A much-loved Andover vicar has thanked the community as she looked back on her time in the parish.

Rev’d Vanessa Cole be leaving the Portway and Danebury Ministry, covering Amport, Monxton, Grateley, Quarley, Over Wallop, Nether Wallop and a significant proportion of the west of Andover, in April after budget cuts in the Church of England.

She said she wanted to “thank the people for the welcome we’ve received and the blessing they’ve been to us over the years.”

Vanessa was ordained as a deacon in 2004, and subsequently became a priest in the Diocese of Bath & Wells in 2005. She joined the team in Portway and Danebury in 2009.

“It was smaller and more intimate here,” she said. “The bigger difference is having the army on hand and the constant helicopters flying overhead.

“I remember the first night sleeping here in the summer as it the helicopters fly quite late and my children were very small and I remember thinking: ‘Will I ever sleep again?’ And now I don’t even hear them! I’d be more surprised if the helicopters don’t fly overhead.”

Vanessa has very positive memories of her early years in the parish, with one moment in particular standing out.

“I’ve got very strong memories of the sun shining brightly on the Glebe Field which is in the quintessential English village [Over Wallop] for the village fete and a tug of war is happening between the Army Air corps and the villagers.

“I had a groom that was going to get married that year on both teams and was hoping neither would come out of the battle with a broken arm or a black eye or something. As I was just enjoying the sunshine, sat on a hay bale with a pint of Wallop’s Wood in hand, the historic aircraft from the Army Air Corps flew overhead and I just thought: ‘Can life get any better than this?’

“This has to be the perfect English vicar job to have.”

The association with the military brought its own challenges, such as the pressure of getting Remembrance Sunday right for the large contingent of serving and ex-military personnel in the parish.

“I wanted to make sure it was spot on,” she said. “But it was very well oiled, it ran very smoothly and as long as I followed what I was told to do it went very well, and I also got to put a little bit of my character into the pulpit which was fun.”

Vanessa’s association with commemorating military anniversaries remained strong throughout her time in the parish, particularly with the First World War memorials. She remembers bringing the Paschal (Easter) candle down to the memorial, and allowing parishioners to light a tealight for the memorial.

“There was something powerful in that silence. Obviously, the people lighting candles, some had previously served, others currently serve and others had family members whose names were still on the memorial.

“Another memorial I remember was marking the Battle of the Somme. We got up at seven in the morning and had a silence. I got a whistle from the era that’s been passed down and I blew that into the silence and people gathered for that. Just those moments of community and being a village and being part of what’s going on is, I suppose, the joy of being a village vicar.”

Being involved with the community also allowed Vanessa to keep in touch with everyone in the parish, from the cradle to the grave. For the former, she enjoyed keeping in touch with local schools and parents groups.

“Seeing some of the toddler group Little Angels through from their baby shower to starting school as they grow and develop has really made my heart sing,” she said.

“I’ve also loved being involved with the schools,” she continued. “Wallop School’s got a particular meaning to me because my own children went through there and the school really struggled for a time, it was in special measures, but has come out to be a really good school now. I’ve served as a governor, and I’ve taken assemblies so it’s been a really important of my ministry here.”

Vanessa also tried to involve children in parish life outside of school, sometimes in original ways.

She said: “A friend of mine is the beatboxing vicar and he happened to be staying so we had the cubs in church and they were able to beatbox with my friend and then go up the bell tower and learn to ring the bells. We gave them hot chocolate and gingerbread as well. It was something spanning the traditions from one extreme to the other. It was another special moment.”

However, not everything can be as joyful.

“There have been sad occasions, such as funerals,” said Vanessa. “They’re always an honour and a privilege to take, especially when it’s somebody right at the heart of the community who has given their heart and soul to the village and serving and loving others, or when it’s somebody quite young.

“Trekking through the snow with loved ones to bury someone has been really heartbreaking but also an honour to be part of that for the community and for those closest to them.”

Following her decision to step down after 12 years, Vanessa said that she’s not yet sure what is coming next.

“We’re still trying to work out what God has got planned for us,” she said. “There’s a few things possibly in the pipeline but nothing confirmed yet.”

However, she knows that she’ll always look back on her time in Test Valley fondly.

“When you’ve got children who go through the local school you get to know people quite well,” she said. I came with toddlers and I’m leaving with teenagers so it’s quite a marked difference over the time.

“It’s going to be hard to say goodbye. There are really lovely people here. We’ve loved our time here and really felt that we belong.

“We’ll take friends with us, definitely.”