The first recorded meeting of the Hermitage Village Hall trustees took place on 20th July 1960. The hall was created from the old school after it relocated to the site where it still exists. The Old School Cottage was occupied by the school caretaker and his wife who remained there until 1994. The Old School was remodelled in 1962 at a cost of £6145 and opened on 24th August to provide the hall that many will remember located just south of the Marlston Road and High Street Junction. The site is now occupied by four modern redbrick houses.
Hermitage Village Hall has been at the focus of village social life for many years. In 1994 we managed to buy the Old School Cottage and associated land which gave Preschool more space and the hall more storage, but the village was fast outgrowing the old hall which was in need of renovation and had no more room to expand; a new plan was needed.
There had been talk about developing the Cementation site for many years, but pressure on West Berks Council to build new houses began to make this more likely. We lobbied the council to make provision for a new hall in the plan to develop what is now Forest Edge and succeeded in getting land allocated and S106 financial provision.
We engaged an architect and drew up a scheme which that would deliver a hall for the future. 275 houses were built on Forest Edge making even more demands on the existing hall. Unfortunately, the conditions of the S106 agreement stated the money could not be paid until the playing field was complete, and this was not achieved until 2011 when we finally received £108,858. This had to be spent on a new village hall or we would have to return it to the developers; so the real work began. Detailed costings were produced, and a full planning application was submitted to West Berks Council.
We had applied to The Greenham Common Trust (GCT) for financial support and I was contacted by the CEO to discuss the application. The conversation resulted in an offer from Greenham Common Trust of £250,000 provided it could be matched by the people of Hermitage. The only way this could happen was if the Parish Council (PC) agreed to borrow from the Public Works Loan Board with the interest and capital paid back via the precept, and this would mean about £40 per year going on Residents’ Council Tax bills. This was about a 2% rise in council tax, but it increased the precept by 40% and the PC were reluctant to do this without holding a referendum.
The PC eventually held a referendum in 2012 and there was a clear majority in favour of the new hall, but the PC were still unwilling to apply for the loan.
We continued to prepare for the eventual build of the hall using the S106 funds. Work included ground surveys to determine the integrity of the underlying chalk as there were historical reports of chalk mining in the area. Detailed specification of the heating and lighting systems, and structural engineering assessments. We also changed the status of the Hall to a Charitable Incorporated Organisation to protect the trustees from risk as we were planning to enter into high value commercial contracts.
West Berks Council then transferred all the land to the PC, and so we had to negotiate lease arrangements with the PC. Solicitors were engaged and boundaries and conditions were eventually agreed.
Meanwhile the existing village hall had to be formally valued to meet Charity Commission rules and was put up for sale for £850,000.
Tenders for the construction of the new hall went out to seven companies, and they included the option to buy the old hall and land as part payment. Six were returned and evaluated.
We expected that the bidders would come in over budget and we would need to negotiate to make the project affordable, so we had to remove the changing rooms completely, and the small hall, kitchen, secondary toilets, committee room and office would be left as a shell for later completion.
We would complete the large hall, the toilets including disabled facilities and a smaller kitchen completely usable. Shortlisted tenderers were asked to retender.
The lowest bid included the option to buy the old hall and land for £810,000 subject to planning permission. Discussions followed, and eventually the company agreed to buy the old hall without planning permission but for £800,000 and wanted a decision by Friday of that week. The trustees were all in favour of this offer as it meant the project was fully funded. The PC met on Thursday.
At a cards on the table meeting, the PC were appraised of the situation and it was made clear that this was a once in a lifetime opportunity to deliver a world class village hall for Hermitage that the residents had voted for. The trustees were unlikely to want to continue looking after a hall that was no longer fit for purpose. At which point the PC agreed to seek a loan to match GCT’s offer.
Construction began in July 2014.By careful cost control and redirecting unused contingency, we were able to complete more than we planned. We installed the underfloor heating throughout, completed the office, the main kitchen, the hallway to the incomplete, but now usable small hall.
The hall was used for the first time on 7th May 2015 as a polling station.
Overall, the project took 10 years to complete and the final cost was £1,501,530.41, comprising of £1,248,612 for the building contract and £252,918.41 for professional fees and interest payments.
This was paid by
- Village Hall funds: £95,672.41
- S106 funds: £105,858
- Village Hall sale: £800,000
- GCT grant: £250,000
- PC grant: £250,000
Since then we have completed the committee room and are close to completing the secondary toilets. We will then tackle the small hall, after which the hall will be complete and will become the focus for community activity for the foreseeable future.