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Hall History

Building a new village hall for Wilbarston became a real issue within the village during the early 1970s when it became glaringly obvious (and slightly embarrassingly perhaps?) that one of the largest villages in the North West of the County did not have a village hall. More embarrassingly, it was surrounded by smaller villages like Ashley and Stoke Albany that did! Previously, the village had held its social functions and activities across a variety of temporary venues – such as the village school and the Fox pub. But there were many obvious constraints and this arrangement was never entirely satisfactory. Then In 1974 Wilbarston Parish Council made a decision and, with support from Kettering Borough Council, investigated a number of possible sites around the village that it felt could be utilised or converted into a dedicated village hall. The favourite contender at the time was the old Methodist Chapel off Main Street. However, a closer inspection of the building structure revealed that, apart from being on the small side, the renovation costs would be excessive; and it would be much cheaper to build a new village hall from scratch. And so the project to build a new hall was born!

Wilbarston builds its new hall

Records reveal that fund raising for the new hall began in 1975 and involved the whole community from the outset. By the end of the first year, the fund stood at £2,000! However, the estimated cost to build the hall was a whopping £40,000! Therefore, if the project was ever to get of the ground, it would require a high level of extra financial support from local and national Government. Step forward Kettering Borough Council  who by 1977,had organised and provided a package of generous grants and loans totalling some £30,000. However, the village community did not hold back from fund raising! A host of fundraising events were organised ranging from dances in the village school and at Desborough Leisure Centre through to selling tickets for a 200 Club Draw at the Fox pub. By the middle of 1977 the fund total had reached £6,000 – a not inconsiderable sum in 1977! Added to the grants and loans already secured, the target figure of £40,000 was eventually reached by the end of 1977and building work could begin at last. 

The site earmarked for the new hall was on the playing field off Carlton Road.  The landlord, Kettering Borough Council, agreed to lease a section of land for the site to the Parish Council. However to facilitate this lease arrangement, and to release the necessary funding to build the hall, Kettering Borough Council insisted the village establish the hall as a registered charity. This was agreed and the charitable status of the hall was therefore brought into being via a legal Trust Deed. In the Deed, the Parish Council would be designated as ‘Custodian Trustees’ and the operation and maintenance of the hall would be devolved to ‘Management Trustees’; in effect, a committee of volunteers from the village. The Parish Council would lease the land on which the hall was built from the Council over a rolling 25 year term and hand over day-to-day running of the hall to a ‘Management Committee’. The current lease was renewed in 2008.

After a formal tendering process, the contract to build the hall was awarded to Deejak Builders (Rushden) Ltd and work on the structure commenced in October 1977 – being completed in May 1978. Whilst the hall was being built, the village had to prepare itself to organise and operate the hall as a community venture. The main task was to set about drafting a Constitution and recruiting a Management Committee of volunteers to operate the new hall. With a new Constitution in place, the new Committee held its first AGM at the end of 1977. Wilbarston village hall was officially opened as a community facility on Saturday 22nd July 1978 by the High Sheriff of Northamptonshire, Commander L.M.M. Saunders-Watson, RN with a host of other local dignitaries in attendance.  

Given the size of the village, fundraising and organising a project on this scale has to be regarded as an outstanding achievement by all involved– especially as the wider economic conditions of that era meant that funding was scarce and hard to obtain.  Searching the files and village hall archives, it becomes clear to any reader that the enthusiastic efforts made by the village community during this period must have had a significant influence on the decisions by Kettering Borough Council and National Government agencies for them to award what were generous grants and loans to build the hall. This impression is exemplified by a  quote from a letter sent to the Charity Commission by Kettering Borough Council in early 1977 when the hall applied to become a registered charity. It states: “One of the main factors behind my Council approving this project has been the spectacular local effort and support over a relatively short time….” At last the village now had a place to call its own!

Finally, filled with optimism and enthusiasm at the building of the new hall, one of the first tasks of the management committee was to organise a competition in the village to find an attractive, innovative name for the new hall (other villages having exotic titles for their village hall such as “Coronation Hall, Queen’s hall etc) With a fantastic display or originality and no lesser display of rural irony, the chosen title was, yes you’ve guessed, Wilbarston Village Hall!!  Apparently the ‘choice’ made for much amusement beyond the village boundary and even featured nationally in the Reader’s Digest [does anybody have a copy of that article]. 

As the village evolved over the years, different management committees have engaged in a constant process of extension and improvement to the hall facilities to keep pace with village expansion and the varying demands of different social and sports groups; whilst a at the same time trying to ensure the building’s infrastructure was maintained in a sound state of repair. In the late 1980s building extensions were made to the rear of the main hall which added a large stage area to facilitate concerts and a thriving amateur dramatics scene (see below). At the same time, new changing rooms were added to accommodate various sports activities – Wilbarston even had its own football team! Then in 1991, a further extension was made at the rear of the kitchen/bar area to add extra storage capacity for tables, chairs, play equipment etc 

But as the hall approached its 40th birthday, it became apparent that the hall was really starting to show its age. There were serious structural issues with the roof constantly leaking (at one point causing a partial collapse into the main hall during a toddler’s event). A survey in 2015 revealed that the hall very inefficient in terms of energy with poor insulation, a failing gas boiler, outdated lighting, draughty and defective windows and doors to name but a few of the problem areas. In addition the kitchen was in a sad condition: dated, poorly equipped, unhygienic and generally unattractive to users.  And so, in 2016 the Management Committee decided to embark on a rolling programme of “Eco renovation and renewal” to bring the hall up to modern standards of energy efficiency and to meet new regulations of safety, security and hygiene: but ultimately, to provide a pleasant environment for the users. Through a continuous and successful series of applications for external grant funding; and with contributions from the hall’s own fundraising efforts – some £80,000 was generated for improvements.  With this available funding a whole series of projects were set in motion and by 2020 the hall had been completely renovated. It now has a complete new roof, a modern, well equipped kitchen; fully insulated loft and walls, new boiler, LED lighting and many other improvements.  Still more improvements are planned in the future when conditions and funding permit, but it is fair to say that the hall is now structurally good for another 40 years!