise her customers, many of whom hadn’t realised she’s taken over, have remained supportive and loyal,

Ever hopeful and enthusiastic about the future, Sarah already has plans for the coming year including a Harry Potter night, authors coming in to give readings from their books, various local speakers on different subjects and a children’s Story Time on Saturday mornings. As if this wasn’t enough, she also helps to run the Phoenix Cleaning Contracts with her partner Scott.

Lee is not only lucky to have its own book shop, but even luckier to have a new a lively, lovely and passionate owner. If you haven’t already met Sarah, visit the shop and you’ll see what I mean. All I can hope is that Lee residents will continue to support her and that the Book Shop will continue to thrive long into the future.


Come! Everything is Ready.

I have to admit that I knew very little about the World Day of Prayer and was slightly worried when Ann Conington stopped me as I was about to leave church after the 8 o’clock service and asked if I would write an article about it. Ann (see photo), who is in her eighties but looks much younger, keeps active by being involved in church life. Among other things she is currently Secretary of St. Faith’s Mothers’ Union and has been an MU member since 1960. After a career in as a primary school teacher, deputy head and headteacher (with time out running a Nursery school while her children were young) she finally settled in Lee with her husband, Ken in 2011. Sadly Ken died a few years ago but Ann continues to be active and, being on the committee of the Stubbington and Lee group, was asked together with Alison Jeanneret to host this years WDoP service at St Faith’s church on Friday, March 1st 2019.

The World Day of Prayer has its beginnings in the nineteenth century when Christian women from the USA and Canada concerned for the welfare of women and children grouped together with the aim of offering support through prayer and action. Over time different denominations held their separate days of prayer and by 1897 six denominations formed a joint committee for a united Day of Prayer. In the aftermath of WW1 the first Friday of Lent was established as a joint Day of Prayer which, after spreading mainly from the USA, gradually attracted groups world-wide. In 1930, Helen Kim of Korea became the first woman outside of the USA to write an order of worship for the World Day of Prayer which led to the present practice of different countries writing orders of service each year based on particular themes.

For the Day of Prayer this year, which now always takes place on the first Friday in March, the order of service has been written by the women from Slovenia. Over 120 countries will be taking part in the day beginning in Samoa and travelling across the globe through Asia, the Middle East, Europe and America before finishing in American Samoa 38 hours later.

If you read this in time and would like to be involved, everyone, including men, will be welcomed at St Faiths where the service begins at 1.45 pm. The theme, ‘Come – Everything is Ready’ is based on the Parable of the Great Banquet (Luke 14 v 16-24) and during the service there will slides of Slovenia, Slovenian music, readings written by Slovenian women and prayers for the disadvantaged throughout the world. After the service there will be refreshments in the Bulson Hall which will include some Slovenian delicacies!

Ann with assistance from the Mothers’ Union members and others will have put a great deal of thought and work into making a success of this year’s Day of Prayer. If, like me, you weren’t too sure what The Day of Prayer was about, the service at St Faith’s or one of the other services in the area offers a golden opportunity to find out more. As well as prayer the International WDoP Committee also helps the disadvantaged practically by raising money for great number of deserving causes.

Finally, if you happen to miss this year’s event, apart from praying and supporting those in need throughout the year, you can always get involved on the first Friday of March next year when the order of service, written by the women of Zimbabwe, will be based on the theme “Take up your bed and walk (John 5 v 10-15).

A Man of Many Talents

Having met Sally and Peter Appleton at St Faith’s church, I couldn’t resist asking if I could interview their son, Alistair, known to many as a presenter on the BBC series, Escape to the Country. They kindly agreed and arranged for me to meet him on one his visits home. Duly supplied with hot drinks and cakes we were left to talk for an hour in which I could get to know a little about him, his achievements and interests.

His achievements are many. Suffice to say he was brought up with his older brother, Shaun, in Lee, studied English Literature at Cambridge, spent several years in Poland and Germany, returned to the UK and began his varied TV career whist pursuing his interests in meditation and psychotherapy. More details about his life are well documented on Wikipedia, Twitter and other online sites. With only a short time together I was keen to discover more about the man behind the celebrity persona.

One of his earliest memories was of being taken on a bus aged four from their home in Wooton Road and being given a roll of tickets. He also recalled his time at Lee primary school and being enthralled by the music played before school assemblies. His lifelong love of music was further developed when he joined his brother in St. Faith’s choir where, under John Witham’s direction, he sang in various choral works as well as taking part in the weekly services. He later joined the university choir and other choirs subsequently. During his TV career he has hosted the BBC proms.

At university he came out as being gay, made friends with a young poet and, wanting to develop his interest in European literature and become a poet himself, went with his friend to Poland where, apart from writing poetry, he earned a living teaching English at the University of Gdansk, The relationship never developed and the poet returned to England while Alistair stayed chasing a life of romance, excitement and partying. From Poland he went to Eastern Germany, worked as a translator for Deutsche Welle TV and hosted the channel’s youth current affairs show, Heat.

On returning to England his TV career began in earnest hosting various programmes, appearing on Celebrity Mastermind and acting. He was cast in an episode of Dr Who and attributes his love of drama to his parents who, as long-time members of the Lee Players, took him as a child to their productions.  I asked if he’d had any embarrassing moments on Escape to the Country. Those he remembered, like banging his head on low beams and pulling off loose doorknobs were fortunately edited out. On live TV, however, he once forgot the name of the person he was interviewing.

Apart from appearing on Escape to the Country, he currently devotes more of his time to his interest in Buddhist mediation and psychotherapy. He teaches in retreats and classes throughout the UK and often returns to Holy Island, his spiritual home. He studied in Thailand and Brazil, speaks four languages and a little Polish, is a trained psychotherapist and currently sees clients on two days a week in Brighton where he now lives. More on his work including his blog with information on meditation, courses and bookings can be found on his website,

For me it was a pleasure just to be with him for all too short a time. For someone so accomplished he was easy to be with, gentle and totally unassuming. Before I left I asked if he minded me mentioning in the article that he was openly gay. ‘Not at all,’ he said, ‘you can make that the central feature. I’m getting married next year.’ Now that was news! I wish them both every success with a long and happy life together.

Minibus to the Mosque

Towards the end of 2018 a group from St Faith’s travelled by car and minibus to the Al Mahdi mosque in Fareham for an evenings’ visit arranged by our curate Steve Dent who has previous links with Sheikh Fazle Abbas Datoo, the Imam. On arrival we assembled outside and were warmly welcomed by the Imam and members of the mosque who were clearly delighted to have us with them.

The visit began with a tour around the outside of the building which was opened in September 2012 and sensitively designed to blend in with its surroundings. Solar panels and natural underground sources provide all the light and warmth required for the building and the beautifully tended grounds surrounding the mosque are filled with produce, flowers and a well-equipped play area for children.

After the tour we went inside and listened to a fascinating talk on the history of the mosque, the beliefs and practices of the Shia Muslim faith and the meaning of all the symbols on display. When the talk was over we were invited to witness the evening prayers, the last of their five daily prayers.

To aid our understanding we were given printed leaflets with translations of the prayers and explanatory notes on the procedure. The prayers were followed by a refreshment break and a chance to enjoy the oranges, scones, fruit juice and other delights which had been especially prepared for our visit. The evening ended with a question and answer session during which we were encouraged to speak freely and ask whatever we wanted.

My abiding memories of the visit will be the warmth of our welcome, the kindness showed to us throughout our time there and the clear desire on the part of our hosts to further the fellowship between us. They already have strong links with their neighbouring churches and the Interfaith Community at Portsmouth Cathedral. Their own community is thriving with 75 families and 80 children. They are very keen to welcome others to visit their centre. Details of how to contact them, as well as information on some of their activities, can be found at

One such activity is the ‘Ramadhan CAN-paign’ organised by the young people of the community. The month of Ramadhan is a time when all of the community, as well as all Muslims, fast from sunrise to sunset; a period of nearly 18 hours. This gives the young people an insight into how it feels to stay hungry and inspired them to help those in the community who don’t have access to even the bare minimum of food each day. The ‘CAN-paign’ raised a large amount of tinned food which was donated to the Fareham and Gosport food banks which I wrote about in November 2018.

At the end of our visit I left hoping that further meetings will be arranged and that, if a group from the mosque visits our church, they will find that we are as welcoming to them as they were to us. With so much in the media that concentrates on the extremist minority, whom they find as repugnant as the rest of us, it was good to discover that we can form friendships and, in building closer bonds between us, doubtless learn much from each other. Meanwhile I wish you all a happy and healthy New Year.