Village Halls Refurbishment Project 1984-1987

This article was written in 1987 by Margaret Allison who had just retired as Secretary to Leigh Village Halls at the time describing the endeavours to raise funds for the refurbishment of the Leigh Village Halls between 1984 and 1987 following the Halls transfer from the Morley Trust to the Leigh Parish Council.


In April 1984, at a specially-called Parish Meeting, ownership of a complex of Victorian buildings was transferred from the Morley Trust to the village of Leigh, with the Parish Council as Custodian Trustee and a Management Committee as Management Trustee.  The handing-over was a result of many months of consideration and consultation by the Parish Council and the Morley Trust, as the buildings were in need of full repair and the Morley Trust had no available funds for such works.

The buildings had been in operation as a Village Hall (now the Small Village Hall) and a British Legion Hall (now the Large Village Hall) and British Legion Clubroom with living quarters for steward adjoining.  The old Hall Management Committee and the Royal British Legion had held their portions of the complex on leases from the Morley Trust and it was, therefore, not possible to rely on grant-aid under that format, as leasehold property is not normally given aid.

During the months of planning, a firm of consultant engineers had given advice as to the scope of work needed.  The Kent Voluntary Service Council in the person of Mary Perridge (who I hope may have read this and know that we have won through!) gave much time and advice to all involved, and the culmination of all this was when Lord Hollenden, whose family set up the Morley Trust, formally handed over the deeds to the Chairman of the Parish Council and immediately following this a new Halls (note the plural) Management Committee was set up, conforming with the Charity Commission’s requirements.  The old Hall Management Committee had its ‘elected village members’, of whom I was one, and we were ‘drafted’ as the elected members of the new Committee, and representative members were appointed by all the user-organisations of both Halls.  This gave us a large group to attack the problems ahead.

Three meetings were held that evening – the first gave way to a Final Meeting of the old Hall Management Committee, which had itself been registered with the Charity Commission and so formalities had to be observed to close us down.  Following this, the newly appointed Halls Management Committee had a brief meeting at which we chose some officers in order to keep the running of the Halls going smoothly and to empower a small group to consider recommendations to be put to the whole Committee at its first real meeting concerning our next steps forward.  We also hastily co-opted to our ranks a solicitor who lived in the village and who had advised and helped in all the preliminaries to this new format being set up; it was he who did all the legal work on the Trust Deed, making everyone feel happy that things were properly in order.

The next few meetings were full.  A General Purposes Committee was set up, whose main function was to plan and see over the building work, the application for grant-aid, and the overall funding of the project (a Fund-raising Committee also being appointed to carry out its self-evident task).  There was a certain amount of dissension to the basic project, and we learned of a small following in the village for an idea to sell off the Halls complex and build a new hall with the proceeds (where? – no site springs to mind).  However, the main body of feeling was that we had been given the task of repairing the buildings in order that they could continue in much the same usage as before, and that we shouldn’t give up until we had tried.  So, with only three months before the closing date for grant applications, we set to work.

A specification of work was drawn up by a surveyor and a builder on the Committee and tenders were obtained.  The Treasurer worked out a plan for the funding of the project (a total of about £50,000 – meaning our share to be raised would be £12,500); our buildings are all listed and at that time it was believed that this relieved us of the burden of V.A.T.  As Secretary I drafted pages of application (history, usage, etc) and at length the application went in and we sat back and waiting for the result, which we were told to expect in October.

‘Sat back’ is quite the wrong expression!  The work of fund-raising was now in full swing, as we had to be able to show a meaningful amount of our quota for the grant application to be given serious consideration.  A marvellous start had been given by an anonymous offer of £500, if five other £500s were obtained within three months!  We asked (through an intermediary) whether syndicated £500s were acceptable and, on being told that they were, set to work to find generous givers who would help us.  In due course – and within the deadline, four other £500s had been promised, either shared or syndicated, and then – at the eleventh-hour indeed – a final (also anonymous) giver provided the last one!  We also circularised the village, house-to-house asking for donations, preferably covenanted and got a very good response, and functions were planned and held.  We duly gave our up-to-the-minute total to the District Council officer who was handling our grant application and – frightful disappointment – they turned us down.

We hadn’t really expected it – everyone had been so encouraging, and it was a shock.  With hindsight, however, it was maybe a good thing, as we had had to do it all in such a hurry, and now we had another eight or nine months to reorganise, raise more money, and reapply.  We also now discovered that Listed Building status did not avoid V.A.T., so this increased our liability at once – another blow.  We were unable to discover full reasons for our refusal, but one reason seemed to be that we were asking to re-roof both Halls – the query being whether the Large Hall really needed it.  Thank goodness we stuck to our guns for our next application: when the old roof was taken off at the end of last year, quite a lot of rot was discovered, where only a little had been identifiable before, as well as the slates being found to be ‘live’ (a lovely expression!), so our roof badly needed its renewal.

So we were back to the drawing board.  Our building experts and our Chairman went over the specification with a toothcomb and insisted that all the work was essential and that we should not be persuaded otherwise.  A few amendments were made and a statement was included in the new application, giving our reasons for including the new roof to the Large Hall.  A lot more fund-raising had been going on and we had quite a good proportion of our required total – considerably more now being needed, as we knew we had to find an extra 15% to cover V.A.T.   Builders’ costs, too, had risen and the new application was for nearly £70,000 – of which our share would be around £17,500.  However, we knew we could find our total before any building would be started, so with slightly less confidence than the previous year, in went our application.

The District Council had its decision-making meeting in the autumn, and they decided to approve our grant, but only to the tune of a maximum grant of £39,000; this, with our 25% added, would allow us to carry out only about £48,000 worth of works.

This would have been another terrible bombshell had it not been for ‘Oast to Coast’.  I had recently read the article telling Village Halls that V.A.T. could be avoided on the grant-aided portion of works, given certain procedures, and after some careful arithmetic, we realised that this would just about make good the difference.  We, therefore, committed ourselves to go forward to the County Council stage of the grant application with the specification unchanged, hoping that they would not cut our requirements back any further, as we would then have been in trouble.  We were told that we would hear by the end of February.

They then postponed the meeting, and then postponed it again, and finally held it at the end of March.  We had unofficial news that we were successful from David Allford, who was on the decision-making panel, but no amount of asking could elicit the official confirmation from the County Council until the end of April, when we at long last heard that we could go ahead.

It was by then nearly a year since our builders had requoted their figures, and we had to face the fact that our costs had risen again by more than £2,000 by virtue of the delay!  However, we were still optimistic and set about organising a scheme that would allow use to carry out our full specification by avoiding the V.A.T. on all the proportion of the work covered by the £39,000 that would be payable in grants.

We knew that the Otford Hall Committee had been successful in making a scheme of this sort the previous year, so we talked to a member of their Committee and he was most encouraging.  There are two methods of arranging this, and our solicitor member decided that the best for us would be to have two separate contracts – one for the total of grant-aided works, to be between the Parish Council and our builder, and the other, for the remainder of the work, between the builder and ourselves.  The Parish Council would, therefore, arrange for the grant monies from District and County Councils to be paid direct to them, and they would pay the bills due on their contract, as and when presented.  The Parish Council could then reclaim the V.A.T. on the work, as they can on all services carried out on their behalf.  Both Parish and District Councils, while anxious to help, were cautious as to the viability of the scheme.  Our solicitor, however, contacted the V.A.T. people in London and between them they organised an approved method of procedure and this allayed the Councils’ fears.  The contracts were drawn up and signed.

These planning stages had taken up to the end of June and the builders were now beginning to face their holiday times.  Work could not begin until the end of the September, or early October, and should be finished during February.  We appointed an Overseeing Officer and looked forward to things happening.

It is now early May; the work is nearly finished.  We have had torrential rain in the autumn, the worst snow the region has known for years after Christmas, difficulty in finding replacement roof slates other than at enormous cost, and far more rot than had been envisaged.  We have surmounted all of this, and are now able to look at the Halls with pleasure.  They look much the same, but somehow smarter outside and the insides have all been redecorated, some new flooring has been laid, new lighting and heating systems installed.  They look good, and are pleasant places for events, meetings and sports.  Best of all, they are structurally sound for the future.

Anyone want to hire a Hall?