"Impossible" dream of new hall for South Ribble village to be realised after council cash boost

Residents of a South Ribble village can at last be confident that they will see the completion of a long-planned community venue, after the final slice of funding for the ambitious project was secured.

Friday, 19th February 2021, 2:23 pm
Howard Davidson, chair of the trustees of Hoole Village Memorial Hall, and Cllr Matthew Tomlinson, cabinet member for resources at South Ribble Borough Council, pictured outside the nearly-complete new building

South Ribble Borough Council has stepped in to provide a £150,000 loan and £50,000 grant to support the rebuilding of the village hall in Much Hoole.

A decade-long fundraising effort, which generated hundreds of thousands of pounds – coupled with contributions from the parish council – had nevertheless left the project short of its financial target.

The first of two phases of work to create a replacement building for the rundown facility got under way last year and is now nearing its end.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

The new village hall in Much Hoole, pictured under construction in summer 2020

The borough council’s cash should ensure that the new venue will be finished to the full specification that village hall trustees had hoped for.

The funding was approved at a recent cabinet meeting, at which council leader Paul Foster described the scheme as “a fantastic development”.

“It’s a huge enhancement to what they’ve had [in the village] and can only benefit the community,” he said.

The district authority says that it has undertaken “due diligence” on the loan to the hall, which has turned a profit in each of the last three years.

The existing post-war building is currently in the process of being decommissioned and it is understood that it will be demolished next month. Its replacement is being constructed in the current car park area.

Phase one of the project is expected to be completed by May, when the new hall’s first usage likely to be as a polling station for the local elections.

The second stage will create additional activity areas and will include the provision of two snooker tables – whose absence from phase one due to a lack of space has proved a source of frustration among local players.

Howard Davidson, chair of the trustees of Hoole Village Memorial Hall, said that, together with the borough and parish councils, they had “achieved the impossible”.

“Having already raised more than £480,000, the grant and loan from South Ribble Borough Council allows us to get this fantastic community facility over the line and finished to a high standard.

“Whilst Covid-19 has caused delays, disruption and increased construction prices, we have, through careful stewardship, been able to contain costs,” Mr. Davidson added.

An anonymously-submitted public question asked at the cabinet meeting where the borough contribution was approved, expressed concern that Much Hoole Parish Council would “be used to repay the South Ribble Borough Council loan” – a theory based on the parish’s cash support for the project to date.

However, parish council chair Russ Weaver dismissed the claim.

“Several years ago, the parish council sold some land that it owned that was surplus to requirements and that money was set aside to support the rebuilding of the village hall, on the assurance that the village hall trustees could get match-funding to make sure that the build could be completed.

“When we had sufficient confidence that that was going to be the case, we began transferring that money, so building work could start – and that transfer is almost complete.

“There has been absolutely no discussion whatsoever – and certainly no agreement – that the parish council would play any part in underwriting loans or being in any way involved in the repayment of loans – because the council has done its part and we’re looking to the village hall trustees to continue the project based on other sources of funding,” Mr. Weaver explained, adding that some parish council tax rises in recent years had been used to “top up” its total contribution of around £300,000.

Joking that he was no relation to the most famous parish clerk in the land – Jackie Weaver, who clerked the infamous Handforth Parish Council meeting that went viral after descending into acrimony – Mr. Weaver added that he had always ensured that none of those parish councillors who are also village hall trustees had ever taken part in council decisions relating to the authority’s support for the project.

“The council and the trustees are two totally different organisations – and my job is to ensure that no conflicts of interest come into play.”