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Strumpshaw Community Hall – launching in lockdown and looking to the future

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Village and community halls everywhere have felt keenly the impact of COVID-19 on their ability to provide social and recreational events. For many the ongoing lack of income has presented a tangible financial crisis.  

How much more so then, for a brand-new community hall, whose planned launch coincided with the first pandemic lockdown in March 2020? 

This was the entirely unforeseeable situation faced by the team at Strumpshaw – but it’s a story of how foresight and having good systems in place enabled them to adapt to the situation and plan for emerging from lockdown.  

Background 

Strumpshaw’s old Parish Room had served the community well. In common with many such buildings however, it had come to the end of its life and needed replacing with a modern structure able to meet the needs of a burgeoning local population. The village has increased to 700 residents with the building of two new housing developments. 

With any new development it’s helpful to have people with requisite skills and experience on board.  

Before retiring, Hilary Hammond was Director of Arts and Libraries for Norfolk County Council, key to the development and building of the Forum in Norwich and, later, advising government about the provision of public libraries. Now voluntary Deputy Clerk of the Parish Council, Hilary presented Strumpshaw’s inspiring story at the East of England Village Halls Conference in January, and revisits it for us here. 

“Back in 2014, in line with the Localism Act, the Parish Council devised a Neighbourhood Plan which was adopted following a Parish referendum. The outcome included a new community hall and six allotments. Following the sale of the land by the original owner, we negotiated with the new developer and building of the new hall began in August 2019.”  

“With the two new housing developments bringing new people into the village, we wanted to provide a modern, fully-equipped facility that will welcome both existing and newer residents and encourage a sense of belonging.” 

The landowner donated the site for the hall and most of the building, while the Parish Council paid for the interior fittings. Donations came from local individuals and charitable trusts. 

“We’ve been keeping up to date with ACRE’s advice on COVID adherence and re-opening updates, and Tonya from CAN has been very helpful with factsheets and procedural advice” adds Hilary. 

Work was completed just in time to coincide with the first pandemic lockdown in March 2020. The Parish Clerk left at that time to concentrate on other duties and Hilary was asked to step in as deputy Clerk for the duration, and he reports they have another good Clerk in post now.  

The facilities 

“It’s a gorgeous hall. We have underfloor heating, zoned and dimmable lighting, a video projector, a  sound system and hearing loop. There is parking for twenty vehicles and fourteen bicycles, in line with current standards. Our environmental footprint is minimised by rainwater harvesting for the allotments, solar voltaic panels and an air source heat pump” explained Hilary. 

We’re very proud of the hall and local people have been very complimentary.  

The Parish Council’s Community Hall Committee was able to open the hall briefly last Summer, with exercise and art classes running when COVID restrictions allowed, subject to strict social distancing requirements. We had to shut down again of course more recently as Tier 4 came into force, but we’re anticipating opening up fully in late May, we will be the local polling station for local elections on 6th May, and hirers are anxious to start using the hall as soon as permissible.” 

COVID-secure - and looking to the future 

The expression ‘state of the art’ doesn’t just apply to the new hall’s facilities. Last September the Parish Council contracted Norwich-based Enviro-Safe28 to spray all surfaces with anti-viral and anti-bacterial agent every four weeks; the hall is also thoroughly cleaned every week. 

“The costs are high” says Hilary “but safety is paramount. We can be more confident about hiring out the hall knowing it is COVID-secure.” 

Looking ahead 

As all communities gradually emerge from lockdown the aim is to reach out to the whole community and particularly to the newer residents. A belated first birthday party is planned for June 2021, which everyone is looking forward to. 

Find out more at www.strumpshawch.org.uk and on Facebook.   

Further information 

Management of community halls 

At Strumpshaw the Parish Council owns and runs the hall through a Community Hall Committee. This is not the case everywhere and it’s worth knowing the different scenarios that operate. Sometimes a Parish Council acts as Custodian Trustee to a village or community hall which it doesn’t own and takes no part in the management. In other cases, the Parish Council might be the Sole Trustee, actively managing the building; and in others, representatives from Parish Council may act as Managing Trustees, taking an active part in the affairs of the hall in its interest. It’s complicated and you might like to read more about this in our ‘Know your trustees’ series, particularly Custodian Trustees and Sole Trustees

The Localism Act 2011 and Neighbourhood Planning 

Hilary made reference to the Localism Act 2011.  This enabled new rights and powers for communities, recognising that local voluntary and community groups carry out some of the most innovative and effective work in public services and should be encouraged to get involved. Neighbourhood Planning is part of this, allowing interested people and parties to come together through a parish council or neighbourhood forum to say where they think new houses, businesses and shops should go, and what they should look like. At CAN we have been involved in Neighbourhood Planning and  are active partners in Eastern Community Homes, a community-led housing project. Read more about this here

As always, should you need advice, support or input for your community project, do contact our highly experienced Community Development Officers on 01362 698216 or at [email protected]