Well-used village hall could shut in two weeks’ time

VILLAGE organisations in Houghton and Wyton look set to lose their meeting place next month unless villagers volunteer to join their Memorial Hall management committee.

The �380,000 hall, built in 2003 with a six-figure Lottery grant, is used for an average of five hours a day and is the regular meeting place for about 10 village organisations, faces closure not through lack of bookings but because of lack of volunteers.

Although every organisation in the twin villages is entitled to be represented on the management committee, that body has recently been a bit of a family affair. Chairman Amanda Orchard, who has been on the committee since the hall officially opened in 2004, has in recent years been joined by her father, Mac Campbell, treasurer, and mother, Margaret Campbell, bookings clerk, in key roles. But they all want to hand over to other people.

Mrs Orchard, who has recently returned to work as a marketing manager after having a family, no longer has time to devote to the hall and is no longer available during the day.

“None of the current committee wants to step into our shoes, so if people don’t step forward it will close,” she told The Hunts Post. “It’s not the case that the parish council will take it over. The land was given to the village, and the hall is run by a charitable trust.”

The decision on whether the hall can be kept open will be taken effectively by a public meeting there in two weeks’ time, on Tuesday evening, September 13.

The hall could have closed at the trust’s annual meeting on June 20, when insufficient people turned up to form what was considered to be a viable working committee, Mr Campbell said.

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“If sufficient volunteers are found at the public meeting, the postponed AGM will take place immediately afterwards.”

Mrs Orchard and the Campbells have agreed to stay on until then, and Mrs Campbell will continue to co-ordinate the bookings until next year if volunteers come forward for the rest of the work.

The hall’s modest charges, which have not changed since it opened, bring in more than �1,000 a month, more than half of which is needed for a long-term fund for major repairs that will become necessary over the next 50 years, Mr Campbell said.

“The village was quite incredible in raising money in a short time to get it built, and the hall is doing quite well, so it’s not a monetary issue,” his daughter added.

“It’s a time issue, and probably only a couple of hours here and there, except for the booking clerk role.”

But committee members need to be available during working hours, for example to let tradesmen in for maintenance work or minor repairs, something working full-time now prevents Mrs Orchard from fulfilling.

“We probably need about five people for the management committee and another five for the monthly [fundraising] coffee morning,” she said. “The things we do are well supported but it’s difficult now to get people to volunteer. The irony is that the hall is doing really well even though parking’s a bit of an issue.”

The original memorial hall was built in 1924 in memory of the villages’ war dead, including Leslie Green, its only VC.