War Memorial Gary Trouton

A brief history of Stoke Ferry Village Hall

September 2013

I thought it might be useful to provide a record of the recent history of the Stoke Ferry Village Hall, in case it may be of interest to residents who may be unaware of the premises’ past.

During the early part of the last century, the Hall building was used as a garage by the Ward family before being sold, in 1926, to Gordon Parker, who required the premises as part of the expansion of his growing grain business. The building served a number of purposes for many years before becoming surplus to the organisation’s requirements in the 1960s, following which it was used irregularly for community functions including fetes, travelling cinema performances, and so on.

In November 1968, Mr. Parker formally conveyed ownership of the building to four local businessmen, under the terms of a Trust Deed which required the premises to be used solely as a Village Hall for the use and benefit of the inhabitants of Stoke Ferry and the surrounding neighbourhood. The Trust included provisions whereby, although the management of the Hall would be controlled by the four businessmen, and their successors, acting as Trustees, the freehold of the building would formally vest in the Official Custodian for Charities (now the Charity Commission), and this situation remains today. The Hall is, of course, a registered charity.

Originally, the documentation establishing the Village Hall was quite specific regarding the purposes to which the premises could be put, and also nominated several local organisations which were entitled to be represented on the management committee. Most of these organisations have long since disappeared, and the committee now comprises non-affiliated volunteers elected annually in general meeting. The Hall does, however, continue to embrace the ideals as specified in the Trust Deed, namely its use for “meetings, lectures and classes and for other forms of recreation and leisure-time occupation with the object of improving the conditions of life for the inhabitants.”

The Hall is obviously an old building and, as such, is quite expensive to heat and maintain. During its early years as a community building, it frequently operated at a loss and the premises slowly deteriorated. Eventually, in 1989, the operating committee at that time determined that the Hall had no reasonable prospects of fulfilling its aims - particularly in view of the recent construction of the new James Bradfield school which incorporated a modern Community Centre - and decided that the Hall should be closed, and sold. However, local entrepreneur - the late Geoff Allen - felt that the Hall was worthy of saving and arranged a meeting at his home to assess local support for his view. A number of villagers attended, and expressed their willingness to assist in the attempted restoration of the Hall to viability.

Accordingly, a new management committee was formed, which assumed control of the Hall’s operations and began organising sponsored cycle rides and other fundraising events to finance the essential refurbishment requirements and operating expenses. Slowly but surely, the committee’s efforts succeeded and, within a year, the Hall was operating with a financial surplus. The primary source of income derived from the weekly bingo sessions held at the Hall, with additional receipts generated from hiring of the premises for parties, wedding their time and effort, on a totally voluntary basis, in support of the charity’s aims. Indeed, to this day, the same small band of devoted volunteers is primarily responsible for maintaining the Hall’s position as a valuable community asset.

The next milestone in the Hall’s history occurred in 2007, with the opening of a large extension to the building. This became possible as a result of Grampian Country Foods agreeing to grant the Village Hall charity a long-term lease of their adjoining store at a nominal rent. The additional space so acquired enabled significant improvements to be undertaken within the building, including the provision of modern toilet and kitchen facility and greatly improved sound systems. It also enabled a 50% increase in the numbers of people allowed, under fire regulations, to attend events in the Hall, thereby enhancing its desirability as a venue for hire. Some modest grants were obtained to defray part of the costs associated with the expansion but, once again, tribute must be paid to the enormous contribution made voluntarily by the committee members, and their families, in bringing the enlarged Hall to the standards seen today.

I am pleased to report that the Hall continues to thrive. Bingo sessions remain a regular, and extremely popular, activity but - apparently contrary to the views of many local people - much else goes on as well. The Hall is now frequently used for yoga sessions, dancing tuition, staff training seminars, etc, as well as parties, wedding receptions, and wakes. Even the Village Pump is collated there prior to distribution!

As many will know, a few years ago the committee were promised a new Village Hall, to be situated alongside the grain warehouse in Furlong Road, as part of the planning conditions attached to the new housing development in that area. This would have been a wonderful opportunity to acquire a new, purpose-built, building full of energy-saving measures and will substantial space for off-road parking. Regrettably, and for reasons too complicated to explain here, the new Hall did not come to fruition, and the likelihood is that we shall have t continue to operate within the constraints of the existing facilities for the foreseeable future. Negotiations are, however, taking place with a view to securing something worthwhile from the shortcomings in the planning system which led to this situation. In particular, we are seeking to secure a gift of sufficient land to create an adequate car parking area and to create a new main entrance away from the main road. It is too early to say, at present, whether our negotiations will be successful, but we are keeping our fingers crossed for a positive outcome If our hopes are realised, it will mean a welcome end to the on-street parking which, unfortunately, typifies some of our more popular events and is, I know, a source of frustration to many local people and passers by.

I hope this summary of the recent history of the Hall has been of some interest, particularly if it has taught readers something they never previously knew. I also hope that it may inspire some of you to consider joining the committee, and bringing fresh blood, and new ideas, to help in our continuing efforts to retain the historic old Hall as a useful treasure in the fabric of our village life and activities.

On behalf of the committee

Mally Reeve (Chair)

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