By Lisa Firth, Wilsden Village Hall Management Committee member (first published in The Local Leader magazine)
In 1985 I had my first day at playschool, which as you can imagine was pretty traumatic. First Mum – the traitor! – abandoned adorable mite Self with crowd of rough unknown children, and then one of them who shall remain nameless, Andrew Egerton, pinched my Orville the Duck teddy and dunked him in the water pit. It took all of Aunty Betty’s cuddles to chase away the sobs. Anyway, the therapy’s going well and I could be over it in as few as eight or nine years.
Skip forward a few years to the joint Wilsden Guide and Scout Gang Show of 1991. Little Brownie me has won the star part of Second Flower in performance of a poem about a garden gnome. This coveted role requires me to “stand still and keep quiet”, a taxing job for any nine-year-old. I perform the part admirably, with only a little giggle when we get to the bit of the poem about the gnome doing a wee in a boot.
1995, and a Girl Guide (yes, it’s me again) is setting the tables for the annual pensioners’ Christmas party. It’s a big job but eventually napkins are folded, knives and forks glimmering in their places and I congratulate myself proudly on a job well done. But not so! I’ve set all the places left-handed – “start again” sounds the knell of doom from my Guide leader, like Fagin demanding more hankies.
And so much for the story of my life. Riveting, I’m sure you’ll agree, and I look forward to the film version starring Angelina Jolie as me.
Anyway, apart from all for one reason or another having stuck in my mind over the years, these memories – and many like them – all have one thing in common. Every one of them took place at Wilsden Village Hall, which throughout my life has been a hub for village groups and community events. Without my noticing it, this one place provided the backdrop for much of my childhood. I was at playschool there, I was a Brownie, a Guide, a member of the band, attended ballet classes, karate lessons, pantos, parties, discos, ceilidhs, galas and much more, and as an adult I’ve been a Brownie leader with the same pack where I was once a member. Many of those who grew up in Wilsden will have similar memories.
I’d like to say it was my appreciation of the hall’s importance and value to the village that spurred me to join the Wilsden Village Hall Management Committee three years ago, but that would be a naughty fib. I think I had an idea in the back of my mind that the hall was a force of nature, something organic that had always been there and always would be. It certainly never occurred to me that it had a management committee: it was just there, you know?
In fact, I found myself on the committee almost by accident when the gala was cancelled in 2010. Not wanting to see this happen again, I enquired how I could help and was promptly shuffled along to the management committee, which badly needed members.
It was a strange position to be in. I found myself on a committee alongside various authority figures from my younger days, the same people who behind the scenes had kept the hall ticking along for so many years: my school lollipop lady, my Guide leader, the village Scout leader, my childhood next-door neighbour. “Proper” grown-ups, in other words. At first I felt very much like the junior member! But I soon acclimatised (and to be fair to them, no one tried to take my Orville the Duck).
The village hall was set up in 1976 by the now defunct Wilsden Village Society to serve the village and provide a venue for local groups to meet. When the society disbanded, a new committee consisting of volunteers from the community was formed to take on the management of the hall. The committee has a chair, treasurer and secretary. The hall’s hard-working manager, Julie Petty, is accountable to the committee and all decisions concerning the hall must go through them. Now with a membership of eight, it is open to anyone who would like to join, meeting once a month on a Thursday evening.
As a registered charity, the village hall relies on a combination of event fundraising, funding applications, income from rental charges, and donations. Raising funds has never been easy, and in recent years the hall has struggled to keep up the momentum financially as revenue from fundraising has fallen and the running costs, particularly repairs to the ageing building, have increased. The opportunities to bid for funding have also decreased as austerity measures have caused councils and other organisations to tighten their belts. It’s been a tough few years, with the building’s future by no means certain, and the management committee has had to make some difficult decisions.
Since joining the committee, I have really come to understand the challenges faced by the hall. From perceiving it as something that is “just there”, always and forever, I’ve been brought to the realisation that there is a very real possibility Wilsden could lose its community hub one day. The finance reports we receive every month make sobering reading, and Julie’s report is sure to mention another piece of the building that has dropped off and needs repair. In our more morose moments, we are fond of observing that the hall is just one major disaster away from closure.
Perhaps as a committee we haven’t always done all we can to evangelise for the hall, to help residents understand its plight. We now realise, however, that it’s time to ask Wilsdeners to step up if our village hall is to have a future. What answers would you give to the following questions, if you answered them honestly?
1. Has the village hall had an impact on my life?
2. Does the village hall continue to make a difference to me or my family?
3. Could I, or could the village, do without our village hall if it was forced to close?
Supporting your hall
There are a number of ways you can help support our village hall and assure its future:
1. Come to fundraising events
Events like the beer festival and the winter fayre raise funds for the village hall, so the more people who attend them, the better! And please spread the word among friends and family too. If you are online, we publicise all events on our Facebook page so do come and find us: www.facebook.com/WilsdenVillageHall
2. Join a committee
We will always need a strong management committee making decisions about the hall’s future. The current committee welcomes new members – get in touch if you would like to join.
One of the biggest challenges the hall faces is in organising fundraising events that will both generate income and be enjoyable for village residents. In the past we have had a fundraising committee responsible for planning events, but this folded some years ago due to lack of members. It would be great to start this up again, so please get in touch if you would be interested in joining! As well as helping the hall, planning and organising events can be great fun – and a good CV booster to boot.
3. Make a regular donation
We are asking villagers to consider setting up a regular donation to the hall, helping secure this valuable community venue for current Wilsden residents and for the generations to come. Please do think carefully about whether you could afford a small amount every month to stop your village hall going under. Just think – if everyone in the village was able to give just £1 a month, that would be over £42,000 a year! A fraction of that amount could keep the hall going for many years to come.
Contact the hall on 01535 272786, or email firstname.lastname@example.org, to find out more about how you can show your support.
A Hall’s Tale
For 40 years I’ve been here,
Standing strong and standing tall
Now don’t say you don’t know me
It’s me, your village hall!
Four decades I’ve been open
For groups and games and fun
For ceilidh dancing in the hall
Or beer in the sun.
For Girly Guides to hoist their flag
And Scouts to knot their woggles
For nursery tots to scuff their knees
As for youth club – the mind boggles!
I’ve seen line dancers strut their stuff
And Zumba do their thing
The WI bake a scrummy cake
And the Brownies sure can sing.
The walkers meet here every week
To go out and explore
The art club wield a lovely brush
And keep coming back for more.
Our soccer tots know how to boot
And DanceKool do their wiggle
While after-school club is a hoot
They always have a giggle!
There’s plenty more of my old chums
Who’ve used me through the years
With lots of fun and loads of laughs
And not too many tears.
Sometimes it’s been a tough job
Keeping roof and walls together
I’m getting on a bit, you see
And a storm’s harder to weather.
But I’m proud to be your village hall
It really is my pleasure
To serve you lovely Wilsden folk
And give memories to treasure.
I hope you’ll all remember me
And often come to call
And when kids and grandkids come to be
Tell them I’m their village hall!