Ad Astra

Back in 2005 the Headmistress of Wakefield Girls High School was a lady called Pat Langham. Through my Mayoral year I recently met Pat again not having seen her since we both retired.

We started to talk about the early days of Space Lectures, particularly the first Charlie Duke and Alan Bean events. The background to those early shows was that Carleton Community High School (where I was then Deputy Head) was becoming a Specialist Science College. In order to achieve that we needed a sponsor and Pat found us a sponsor, Sir Peter Ogden who put up a total of £60k for our school and King’s High School (our neighbouring school) to make this happen.

One day a Mr Ken Willoughby arrived on the doorstep with a plan to invite an Astronaut to Pontefract. I was allowed to go ahead with the plan on the understanding from our Headteacher at the time Rob Foreman that no school money would be used.

Tim Simmons who was the CEO of the Ogden Trust at the time generously donated the part fee we needed to get the show on the road, for which we are forever grateful. Sir Peter Ogden also had a Doctorate in Theoretical Physics, and was very interested in Space.  It made for a perfect partnership. We got Charlie Duke followed by Alan Bean. Over time the volunteers came onboard and well the rest is History. It was truly a team effort and at this moment most of my Space Lecture photographs are dotted around the Mayor’s Parlour and act as an icebreaker when visitors come in.

We all feel it has been a blast and I value the friends I have made. Ken was the unassuming person who never wanted the publicity for what he had done for Pontefract and for all the people who had their dreams fulfilled by meeting an Astronaut. From 2005 onwards he brought thousands of people to our town.

We learnt a lot from the shows and that helped us in the design for the post-fire theatre (that’s another story). I saw the problems of the old hall before the fire and built those factors into the new design.

Our only regret was never getting Neil Armstrong ,although we did come very close. Alexei Leonov and Gene Cernan’s illnesses just prior to the events were also bitter disappointments.

So finally little did I know when I first met Ken how my life was going to change because it is rare for an Historian to say they have stood with ‘History Makers’ but I can. Thanks Ken and thanks to all of Team Space Lectures.

Hope to see you all soon.

David Jones

The Right Worshipful, The Mayor of the City of Wakefield Metropolitan District

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