CHRISTMAS OFFER Subscribe to Devon Life today CLICK HERE

Michael Morpurgo - On Angel's Wings, A Concert at Exeter Cathedral

PUBLISHED: 17:05 14 January 2010 | UPDATED: 14:56 20 February 2013

Michael Morpurgo, former Children's Laureate

Michael Morpurgo, former Children's Laureate

A reworking of the Christmas story by former Children's Laureate Michael Morpurgo was the basis for a charity concert at Exeter Cathedral to raise money for Farms for City Children and the Exeter Cathedral Millennium Fund

Christmas wouldn't be Christmas without stories, and Michael Morpurgo, former Children's Laureate, has told hundreds of them over his 35 years as a children's author. But being one of the most popular children's authors ever isn't Michael's only accomplishment. Together with his wife, Clare, they established the charity, Farms for City Children 30 years ago, and this Christmas the two aspects of Michael's life will come together at a special charity concert at Exeter Cathedral. Michael, together with actress Juliet Stevenson, the Dean of Exeter and a young actor called George Meyrick, will be giving readings from Michael's book 'On Angel Wings', interspersed with heritage carols from acapella group Coope, Boyes and Simpson, who specialise in researching and performing the sorts of carols and songs that would have been sung hundreds of years ago.


"Basically," Michael told me, as we stood in the middle of a Devon country lane near Iddesleigh, "the book is a reworking of the Christmas Story. Having been involved in farming, via the charity, for the last 30-odd years, something had never quite rung true to me regarding the traditional telling. It seemed to me that there wasn't a cat's chance in hell that a group of shepherds would up and leave their flock unattended in the middle of the night and troop off to Bethlehem, no matter how wondrous an event they were going to witness. So, I came up with the idea that they left a shepherd boy behind to mind the sheep when they left. Now, this seriously hacked off the young lad. Having heard him vent his frustration, Gabriel appeared once more and agreed that it wasn't quite fair he had been left behind, so he flew him off to Bethlehem on his back, leaving his Heavenly Host behind to double as shepherds for the night.


"We launched the book last year in London in a similar manner, and the event was such a success that we decided to repeat it, in Exeter this time, with proceeds being split between the Exeter Cathedral Millennium Fund and Farms for City Children."


Michael became a children's author as a consequence of being a primary school teacher. "I was always good at telling stories and my headteacher at the time was very supportive, urging me to get them written down," he said. One hundred and seven books later, his stories are still enthralling children, and the charity he set up with his wife has been touching children's lives in a much more tangible way than books ever could. "Although I was enjoying teaching, I was increasingly finding that the sort of education we were offering on a daily basis wasn't really reaching certain children. As teachers, we knew that positive experiences learned through physical activity, whilst very young, had a very beneficial effect on this type of child. So, we came down to Devon, where my wife's family originated, and formed a wonderful partnership with a farming family next door to our house at Nethercott."




Over the last 30 years that partnership has seen 40 children and their teachers living and working on the farm for a week at a time during term, experiencing a way of life and a sense of achievement they would never get in a city. "They do a proper job of work, grafting for six hours a day and rotating between activities. It makes them realise where their food comes from and that the countryside is this wonderful place which is theirs as much as anyone else's and that they have a responsibility for it. The main thing is that they leave after putting in the hardest week of their young lives feeling good about themselves. They leave with a sense of self-worth and a feeling that they matter, which has a tremendous effect on their later attitude to learning. Teachers have told us time and again how much difference they have perceived in the children after spending a week on the farm."


Over the years there have been more private success stories than can be recounted but one publicly witnessed story stands out in Michael's mind. "We had a group down from Birmingham, including a young lad with a terrible stutter. It was so bad that he hadn't actually said a word in school for two years, his teachers said, and we were advised not to ask him any questions because it would cause too much upset. He worked away on the farm, keeping himself to himself. Then, on the last night I went outside for a breath of air. It was dark but there was a single light on in the stable with a horse poking its head out, and there was this boy, who hadn't spoken a word in public for all that time, chatting away nineteen to the dozen to the animal." That, Michael, told me, was a very emotional moment for everyone concerned and a complete vindication of everything that Farms for City Children stands for.


The charity operates all year round during term times, even during the winter period.


"The Christmas term is always something pretty special and we try to give the children the best experience they can get. We have a tree, a big Christmas feast with turkey and all the trimmings, and games - everything a child would expect at this time


of year."


For the last two years Nethercott has also put on a fundraising Christmas Fair, with the tree specially decorated by the children who happen to be staying on the farm at the time. The farm children have usually gone home by the time the event takes place, but it is a popular Christmas event for local people, with entertainment, carols and craft stalls for late present buyers. This year's event will take place at 6pm on 14 December. The charity now has three farms, one at Nethercott, one in Pembrokeshire and one in Gloucestershire, which all make the Christmas occasion a week to remember for the children who go there.


One thing is certain, the charity event at Exeter Cathedral will be an outstandingly different kind of carol service to remember, and one that will be popular with young and old alike.


MALCOLM TWIGG


Tickets for the concert are available from the Cathedral Shop (01392 211080 and are priced at 10 for the nave and 5 for the side aisle.



0 comments

More from People

Friday, December 7, 2018

Devon Life received this heartfelt letter from Mr Michael Thompson, of Torbay, which is felt particularly poignant to share with our website audience at this time of year

Read more
Wednesday, December 5, 2018

Bursting with festive inspiration, KATE WILLIAMS seeks out the best presents for a perfect Devon Christmas

Read more
Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Devon has had more than its fair share of high achievers over the years but how well do you know our county’s singers, authors, sportspeople, explorers and TV personalities? This is an edited version of a quiz compiled by MARGARET BRECKNELL in the December 2018 issue of Devon Life

Read more
Tuesday, November 27, 2018

PHILIP DALLING recalls two Exmoor legends who shared a deep love of the moor and its natural resources, and gained national fame through the media

Read more
Tuesday, November 20, 2018

In the month when we mark the 100th anniversary of the end of the First World War, STEVE ROBERTS highlights the terrible cost in human lives it inflicted on the county of Devon

Read more
Friday, November 16, 2018

Actor Tom Burke talks to JUDI SPIERS about his production of Don Carlos staged by his own theatre company Ara, in association with Exeter’s Northcott Theatre

Read more
Wednesday, November 14, 2018

In the latest in her series throughout 2018 profiling inspirational women, KATE HASKELL talks to England Women’s Cricket Captain, Heather Knight

Read more
Friday, October 26, 2018

There is more to Georgia Toffolo than an award-winning TV show, as HOLLY EELLS discovers

Read more
Friday, October 26, 2018

Striving to be the best in the world, homegrown Devon professional squash player Lyell Fuller is seeking sponsorship to help reach his goal. KATE WILLAMS finds out more

Read more
Wednesday, October 24, 2018

Tavistock Rugby Club in Devon is celebrating after being awarded a grant of £2,500 to fund private showers for referees at their Sandy Park ground, as part of rural energy provider Calor’s annual funding scheme

Read more
Tuesday, October 9, 2018

Devon’s Wilfred Emmanuel-Jones, also known as The Black Farmer, tells KATE WILLIAMS about his new book, Jeopardy, encouraging the embracing of risk to enrich life

Read more
Tuesday, October 2, 2018

As five members of Dartmoor Search and Rescue Ashburton celebrate 125 years of collective volunteering, we look back on their time with the organisation

Read more
Tuesday, September 25, 2018

CAROLYN SEAGER reveals how long after her mother’s death she discovered her amazing career in the service of her country

Read more
Tuesday, September 18, 2018

An author known for her novels depicting life on the Channel Islands is nonetheless happiest writing from home here in Devon

Read more

Newsletter Sign Up

Sign up to the following newsletters:

Sign up to receive our regular email newsletter

Our Privacy Policy



Topics of Interest

Food and Drink Directory

Subscribe or buy a mag today


subscription ad

Local Business Directory

Property Search