Upchurch Village Hall

The History of the Hall

The History of Upchurch Village Hall

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The village hall was officially 60 years old on 4th November 2021.  Unlike its 25th and 50th Anniversaries there were no plans to celebrate this event.  However, a few weeks previously there was an afternoon tea party open to all villagers and those who use the hall to show off the numerous alterations that have been carried out during the past 2 years, mostly during the COVID-19 lockdown periods, and this was well attended at the time.  The following describes how the village hall first came about, the additional work that has taken place over the past years and how it is managed.

It is believed to be as far back as the 1930’s that Margaret Neame who worked in the Upchurch Village Store first suggested the idea that Upchurch should have a village hall that served the whole community.  However, it wasn’t until 1952 that the idea first started to come to fruition.  With television just becoming more readily available and computers as we know them today still to be invented, villagers used to meet and socialise outside more.  Up until that time most village meetings took place in what was known at the time as the ‘Church Hall’ although it later became known as the ‘Labour Hall’ in 1950 and is now part of ‘Wayside’, the white listed residential building opposite the church.  The Labour Hall was a small and very basic hall, it had no amenities as we would expect today, and could not cater for larger activities such as sports, dances and other such entertainment or activities.

At a public meeting on 10th December 1953 a working party was set up and became known as the ‘Victory Trust Fund Committee’ (VTFC).  Minutes of that meeting read that Mrs K. B. Kitney, Mr E. G. Neame, Mr R. Boakes, Mr G. Friend and Mr L. Wildish were elected as Trustees whilst Mr E. A.  Lock, Mr T. Sifleet, Mr S. Frost, Mr & Mrs Bass, Mr C. Robinson and Mr E. Wraight were all elected as committee members.  Mrs K. B. Kitney was also elected as Chairperson with Mr R. Boakes as Vice Chairman.  Mr E. Neame became Secretary and Mrs Friend the Treasurer although these did change as time went by.

Initially it was proposed that the site of the old Fairview Oast House located in the area of what is now known as Crosier Court should be pursued as a potential new village hall.  Plans were developed and a cost of £5000-00 was derived from them.  However, the idea of a new village hall located at that site did not come to fruition due to a number or reasons including the site not being suitable for parking and not being able to agree a sale price with the Owners, Wakeley Brothers.

Not to be put off, the VTFC set about looking for a new site in the village whilst continuing to raise funds for a new hall by collecting donations and holding various events around the village including a Carnival, Carnival Queen, Carnival Dance and Fete & Sports Days and even ladies and gentlemen’s Tug-of-War and a Soap Box Derby.  Villagers were even asked to buy (fund) a brick in readiness for when building work commenced.  Records indicate that meetings were held in the Old Forge, the Labour Hall and The Crown Inn, now just named The Crown, whilst dances and public meetings were held in the old Village Infant School.  On the 8th November 1954 a ‘Trust Deed’ was set up in readiness for the new hall being built whilst at the same time the Committee was renamed the ‘Upchurch Village Hall Fund Committee’, (UVHFC).  It was signed by all members of the UVHFC and stipulating such rules as how the hall, when it was eventually built, was to be run and managed and by whom.  The ‘Trust Deed’ identifies the aims and objectives as being that:-
“the property shall be held…..for the purpose of..…physical and mental training and recreation and social, moral, spiritual and intellectual development through the medium of a village hall, reading and recreation rooms, library and classes, recreations and entertainments or otherwise………for the benefit of that: – the inhabitants….of Upchurch…….and its immediate vicinity without distinction of sex or of political religious or other opinions.

Remembering that the Trust Deed document was written and registered in 1954, before the site of the proposed village hall was finally determined yet alone was built, it shows just how determined the UVHFC were in succeeding with their challenge.  The ‘Trust Deed’ also states who can be a Trustee, how the village hall business shall be run, committee meetings and how they shall be conducted and recorded, the management of village hall finances, the sale of alcohol in the village hall and procedures to be taken should it become necessary to close the hall should the Management Committee at the time no longer be able to finance and/or manage the hall in the future.  This document is a legal document and today is still valid in directing how the current Trustees of the village hall shall manage the running of the village hall.

It wasn’t until the early 1960’s when a new site, believed to have been a small area of orchard, was found behind The Crown pub, or Crown Inn as it was called at the time.  The land was owned by Courage Brewery and after much negotiation with them by the UVHFC, the sale and freehold purchase of the land was finally agreed for a price of £250 and the site for the new village hall was found.  The purchase of the land was held up whilst the brewery insisted that they had the rights for providing drinks to any function in the village hall.  This was eventually agreed to and a clause inserted in the deeds.  On 26th March 1962, sometime after the construction of the new village hall was completed, ‘Conveyancing Deeds’ transferring the land were signed by all Parties and the Trustees of the UVHFC became the joint Owners of the land.

Having previously agreed in principle to the sale of the land, the UVHFC set about providing the building.  Various options were considered including a timber structure and visiting other buildings about to be demolished with the view to perhaps it being transported and re-built in Upchurch.  Records show members of the UVHFC going to the Isle of Grain to inspect a building that was going to be demolished with the idea of it being dismantling and rebuilt in Upchurch.  However, none of these were found to be suitable so eventually it was agreed to design and construct a new purpose-built village hall.  The hall was designed by Mark Hartland-Thomas, an Architect who lived in the village, and was built by E. C. Gransden & Sons, a Building Contractor also from the village.

Workmen shown are Bill Johnson driving the dumper, Ted Wickenden, Fred Clemons and Colin Coe.  Note the original windows before the gas heaters were installed.

Work commenced early in 1961 and was approaching completion when the funds took what the local newspaper described as being ‘a terrific blow’.  In order to maximise the interest that could be gained from the raised funds the UVHFC had invested the monies in Government Gilt-Edged Stocks as the law at the time did not permit such funds to be invested in bank accounts.  Selwyn Lloyd, the Chancellor of the Exchequer at the time, held a Mini- Budget just prior to the Gilts being sold, the net result of which was that when they were sold the funds were depleted by £450 which at that time was a considerable amount of money.

Notwithstanding this setback, construction of the hall continued and was finally completed on Friday 20th October at a final total cost of £6,672-13s-9p having made employment for a number of villagers and other local tradesmen along the way.  Additional to this was the cost of £274 to Bensen Contractors for the surfacing of the entrance trackway and a strip between the end of the trackway and the hall itself, the line of which can be clearly seen today.  Whilst this was seen to be a large sum of money the general consensus at the time was that it was money well spent.  The remaining area of the car park was laid as compacted ‘coke ash’ and not asphalted over until some years later.  The UVHFC had not fully raised the money required at the time but with a number of donations, further fund raising and a £2,000-00 loan from the National Council for Voluntary Organisations, (NCVO), the final cost of the building could be met.  The loan was paid back over a period of 8 years.

The hall was officially opened two weeks later on the afternoon of Saturday 4th November 1961 and, although the local East Kent Gazette published on 3rd November indicated that it would be by the then Mayor of Gillingham, the following weeks edition published on 10th November stated that the opening was performed by the Deputy Mayor Alderman P. F. Cooper who was accompanied by Mr Percy Mills MP for Faversham, the Mayor of Gillingham having been taken ill at the time.  The newspaper carried a picture of both of them in the village hall.  The ceremony was very well attended by villagers and following a speech by the Deputy Mayor officially opening the hall a short dedication ceremony was conducted by both The Vicar of Upchurch, The Revd W. McNeille Bradshaw and The Methodist Minister, The Revd L. Groves.  The hymn ‘All people that on earth do dwell’ was sung by those attending followed by the Choir of the Women’s Institute singing ‘Bless this House’.  Speeches of thanks, appreciation and presentations followed, including one by Richard Boakes who expressed his sadness and sorrow that Margaret Neame, the person who first instigated the idea of the village hall some 30 years previously, had passed away before being able to see her concept become reality.  This was followed by the singing of the National Anthem before tea and light refreshments were served during which time incidental music was played by the ‘Albany Players’ and people could view displays set up by the various village organisations at the time.

Following the more formal afternoon opening ceremony there were further celebrations in the evening in the form of a ‘Grand First-Night Gala’ complete with entertainment, fun, games, and dancing in the hall.  Tickets cost 3 shillings for entry to the event, 15p in today’s decimal currency.

Whilst the hall was built and formally opened for use it still needed further work.  Walls were plain unpainted breeze block and costs had not permitted floor coverings to be provided other than in the main hall.  Heating was from overhead electric heaters hanging from the ceiling, there was no gas supply at the time.  The hall did not have any of the things expected of it by hirers today.  Initially there were no chairs, cups and saucers and the like available, all these had to be borrowed or hired from local suppliers, not just for the opening celebrations but for other fund-raising events as well.  This was especially so when dances were held.  Records show that amplifiers and other sound equipment was always hired for these events.  Fund raising did not stop but continued in order that the walls could be plastered, floor coverings installed and chairs, cups and saucers could be purchased.

From 1962 the hall was regularly hired out to Kent County Council, (KCC), who used it for a children’s welfare clinic and dental clinic, a mobile library site and a mobile Mass X-Ray location.  This continued for many years with KCC paying a nominal hiring charge until a request was made to increase this.  Negotiations continued for around a year but eventually KCC eventually decide not to pay the increase and subsequently left the hall.

It was during 1962 that the original UVHFC responsible for the building of the village hall decided that, to ensure the safe future existence of the hall, they would hand it over to the ‘Charity Commission’ who today now own the hall and as such are the Holding or Custodian Trustees of both the hall and the land.  The individuals of the UVHFC became ‘Trustees of the Village Hall’ and the UVHFC became the ‘Upchurch Village Hall Management Committee’, (UVHMC), as we know it today.   Since that time the hall has also become affiliated to the ‘Association of Communities in Rural Kent’, (ACRE), from whom the Trustees can seek advice from as and when they need to do so.  Most recently ACRE provided significant guidance to village halls with respect to the Covid situation.

Members of the UVHMC are nominated by village organisations to become a committee member, two from each group.  By becoming a member of the UVHMC they also automatically become a Management Trustee which means that as well as representing their own group they also act in the best interest of village hall and importantly, continue to successfully manage this vital village asset.  Today, members of the UVHMC are responsible for the day-to-day running of the village hall not only in accordance with the original Trust Deed but also with the legal requirements of being a Charity under the Charity Commission.  Being a Charity, the UVHMC is required to provide the Charity Commission with certain information including details of current Trustees and finances on an annual basis.  The Management Committee cannot sell the property without the Charity Commission’s involvement and it is unlikely that they would sanction such action although the Trust Deeds referred to above do make provision should such action become necessary.

In May 1964 the porch was damaged.  This was later identified to have been caused by a young learner driver using the car park area to practice his driving skills in a van and accidently driving it into the porch.  Fortunately, damage to the hall was minimal.  It is not known how much damage was done to the van.

The hall was used for many activities by various village groups including the Cricket Club who, in 1968 held a Tramps Dance.

Note the accordion band at the back and the bare un-plastered walls.

Since the original construction of the hall there have been two significant changes to the building structure.  The first was in 1974 when the areas known as the stage and back hall were added.  Similar to the original building, this was again designed by Mark Hartland-Thomas and built by E.C. Gransden & Sons.  Like the original building, fund raising in the form of dances, whist drives and even a soap box derby was necessary in order to meet the costs.  The cost of the building works was £6,750-00 although after taking account of planning fees, Architects fees and additional fixtures and fittings the final cost increased to £8537-00.  Although many grants were received for this work it was still necessary for the UVHMC to take out a £2,000-00 loan, again with the National Council for Voluntary Organisations, NCVO.  The loan was to be paid back over an 8 year period but with the additional income from Hirings, extensive fund raising and careful management of finances, the loan was paid back in 4 years.

The extension was officially opened on Saturday 30th March 1974 by John Ardley, a Local Councillor who lived in the village with a blessing by the Upchurch Vicar at the time, the Revd Keith Chare.  This was then followed by a concert party which included a piano duet by the Hewitt brothers, humorous quotes by Helen Osborne and songs sung by the children of Upchurch Junior School and Soprano Jane Gransden.

In January 1977 a serious fire damaged the building.  The insurance only covered £10,692-00 of the re-building costs, the remaining £3,632-00 coming in the form of a grant from Swale Borough Council.  With the monies becoming available work to repair the building was soon completed and the village hall was able to open again in July to all those who used it at the time.  Had it not been for the quick actions by neighbours whose property backed onto the village hall in raising the alarm, the damage could have been much more devastating, possibly destroying the whole hall.

During the 1980’s the internal emergency lighting system was upgraded from a continuously charged 12v battery-operated system powering individual light units to a mains electric power supplied system which connected all the lights together on the same circuit.  This upgrade was most probably in order to comply with prevalent Fire Regulations and subsequently to enable the hall to receive a Fire Certificate, something that was legally required for the hall to be operated and opened to the public.  At the same time the UVHMC also installed fully powered external emergency and security lighting around the building and these are still operated in the same manner today by a time switch and external dawn/dusk light sensor today.

In September 1982 gas was installed into the village hall and the heating upgraded from the old original ceiling hung electric heaters in the main hall to more efficient gas heaters, five heaters in the main and two in the back hall.  At the time the cost of electricity was very high, the electric heaters were used a lot during the winter months, heating up the ceiling area before the lower area where the heat was needed, and the UVHMC were faced with large bills to pay.  Because the new gas heaters needed something solid to be set and fixed to areas of the large windows overlooking the grassed area in the main hall were infilled with brickwork and the windows modified accordingly.  SEGAS installed the gas supply bringing in pipework from The Street, excavating the entrance trackway to enable them to do so, at a cost of £1,877-79 whilst the supply and installation of the heaters amounted to a further £3,795-00.

1986 saw 25th Anniversary celebrations.  A large celebration cake was made which was cut by Councillor John Ardley and Trustee Bett Kidney.  This was followed by a concert before a packed audience with performances from village groups including the Choral Group, Scouts and Cubs and the One O’Clock Club.  Not wishing to miss an opportunity, the UVHMC sold commemorative mugs to raise funds.

Revd John Lefroy, Win Wraight*, Percy Still, Lou Wildish*, Rich Boakes*, Bet Kitney*, Mrs Caroll,
John Ardley (Chairman), Tom Smith, George Friend*, Jan Lacy (Secretary)
*Denotes original Trustees of the village hall from 1953

In 1995 there was a second fire at the back of the village hall.  This time it was outside and turned out to be a pile of rubbish being set alight by vandals.  Fortunately, it did not cause any significant damage and the hall was able to continue operating as normal.

The second significant structural change was in 1999 when, after many meetings with the National Charities Board Lottery Fund, both Don Branch, Treasurer and Molly Catford, Chairperson at the time, were able to secure a grant of £93,000.  However, in order to receive the grant, the UVHMC had to show that they could also provide a significant amount of money as well.  This was achieved by carrying out various fund-raising activities including the selling of two recipe books containing favourite recipes donated by numerous villagers.  This combined monies enabled the kitchen area to be extended along with new toilets, including a toilet for the disabled, and rearrangement of the meeting room and chair storage areas.  Whilst the original Building Contractor E. C. Gransden & Sons carried out the work, the Architect this time was Michael Kilgour of MKA Chartered Architects in Hadlow.  The construction was overseen by Don Diffey, a Trustee of the village hall at the time.  Upon completion of the work, the building was opened by the then Mayor of Swale, Mrs Ann McLean who, after cutting a ribbon, was presented with a basket of flowers by children from the Upchurch Playgroup.  This was then followed by a tea party for the elderly residents in the village.

Further modifications took place in 2009 when the old wooden windows were replaced with more modern upvc double glazed ones.  In 2011 the hall was closed for a week during which time asbestos lining that had been identified under the stage area was removed and in 2017 the external asbestos guttering was replaced with upvc.  During the same year the heating units in the main hall were upgraded to more efficient gas fired ones. 

In November 2011 50th year Celebrations took place.  An evening concert was held in the hall featuring many local residents singing and playing various instruments.  The evening culminated in the Three Towns Theatre Group singing a medley of songs and asking the audience to join in with them.

In November 2018 a height restriction barrier was installed at the end of the trackway leading into the carparking area.  This was to stop trespassers with high vehicles, trailers and the like from entering the village hall grounds without permission.  The barrier was funded and installed by Kent Trade Frames.

August 2020 saw the start of a major refurbishment project of the hall.  The initial work carried out included a new electrically operated smoke detection and fire alarm system, updating the main electrics, in particular in the main electrical cupboard, a new ceiling and lighting system in the main hall along with new fire doors and a floor covering.  This was laid over the original 1960’s sprung floor which was beginning to show signs of wear.  In the back hall the old heaters were replaced with more efficient gas fired ones and the lighting was upgraded to more efficient LED units the same as the main hall.  Lighting and electric heating units were also replaced in the corridor, toilet areas, meeting room and chair store room.  All these projects were funded by grants received from various funders including Kent County Council, Swale Borough Council, Local Councillors, Queenborough Fisheries Trust, the Co-op, Garfield Weston Foundation along with other donations received from Private Individuals, Village Organisations, fund raising within the village or a combination of both for which the Trustees of the village hall were most grateful.

Following further fund raising, in August 2021 refurbishment work continued in the back hall converting it into two separate areas.  This was to enable to lower area to be hired out without there being any noise interruption from activities happening in the main hall, something that had been a cause of concern between various Hirers in the past.  The work consisted of a sound proof partition positioned on the upper level with a set of soundproof double doors linking the two areas together.  An additional inner ceiling complete with module lighting panels, similar to that in the main hall, was installed in the lower-level area.  At the same time, additional external lighting illuminating the car park area was also installed.

Upchurch Village Hall was first proposed some 90 years ago now and finally came to fruition in 1961 and has been at the heart of the village community ever since that date.  Whilst some of the village clubs that exist today functioned during the 1960s many do not.  These includes the Mother’s Union, the Darby and Joan Club, the Table Tennis Club, the Youth Club, the Badminton Club, Upchurch Horticultural Society and the Upchurch Play Group although the last two are still in existence but have transferred to other locations within the village.

Current groups regularly using the hall include Upchurch Active Retirement Association (UpARA), Bowls, Pilates, Tai Chi, Uplift, the Women’s Institute, the Upchurch Players, as well as other groups meeting for socialising, health and wellbeing on a not so regular basis.  All these, and others, are open to people in the village of Upchurch and surrounding area.  Additional to these activities the hall is also used as a Voting Station whenever there is a General or Local Election as well as being hired out for private functions such as Wedding Receptions, Birthday and Anniversary Parties, Theatre Rehearsals, Model Railway Enthusiasts, Spiritual Groups and occasionally for external Company Training of things such as First Aid and the like.  Currently the hall is also being used by Rainham Tuition, a private company who provide additional tuition for pupils approaching their 11+ exam.

Over the years operational costs have increased.  Currently it costs in excess of £20,000 per year to keep the hall open.  These costs include, insurance, refuse collection, gas, water and electricity along with general running, cleaning and maintenance upkeep.  Additional to these the UVHMC are required to hold various licences as well as carrying out statutory gas, electrical and fire inspections.  This money does not come from grants as has much of the building works but the income from lettings.  With the recent COVID-19 shutdown this has been a difficult time for the management of the hall as in spite of there being no income certain bills still had to be paid.  Fortunately, because of careful financial management by the Trustees, the village hall has survived the shut-down and is once again open for all to use.

Most recently the UVHMC received a Hallmark 1 award from ACRE showing recognition of how the hall is both looked after and managed.

The village hall is now 60 years old.  It is because of the work and attention that the various Management Committees, not forgetting the large number of volunteers at various times, have given to it over those years that it remains the safe and usable village hall that it is today.  What the future of the village hall holds is unknown.  What we can be sure of though is that if future Trustees look after it in the same way as all those have in the past it should still be the village asset that it is today and give many more people the use and enjoyment that it has for others over the past 60 years.

By Edward Murphy with many thanks to Jan Lacy.
4th November, 2021.