How the local community saved Poulton’s St Chad’s Church Hall

Members of Vicarage Park Community Centre

Members of Vicarage Park Community Centre - Credit: Archant

Poulton people came together to give an historic church hall a major overhaul, as Stephen Spencer reports.

Lots of people were involved in the renovation work

Lots of people were involved in the renovation work - Credit: not Archant

Built in 1925 in the Arts and Crafts style, Poulton’s St Chad’s Church Hall is right in the heart of the conservation area. Bounded by a long-established tennis club and the manicured greenery of Vicarage Park, it’s hard to imagine a more timeless piece of Poulton-le-Fylde.

But the building looked doomed in 2013. A damning surveyor’s report listed major structural problems and St Chad’s church council members felt unable to meet the repair costs. The cracks were truly beginning to show and demolition was on the cards.

Fast forward to July 2018 and a re-invigorated, re-christened ‘VPCC Community Hall’ is bouncing to a tropical beach party. Poulton People’s Choir is celebrating another successful musical year, refreshed by rum punch and local ‘Rock Solid’ craft ale. Musical Director Tony Brindle-Wills is singing the praises of the ‘fantastic community resource’; a far cry from the sombre, teetotal early days when the hall was first opened by Dr William Temple, Bishop of Manchester, on Armistice Day, 1925.

In February of that year, members of St Chad’s Church had formed a committee of local worthies to plan for a new hall. One of the members was Alderman William Hodgson JP (later chairman of Lancashire Education Committee) who gave his name to Lancashire’s first mixed secondary school in 1932.

The former St Chad's Church Hall

The former St Chad's Church Hall - Credit: Archant

And in a strange plot twist, plans for a new health centre and church hall were finally sunk at a stormy planning meeting in July 2010 – at Hodgson School. Perhaps Sir William was looking after his legacy.

Years of energetic campaigning by ‘Concerned Residents of Poulton’ finally paid off. In 2014 an agreement was made with Blackburn Diocese to lease the hall to a new community trust: the Vicarage Park Community Centre. Poultonian Alastair Thomas, with his background in shipping, was elected to take the helm. Now he and his crew had to raise tens of thousands of pounds and save the building from the ravages of time.

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Two generous donations enabled the building work to begin in earnest and a project manager, Bruce Jenkins, was appointed to oversee the loyal volunteers and local tradespeople. Trustees have raised almost £150,000 so far (kick-started by Sarah Walsh’s 19 hour 25 minute ‘walkathon’), plus support from Wyre Borough Council and local businesses. Their remarkable story is told in full on the VPCC Facebook page and website, (where donations can still be made).

So Alastair and his team began rebuilding the stairtower and rear gable wall, reinforcing the original iron framework, replacing plumbing and wiring and redecorating inside and out.

Trustee and Environmental Champion Chris Gannon ensured the project has used solvent-free paint, energy-efficient heating, LED lighting and water-saving toilets; salvaged equipment and building materials include the bar, which was donated by the developer of Poulton’s Breck Club. Chris says Lancashire’s Environmental Fund will be tapped next for a grant of £30,000 towards new windows and roof insulation. Wendy Barnes, chair of theatre group The Chaddeans, is excited about the group treading the old boards once more.

Their own 19 hour 25 minute ‘danceathon’ made £5000 and they’ve recently been raising money for stage curtains. Linda Hunter of Poulton Drama is also keen to support the hall, with its ‘fabulous stage, ample seating space and loads of parking nearby’.

Poulton Band secretary Neil Jones is equally impressed. Noting the Trust’s ‘fantastic resolve and determination’, he says the band is looking forward to entertaining the people of Poulton again in this ‘much valued building’.

St Chad’s ‘Little Gang’ Leader Sarah Carrick is ‘very keen to see our playgroup group return to its natural home in the heart of the town’, a point echoed by mums who can now walk with their prams to the hall, instead of driving to Singleton, as before. And next door at St Chad’s Tennis Club, vice-chair Tracey Dewhurst is delighted to see the hall’s new lease of life: ‘It’s been a huge effort – and it’s massively appreciated,’ she said.

As well as the impressive hall, the new facilities include three meeting rooms and fully accessible toilets. Hall manager Jean Parkes is upbeat, with wedding receptions already booked in, as well as yoga sessions, zumba, Tumbletots, and the rest.

The vicar of St Chad’s, Rev Martin Keighley, said: ‘I can only pay tribute to the trustees and their volunteer helpers, for their perseverance in reaching this point and I wish them continued success with their future plans.’

One former booking would not be welcomed back – on January 13th 1937 a meeting was held in the church hall by the Blackshirts, the British fascist group later banned in wartime Britain. The guest speaker was Captain Vincent Collier, head of propaganda, who addressed the ‘patriotic workers’ of Poulton-le-Fylde. Their own newspaper reported that the meeting was ‘well attended, many questions asked and answered with good support from the area’.

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