“We are aware that some people call it the church and some people call it the village hall”
It was great to see it two years on – the buildings work finished and the building being used by both the congregation and the community. Absolutely a win-win for both village and church.
Stadhampton, a small village of 800 had really been lacking a community space since the 1960s when the old hall had burnt done. They had been using the school hall but this was only available outside school use and was becoming less available as the school increased in size. There had been talk of the need for a village hall for several years and a committee set up who looked at various options including new build. At the same time, the church had a very small congregation, was in need of major repairs as well as being cold and damp and having no main drainage. So the PCC was very pleased when they were approached by the Village Hall Committee with the suggestion of using the church.
It cost just under £400k and took about 5 years and the church is now repaired, refurbished and is on main drainage. There are two toilets in an extension to the west end, and a fully equipped kitchen and serving area in the north aisle. The pews have gone and have been replaced by comfortable chairs. There is a retractable screen which can be lowered for the Film Club and then disappears entirely restoring the east end to how it has always looked. The base of the tower has been refurbished with modern storage cupboards and is now a comfortable vestry. The restoration of the beamed ceiling, the cleaning of the stonework, the careful design of the wooden panels around the kitchen and the new floor has created a very beautiful and calming space.
Like all similar projects, it was a challenging 5 years with moments of despair as well as celebration, but the testament of its success was those 16 people, some who had been part of the original building committee, and some – which bodes well for the future - people who have joined since completion because they wanted to come and help manage the new building. They all obviously love the space they have created and are quite rightly proud of what they now have.
Most telling for me was a member of the congregation who said that although she had been fully behind the plans from the beginning she was happy to find that the refurbished building remained very much a church. From a more personal perspective, she said that she had been worried about retiring and feared that she might become isolated. In fact, the new activities which were happening as a result of the new community space, had meant that she had plenty to do and meeting people was not an issue. Similarly, another volunteer said that she had been considering leaving the village as it was so difficult to meet people. Inspired by the project, she had volunteered to be on the management committee and the village had become home again.
The key for me was that just before I left, I looked back at the chancel and the screen had disappeared, the kitchen area was all clean and tidied up and all the chairs and tables had been put away except for two rows of chairs facing the altar all set up ready for the Sunday service the next morning. A truly shared space and does it matter that some people call it the church and some call it the hall? No, because it is fulfilling both roles perfectly.