Building work on Motcombe’s new community hall, at the side of the current Memorial Hall, has begun.
On Friday morning, North Dorset MP Simon Hoare was given a spade and asked to ‘break ground’ in a ceremony to mark the start of the project. Simon said there was, “obviously something very special about Motcombe and its community spirit,” as he addressed volunteers, councillors and project funders.
“They have the existing hall, which I know is run incredibly well, and it’s very popular. Trying to get bookings for advice surgeries can be rather tricky, so any new facility for the village is going to be really important and I think it underscores and underlines what we know to be true – the robust self-sufficiency of rural economies and the importance of rural village life,” said Simon.
“I’ve often described rural living as a bit like a tapestry,” he continued. “You can pull different threads and then at some point, the threads can be pulled too hard and the whole picture distorts. What we know to be true about village life suddenly changes. That clearly is not happening here in Motcombe.”
Memorial Hall Committee Chairman Anthony Belchambers said that the second hall will meet the demands of an expanding Motcombe. “The main target is to create a social hub for the large, growing village. We want to create facilities and entertainment. It’s our way of fighting back against the urban attractions of city life. It’s a small fight back but it’s starting.”
Dignitaries assembled outside the hall. A large orange JCB-style digger was parked at the side of the field where the new 16m by 8m pavilion-style building will sit. As Anthony surveyed the new hall site, he outlined his vision for a village hub.
“We will have live acts and we’re going to have, eventually, a café facility here. The Parish Council has kindly said that they’re going to renew the playground, so parents can sit out here and watch their children while having cups of coffee, cake or sandwiches. This is going to be an attractive venue and we’ve got covered space now for 150 people.”
Hall booking secretary Carol Saumarez says this extra space is vital. “This new building is going to save all of the things that go on in Motcombe because we’ve outgrown our facilities.”
Hall Management Committee Chairman John Maynard agrees. “We have so many people coming to make bookings and we have to turn them away because we don’t have the facilities. This new hall will put all that firmly in the past and we will be able to accommodate an awful lot more people. We have 28 user groups at the moment. We’re expecting that to rise somewhat significantly,” John said.
Carol said that bookings for the new hall started coming in as soon as the grant was approved. “I have three groups that are ready to start the minute the hall is finished,” she said.
The community has been widely consulted on the plans and Carol says there have been last minute changes based on feedback. “We had meetings with the Scouts and the people who want to use it and they needed more storage. We’ve done it. So we now have three loos and an upstairs loft for storage that we didn’t have.”
Volunteers had to work quickly in submitting their successful funding bid and planning application for the new hall. Their deadline has been tight because the money has been sourced from the EU-funded North Dorset Local Action Group or ‘LAG’.
“It was slightly nail biting in getting the grant because of Brexit. We got the planning permission, with one day to spare. We’re incredibly grateful to the district councillors and the parish council for getting it done in record time. I think it was eight weeks from when we put the application in to when we got the permission, but I don’t think many people get permission that quickly.”
Simon Hoare praised the volunteers’ commitment. “I think villagers need to be alert to the huge effort that the people driving this forward have put it in,” the MP offered. He praised Anthony’s team but Anthony was keen to reflect the enabling role of the LAG grant funders. “Without that support we’d have nothing to celebrate. We couldn’t afford it,” he said.
The Chair of North Dorset LAG, Alison Moore, attended on Friday. Her committee had been impressed by two separate Motcombe Memorial Hall bids. The LAG funded the hall cinema screening equipment as well, before granting £130,000 for the hall.
“We are a grassroots organisation of volunteers who put our names forward, probably three years ago now, to help Dorset County Council deliver the Leader funding programme. We love projects like this because they give a sense of community but also the ripple effect of bringing money into an area is huge” said Alison. “We funded the cinema technology and as a group they really got the process. It’s quite a bit of form filling. They did it beautifully and then they came back to us with an even bigger and better scheme. So we were really pleased to be able to support it.”
But the Memorial Hall group isn’t banking on future grants in order to break even. “The thing about village halls is revenue and income. This will ensure, hopefully, that we’re on the track to a sustainable future,” said John.
Nearby villages have contacted the Motcombe Hall trustees asking them to share the secrets of their project success. “Milton on Stour rang up the other day and asked whether they could come down and see it,” said John. So is Motcombe the best example of how to do it now? “You could say that,” John responded.
It was time for Simon Hoare to dig the first piece of turf in the new hall building scheme. Dressed in a hardhat and yellow hi-viz jacket, he joked that he, ‘wasn’t George Osborne’, a reference to the former Chancellor’s much-publicised factory tours. Clutching the ceremonial spade Mr Hoare also laughed about digging a hole for ‘one or two of his colleagues’ and said he would ask the PM for names next time he saw her.
The MP wished Motcombe’s Hall team well in ‘competing against the fleshpots of Shaftesbury and Gillingham’, before he sank his spade into the squidgy Motcombe clay to the applause of onlookers. The party then headed indoors to sample the brilliantly green cake baked by professional confectioner and Hall Committee member Gail Potter.
David Scully hopes the field will remain just as green, rather than muddy brown, during this winter’s works. “We’re hoping for the sort of weather where people can dig and not be in a quagmire and actually make some progress on getting the foundations in,” said David. “I am slightly apprehensive. If we have a very wet winter, the construction might get bogged down.”
The group clearly like working toward a deadline and they’ve set themselves another. The second hall will open in time for the village’s big summer event. “We have to finish on time because the fete is on the 15th of June,” smiled Carol.