"We're not selling people stuff, they come here to get involved in things" - how a village hall brought a community together (From The Northern Echo)
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"We're not selling people stuff, they come here to get involved in things" - how a village hall brought a community together
Seven different table tennis groups use Bishop Monkton Village Hall, plus many other activities are staged here.
A COMMUNITY which set its sights on having its own village hall several years ago has found the project has gone well beyond the original intentions; bringing together all generations within the village. Emily Flanagan meets the people behind the project.
ONE hot summer weekend earlier this year, residents of Bishop Monkton headed out to their village hall armed with beefburgers, sausages and breadbuns. The weather forecasters had predicted glorious weather for the weekend a couple of days earlier, so they decided to hold an impromptu get-together. A local farmer assembled a last-minute barbecue and everyone brought their own food. Then they had a game of football, a tug-of-war and went home.
This scene of relaxed rural English life looks highly desirable but rarely happens in such a casual way.
The fact that it happens in Bishop Monkton is entirely down to the village hall. It’s the glue that binds everyone together and villagers are convinced it is the key to the strong sense of community that runs through all generations here.
“This is very much a neutral meeting area; we’re not selling people stuff, they come here to get involved in things and that’s what it’s all about. It’s the heart of the village,” says chairman Gerald Shervington.
At first glance there is nothing about Bishop Monkton Village Hall to make you stop in your tracks; on the outside it appears to be a functional-looking, modern construction surrounded by sports fields.
But it is a slick business with a £35,000 a year turnover, 20,000 to 30,000 per year footfall and year-round bookings. And to villagers here – who built it from nothing - it stands as a remarkable testament to the willpower of their community.
The village, which lies in North Yorkshire between Ripley and Ripon, had been without a community centre for many years and was finding its only alternative - the Women’s Institute hall - was often fully booked.
But getting the project off the ground, more than ten years ago, was no easy task.
Collectively, the village decided to sell off its only other community assets to fund one single building that would suit everyone’s needs. So the WI hall and the Mechanics Institute were sold.
Then through years of relentless fundraising and grant applications, the village raised more than £400,000.
The land was donated by a local farmer about seven years ago and the money was used to create a purpose built village hall complete with kitchen, changing rooms, a stage and meeting rooms.
Outside they turned what was basically a cornfield and rough agricultural land into football and cricket pitches, tennis courts and a croquet lawn so immaculate that the National Croquet Association came up to assess it and went away impressed.
Richard Field, a retired newspaper man who once edited newspapers in North America and now edits the hall’s vibrant website, said: “There were at least three or four villagers who literally dedicated a year or two of their lives. They were tradesmen and experts in varying fields. They put in things like electricity, drains. They were here every day.”
Chairman, Gerald Shervington, whose company installed the toilets, showers and changing facilities, said: “It was basically a cornfield. Now we have an income in excess of £30,000. We’re a business, not just a village hall.
"All the clubs are feeding money into it. The other big income revenue comes from booking the hall out. We’ve had numerous weddings here.”
He walks me round the hall and its grounds, rattling off facts and figures at lightning speed; last year the hall was booked 713 times, they’ve planted 300 trees, they’ve recently invested £2,000 in night lighting and £40,000 in a children’s soft play area.
The 700-strong community of Bishop Monkton uses all its strengths and skills to make the hall successful.
Its committee includes an auctioneer who is in charge of advertising, a chemist who drops off flyers, and a statistician who obtains grants. Its chairman is an electro-chemical engineer and its treasurer a pig farmer. The sports on offer at the club include tennis, cricket, bowls, football, croquet.
Table tennis alone at Bishop Monkton Village Hall involves seven different table tennis groups, totalling more than 100 members and contributes about £3,500 a year to village hall funds. About 50 to 100 children use the village hall every weekend for football clubs alone.
But the overwhelming thing they have achieved through the hall is a sense of community; the hall is used as much by the younger generations as the older.
“There’s hardly anyone in the village who hasn’t used the village hall or playing field,” said Richard.
“The older people will come up and have teas; the young people come here after their tea and homework for some football or the youth club. Everyone has been involved in it in some way.
“Young people in the village appreciate the hard work that goes on and appreciate what goes on here. They’ve seen their parents and grandparents working on it.”
Gerald added: “Last year we had an impromptu barbecue. It was going to be a nice weekend so we just said to everyone, ‘do you fancy coming down to the village hall?’ A local farmer made the barbecue and everyone brought some food, then we had a game of football and a tug of war.
“That’s what it means to me; it gets people together. I don’t go to church, my wife goes to chapel and I might go every once in a while but we get people here who wouldn’t normally go to a church or the pub.
“This is key to keeping the village and society close.”
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