DIGNITARIES, charities, students and community groups converged in High Wycombe today to celebrate the opening of a giant memorial arch to raise money for charity.

Mayor of High Wycombe Trevor Snaith praised “ordinary people doing extra-ordinary things” as the ribbon was cut on the 30-ft high arch designed and built by students at Bucks New University (BNU).

The structure, designed to pay tribute to a town custom of building giant chair arches during Wycombe’s furniture-making glory days, will stand for two weeks outside the Guild Hall on the High Street.

A crowd of around 200 dignitaries, volunteers, town organisations and members of the public saw Cllr Snaith dedicate the arch to his nominated mayoral charities, One Can Trust and Child Bereavement UK.

He said: “It is great to see the good will in this town and the amount of charity work that goes on is phenomenal. What we have got is ordinary people doing extra ordinary things.

“Ten months ago we had a meeting with BNU and the question was asked, is there anything the uni can do to help the mayor? We thought we would put on an event to help with fundraising, and here we are.

“High Wycombe is known for putting up chair arches and unfortunately though we no longer have the tradition we do still have great creativity coming out of the town through BNU.

“These students have come together to design and build this arch which will remain up for two weeks. It’ll become a focal point for the charities. Thank you Bucks New Uni.”

The arch contains a slot where people are asked to donate cans of food to One Can Trust – a Wycombe based charity which provide free food parcels to those in times of crisis.

Next to the arch is a netted memorial wall, graffiti painted by members of Wycombe Youth action to mirror the bright block colours of the arch.

This wall, dedicated to Child Bereavement UK, allows people to buy a card and ribbon from a number of nearby shops supporting the scheme in return for a donation to the charity,

They can then write a personal message to in memory of a loved one to be added to the wall, which Cllr Snaith hopes will be full by the end of the two-week period.

Kate Vale, project leader at the One Can Trust, paid tribute to the organisers of both the memorial wall and the giant arch for coming together in support of both causes.

She said: “I think it’s a fantastic idea, bringing two great charities together and celebrating the community we have here in High Wycombe.

“It’s also fantastic to have the support of the BNU, it’s great to see them working with charities and we actually have a food bank inside the university to make collections.”

As part of the festivities, Frances Alexander, lifelong volunteer, former mayor and councillor, author, charity founder and mastermind of the Wycombe Environment Centre, was given a special honour.

The hard-working former nurse, midwife, teacher and politician was made a Burgess of High Wycombe, a title reserved for those with a proven track record of making a difference in the town.

High Wycombe burgesses include world cup winning England rugby players Matt Dawson and Lawrence Dallaglio.

Music from the Salvation Army band accompanied the ceremony, which took over the High Street just before lunchtime.

Wycombe MP Steve Baker was part of the procession of dignitaries, which afterwards made its way to Bucks New University to see an exhibition from students on the history and tradition of chair arches.

Mr Baker said: “It was very moving, credit to Trevor for coming up with such a great idea. As a town, Wycombe is fantastic at coming together to serve common interests and help each other.

“Sociologists would call it a high level of social capital, it’s what a strong community should be.

“It’s very bright and colourful and draws the attention. BNU is a real asset to this town and credit to the students for doing such a great job.”

The first known Wycombe chair arch was put up in 1877 to mark a visit Queen Victoria paid to Benjamin Disraeli at Hughenden Manor.

The largest chair arch contained about 400 chairs and was erected at the Guildhall in 1884 to mark the visit of the Prince of Wales, while the most recent one was erected to mark the new millenium in 2000.