Opera And West End Theatre Have Given Motcombe’s Hall Financial Security

Most village halls struggle to raise cash for repairs by holding coffee mornings. But Motcombe has found that Puccini and Faust bring in the funds they need to maintain their beautiful Arts and Crafts style building.

Since February, major opera and theatre performances have been beamed into the Memorial Hall using a special satellite link. “The older these buildings get, the more money they need thrown at them. This was built in 1925,” explained Hall committee chairman John Maynard. “We have to find new sources of funding because the old things we used to do, for example, jumble sales, nobody wants them any more. This is why we had the idea of live streaming,” said John.

“It’s proven to be a huge success. We have had opera, ballet and Oscar Wilde. There’s a good take-up.” The Christmas screening of The Nutcracker, live from the Royal Opera House, is likely to be a crowd pleaser, too.

John Maynard

One-fifth of Motcombe adults have watched a concert, ballet of a West End play in high definition and with surround sound. And 75% of tickets have been bought by villagers. That’s important. At the public meeting to talk about future plans, some residents were keen to ensure that villagers benefitted from the hall, rather than visitors from Shaftesbury or Gillingham.

The streaming is making the hall a handsome profit of around £670 a month. It would take a lot of tombolas to raise that kind of cash. “This is why we need more premises,” said John, as he pointed to the recreation ground behind the hall. Traffic cones had marked out a rectangular space. That is where the committee want to erect a new second hall.

Last week, villagers filled the existing hall to hear about plans to erect this new, pavilion-style building to accommodate increased demand. The number of hall user groups has increased from 21 to 27 over the past three years and the village population has climbed from 1,400 to 1,800 since 2011. “It is very exciting. Things really are happening in Motcombe,” John enthused.

The proposed new structure would be clad with timber and roofed with slate. At 16×8 metres it would be around the same size as the existing hall. The exact siting of the new building has been controversial, though, as I learned in the meeting.

“There were three different views”, explained Chairman of the Hall Trustees, Anthony Belchambers. He chaired the public meeting to discuss the proposal. If you can imagine looking at the hall from the main road, then the new pavilion will be erected behind the current hall. It would face east, away from the original building. The plan is to have an outdoor seating area, which could be used as a café area, in the space between the old and new structures.

Anthony Belchambers

Some locals felt that the new pavilion would obscure the view over the recreation field and they wanted the new building placed to the right of the current hall. That was ‘alternative view number one.’ Anthony wasn’t keen. That would mean parents couldn’t keep an eye on their kids in the adjacent play area easily because the new building would be in the way.

Some locals wanted the pavilion placed parallel to the car park or the main road, on more or less the same plot at the left of the current hall, but orientated 90 degrees from the plans. That was the second opinion presented by the public. John was against that. He said that could limit future car park expansion.

“We actually need to extend this car park. We need to extend it down to the trees. It will take around 43 cars when it’s full. Sometimes we need around 60 spaces. We can’t afford the space,” John said.

Strong views were expressed but nearly all residents offered a round of applause for the committee volunteers’ efforts in drawing up plans. Anthony closed the meeting with a promise to talk with architects ‘the next morning.’

He did and the original plan, on the site that has outlined with cones, will be submitted. There wasn’t time to change the plans and meet the tight deadlines for planning approval and grants. It’s the grant timeline that proved immovable. “The project will cost about £180,000 and we’re going for a grant of £140,000,” explained John.

The need for speed is all down to Brexit, because the committee is applying to a locally-based, EU-backed grant fund. It’s the same funding source that provided the money for the live streaming. But it’s shutting down soon. “We have to get all of our ducks in a row,” explained Anthony, as he outlined how complicated this volunteer-run project has been.

“We had to talk to the Charities Commission to make sure that they were happy for us to release some of our funds for this purpose because it was within the Trust’s objectives. We applied for six estimates. Three of the costings were too expensive and we ended up with three which were affordable. It takes time. Builders want detailed information to give you a proper and reliable quote. You then have to get the planning application through before you can get the grant. They will consider the grant in September and the build has to be finished in May, before the grant operation shuts down. We have to start in October because we need to finish by May. We will have to work through the winter with the build. It’s not the most complicated scheme but if it is pouring with rain – and this is Motcombe clay – it becomes pretty hard work,” Anthony laughed.

The third view expressed in the meeting was to pull the application, restart the planning process and find an alternative funding source. “There weren’t many that took that robust line,” said Anthony. Just a handful of people raised their hands in the meeting when asked whether the wanted the project canned.

“Some were saying ‘well you could apply to other authorities’ but that’s just straw in the wind. We’ve put in a very detailed application and we’re in with a chance. We made a very good case. There were some fairly strong views about that but it’s not that big a building at the end of the day,” Anthony said.

The trustees are now waiting to hear whether their grant bid has been successful. That will determine whether they’ll have the money to spend on a second hall over the winter. In the meantime, thanks to the success of their streaming, Motcombe’s existing hall will keep its head above water.