Our steering committee was assembled in the conservatory at Ann Hodgson’s house. Normally our committee met in her kitchen but in honour of our greater numbers, she had put the conservatory at our disposal. Already I can see that the factions from Auldwick and from Cowperthwaite were coming together in unity. Rather than sit glaring at each other, Archie and Poppy sat side by side. Admittedly this was so they could glare at the younger new-comers, but still, I felt it was a positive move.
As well as the committee stalwarts, we had the vicar. She had a funeral visit but promised that she’d drop in if she could. We also had Young Geordie, but they had a cow calving so he too had promised to come when he could. Still we had Tess, his girlfriend, along with Joe Graham. Joe had a contented expression. Not only had two of the assembled company been reminded by his presence to book him for cleaning out their septic tanks; when he’d commented favourably on Ann Hodgson’s carrot cake, she’d cut him an extra slice ‘for your bait tin tomorrow.’ It sat in front of him in one of those universally useful plastic containers you get from Chinese takeaways. Joe’s girlfriend Kylie was also present, as was their three month old baby, Toby. Kylie had been ‘invited’ by Tess, as she felt the other young woman would be a stalwart ally in the discussion on affordable housing. Kylie and Joe weren’t homeless, but lived in a caravan carefully concealed behind an overgrown hawthorn hedge in the orchard on the smallholding owned by Kylie’s parents.
I started the meeting by blathering my way through the formalities. Wendy had volunteered to be treasurer. It was universally agreed that Megan was the obvious person to be secretary, and she took the post with resigned good grace. She then passed round copies of the village hall constitution that she’d photocopied.
Archie fingered his copy a little nervously. “So what does the constitution tell us that we have to do?”
“In short, run a village hall, providing events to entertain and educate, oversee the maintenance, and provide training for those who have returned from the Great War.”
He lapsed into silence, and Poppy asked, “So we can build another one.”
“Yes, and as you’ll see, in with the constitution, we have the deeds to the land owned by the Village Hall. Not only is there the hall itself, plus the three acres, but we actually own a couple of small plots around the village. I’ve looked at them, people seem to have quietly incorporated them into their gardens.”
Poppy seemed shocked, “How dare they?”
“I don’t know. But one of them may be you.”
“But it was just wasteland.”
I smiled sweetly. “We can worry about this later. After all, the hall doesn’t need it and the sale could raise much needed cash for our project.”
Megan asked, “So how much cash?”
I’d talked to people at ACTion with Communities in Cumbria about this. “We have to think of a minimum of a quarter of a million pounds.”
Kylie asked, “Would that include proper facilities for a toddler group?”
“And would it be carbon neutral?” Poppy added.
“No, the figure is pretty much a minimum, apparently a third of a million is a more realistic figure.”
“And the way people keep adding things, it’ll be half a million,” Archie chuntered. “Who’s got that sort of money?”
“Just cock your clogs and leave your house to the village hall,” Poppy suggested sweetly. “That should do nicely.
Wendy stepped in to stop the bickering. “Raising money is going to be a very important part of our work. I assume we’re going to have to approach various funding bodies. We’re not going to raise the money we need from a cake stall.”
“Oh I don’t know,” Joe muttered loyally, staring fondly as his extra piece of carrot cake.
I decided to ignore them. “So at the moment we’ve got Tess, the vicar and Megan who were working on a questionnaire about what sort of housing we need.”
Megan chipped in. “We thought we might as well ask what sort of village hall people want as well.”
It seemed a wise move. I had a feeling that it was one of the things I was supposed to have suggested and had forgotten to.
“And we’ve got our constitution, we know our legal position.”
“And I can just see all those Great War veterans queuing up for the training opportunities we’re going to offer them,” Poppy muttered.
I turned to Tess. “So did you have a chance to talk to people in the Planning Office.”
“Yes, apparently something has come down from above that they have to provide a certain amount of housing, so they seemed reasonably positive.”
“Not necessarily a good sign,” Archie said, gloomily.
“He’s right, they try and lure you into a false sense of security and then they’ll insist you spend a million more than you need to, demanding that you build the walls of Lakeland stone, and a slate roof.” If anything Poppy seemed more gloomy than Archie.
I looked around the table. “Anybody else got any cheerful comments?”
It was Tess who got in first. “Yes, after talking to the planning officers, their suggestion was to keep the village hall and the housing projects running separately. In the long run the houses might contribute towards the hall, but until they’re built and lived in, they’ll also need a lot of money spending. So do we run it as a separate project or does this steering committee oversee them both?”
I looked around the table. “Suggestions please?”
I sat back and listened to the debate around the table. I must confess I felt quietly confident. By chance or good management I’d managed to assemble a group of remarkably competent people. With luck, at some point in the next two years they’d organise a coup and replace me as chairman.
You might not have realised but it’s now ‘Village Halls Week.’ As somebody who, one way or another, has spent a lot of time in village halls in various places, I’m a believer in their importance. So I thought I’d celebrate them a bit. So the story will continue.
Now if you’re lucky enough to live in Cumbria there is ACTion with Communities in Cumbria, our Rural Community Council, on hand to help.
If you’re in the rest of England you want ACRE, Action with Communities in Rural England.
Alternatively, when you just want a good book
Available in paperback or ebook,
As a reviewer commented, “Another excellent compendium of observations from the back of Mr. Webster’s quad bike in which we learn a lot more about sheep, border collies and people. On the whole, I think the collies come out of it best. If you fancy being educated on the ways of the world, with a gentle humour and a nice line in well observed philosophy, you could do a lot worse than this.”