It’s hall good

Vil­lage halls are at the heart of com­mu­nity life, their key­hold­ers, care­tak­ers, trea­sur­ers and book­ings sec­re­taries keep­ing vil­lage life flow­ing, writes ROWAN MANTELL

EDP Norfolk - - Inside -

The vi­tal role of Nor­folk’s vil­lage halls

AN ENGLISH vil­lage hall is a magnificent in­sti­tu­tion. With easy-stack chairs pushed to the edge of pol­ished par­quet, a hatch through to a kitchen brim­ming with cof­fee morn­ing crock­ery, no­tice-boards an­nounc­ing jum­ble sales and fit­ness classes, a cur­tained-off stage for am-dram and speeches, black-out blinds for cinema nights, it is the fo­cus of the gath­er­ings and gos­sip­ings of the vil­lage.

Vil­lage halls are home to play­groups and hobby groups, youth clubs and sports clubs, bal­lot boxes and bal­let classes, fam­ily par­ties and com­mu­nity dra­mas. From cra­dle to grave, or tod­dler groups to fu­neral wakes, these unas­sum­ing build­ings ac­com­pany vil­lagers through ev­ery­day events, through the sea­sonal cy­cle of vil­lage meet­ings and cel­e­bra­tions and through fam­ily and na­tional oc­ca­sions and an­niver­saries.

Here in Nor­folk we have halls which have been part of vil­lage life for cen­turies, and halls which are younger than this cen­tury.

One of the new­est is at Thorn­ham, near Hun­stan­ton. When vil­lagers were won­der­ing who should open it they agreed to in­vite a neigh­bour to do the hon­ours – and so Her Majesty the Queen de­clared the fine new build­ing open.

An­other new hall, at Filby, near Yar­mouth, is used by groups rang­ing lit­er­ally from a-z, or archery to zumba, via com­put­ing, gar­den­ing and the­atre.

The old­est might well be at Bress­ing­ham, near Diss, where the vil­lage hall is housed in a 17th cen­tury barn. The hall at Ba­con­sthorpe,

near Holt, in the old vil­lage school, cel­e­brated its 200th an­niver­sary last year and at Lang­ham, near Blak­eney, the vil­lage hall has been at the heart of vil­lage life for more than 150 years. Re­cently ren­o­vated, fol­low­ing in­ten­sive fundrais­ing, it re­mains an at­trac­tive hub host­ing reg­u­lar art classes, cof­fee morn­ings, par­ish coun­cil meet­ings, craft fairs, fundraisers and church and school ac­tiv­i­ties.

At Marham, near Swaffham, to­day’s vil­lage hall was built as a school in the late 1800s. Con­verted into a hall in 1970 it is used by groups rang­ing from pre-school to hand­bell ringers. An­other vil­lage hall orig­i­nally built as a school in North Creake, near Fak­en­ham, is on land given to the vil­lage by Earl Spencer. In 1933 the school was con­verted into a hall, iden­ti­cal to the one in his es­tate vil­lage at Althorp in Northamp­ton­shire. Its con­sti­tu­tion stated it was to be used for, ‘phys­i­cal and men­tal recre­ation plus so­cial, moral and in­tel­lec­tual de­vel­op­ment for the ben­e­fit of the in­hab­i­tants of the par­ish of North Creake.’ Still ben­e­fit­ting the in­hab­i­tants of the par­ish, and fur­ther afield, it has hosted The Creakes Drama Group, whose mem­bers in­clude sev­eral with pro­fes­sional the­atre ex­pe­ri­ence and which cel­e­brates its 20th an­niver­sary this year.

Vil­lage halls are of­ten the fo­cus of an­niver­sary cel­e­bra­tions rang­ing from golden wed­ding par­ties to royal ju­bilees. They have their own an­niver­saries too, with Yax­ham vil­lage hall mark­ing 30 years at the heart of the com­mu­nity and vil­lagers at Mile­ham, near Dereham, cel­e­brat­ing two vil­lage hall an­niver­saries. Whist drives and dances were the main fundraisers for the first Mile­ham Vil­lage Hall, which opened 60 years ago on land given to the vil­lage by the owner of the ad­join­ing Bur­wood Hall. A pre­fab­ri­cated build­ing was bought, foun­da­tions were pre­pared by vol­un­teers and 100 fold­ing chairs in­stalled. After decades of ser­vice, the orig­i­nal build­ing was dam­aged by fire and, after yet more

“Across Nor­folk, ev­ery vil­lage hall has its sto­ries, of the peo­ple who have used and cared for them and of the build­ings them­selves”

fundrais­ing, the re­built hall opened in 1997.

Fund-rais­ing is vi­tal to many of our vil­lage halls. At New­ton Flot­man, near Nor­wich, the vil­lage hall is more vi­tal to com­mu­nity spirit and events than ever, as there is no longer a shop or pub. Lot­tery cash helped pay for new au­dio vis­ual equip­ment with cinema evenings start­ing this sum­mer. Vil­lage screen­ings have be­come in­creas­ingly pop­u­lar across the county in re­cent years but the vil­lage hall in Gelde­ston, near Bun­gay, was built back in the 1920s to show films – and still ful­fils that orig­i­nal pur­pose, as well as be­ing the fo­cal point for many more ac­tiv­i­ties.

Across Nor­folk, ev­ery vil­lage hall has its sto­ries, of the peo­ple who have used and cared for them and of the build­ings them­selves. At Ran­worth, near Nor­wich, the vil­lage hall is thatched and par­tic­u­larly pretty. The three vil­lages of We­ston Longville, Mor­ton-on-the-Hill and At­tle­bridge share the thriv­ing Hall for All.

And at Bin­ham, near Holt, and Fin­cham, near King’s Lynn, the halls are memo­ri­als. The peo­ple of Fin­cham cel­e­brated the 60th an­niver­sary of Fin­cham Memo­rial Vil­lage Hall this year. It was built with money raised in grat­i­tude for the end of the Sec­ond World War.

In Bin­ham a new hall hon­ours vil­lagers who gave their lives in two world wars. In­side are the pho­to­graphs of the Bin­ham men killed in the First World War. They orig­i­nally hung in the vil­lage school, which later be­came the hall. The por­traits, and the name, moved to the fine new Bin­ham Vil­lage Memo­rial Hall, the mem­ory of the men pre­served as new gen­er­a­tions of vil­lagers are free to en­joy preschool, foot­ball, fetes, pi­lates and paint­ing.

Above : Ma­jor John Rod­well say­ing goodbye to The Queen after Her Majesty of­fi­cially opened the vil­lage hall at Thorn­ham in 2014


One of the first events at the new Filby vil­lage hall was a Hal­loween party

Above: Gelde­ston vl­lage hall Be­low: Thorn­ham vil­lage hall

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