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Freebridge Community Fund helps fund renovated village hall


A West Norfolk village hall is getting a massive revamp, partly thanks to a grant from the Freebridge Community Fund.

Barton Bendish village hall is in the midst of building work as they spend hundreds of thousands of pounds on a total renovation.

The charity normally holds group sessions as a chance for the young people to have a break and meet others in the same situation, but these have had to be put on hold for most of 2020.

Chris Parsons is a trustee of the charity and explains why it needed such significant work: “The village hall is really well used in this community and we suffered from a lack of capacity and also fairly poor performance of the building itself. There was no insulation, the heating caused a lot of problems, the floor itself started to collapse. It was getting very tired.”

Local people have been involved every step of the way. Chris himself is an architect so designed the extension and tells us they’ve been liaising with villagers throughout: “We held a public consultation, including various design options, and got the community to tell us what they liked and what they didn’t like. Out of the people who came, 100% were in favour of doing the work.

“People really wanted to keep the character of the existing building so we reused a lot of the original materials. We showed them two schemes – contemporary and traditional and the traditional option was chosen.”

What they’re spending out on has also changed. They’re saving by not paying for room hire but meeting the carers individually means it’s taking longer and costing more. Additional costs they hadn’t planned for included mobile phone top ups for the team who are doing more one to one support now, along with activity packs for the carers themselves.

The biggest change has been an extension to the side of the building which, as well as increasing the size of the hall, has also made the kitchen bigger. They’ve been able to improve disabled access and facilities too.

But Chris says it’s about so much more than just bricks and mortar: “This is a very rural community and there are a lot of problems associated with rural isolation and loneliness - cultural isolation and social isolation in particular. And the trustees feel that the hall should be something that could help with these issues.

“There are lots of events that have used the hall in the past and we needed to ensure that those could continue, and if we could, offer even better facilities for the people who use it.”

Unlike most of the charities we’ve been speaking to this year, the Covid-19 pandemic hasn’t impacted too badly on this project. In fact, having the building work take place while they couldn’t hold any functions was something of a blessing.

Chris tells us that it has delayed the building a little though: “The day we started was the 23rd March and that was the evening when the Prime Minister announced a lockdown. I’m really grateful to the contractors who’ve found a way to keep working. We’ve had to change a few things around because of what we could and couldn’t get. We’ll be a bit later finishing than originally planned, but because of Covid it won’t matter too much.”

The committee are continuing to look at how Covid-19 regulations may impact them in the future but it is hoped the new hall will be ready to use by December this year.

As well as the money from Freebridge the project has received funding from many different places including the Borough Council, ACRE (Action with Communities in Rural England) and the National Lottery.

The funding from Freebridge’s Community Fund is part of a number of grants provided to West Norfolk charities and community groups by the housing association. Thirteen projects across the area have benefitted this year, with each being awarded amounts up to £1000. This year Freebridge raised the amount available to the fund to £10,000, double the £5000 that is normally offered, to mark the fact that they've been providing this money to groups for a decade. The successful projects were chosen by a committee made up of Freebridge employees and tenants.

We'll be taking a closer look at each of the grant recipients as part of #FreebridgeFundFriday each week.