Communities benefit hugely from having their own village hall – neighbourhood hubs that generate social and educational opportunities, bring local people together and help combat exclusion. There are some 10,000 village halls in England, and last weekend, the rural village of Sandleheath, near Fordingbridge, opened one of its very own.
The new village hall is housed in the attractive, Arts and Crafts-style, former church mission building of St. Aldhelm’s. It is managed by a local charity, and during the past two years, the trustees have raised some £200,000 to renovate and refurbish the building to make it fit for its new purpose – an astonishing achievement. The works programme, which largely employed local companies, is complete, and Sandleheath now has a delightful, modern hall that will markedly enhance the community’s rural village life. This splendid addition to the New Forest district’s amenities is also available for hire to the wider public.
On Friday 23rd July a formal Opening Ceremony was held in front of invited guests, including members of the Hampshire County Council, the New Forest District Council, the Sandleheath Parish Council, and a variety of organisations that have contributed to the outcome. The trustees were privileged to host the Vice Chairman of New Forest District Council, Councillor Alan O’Sullivan.
Sandleheath was once a busy brickmaking community, and St. Aldhelm’s was built by ‘Sandleheath men from Sandleheath bricks’. The foundation stone was laid in 1907 by Lady Katherine Hulse, widow of the 5th Baronet Hulse of Breamore House, whose family donated the land. It was thus hugely fitting that some 114 years later, the building was officially opened in its new role by Michael Hulse, Lady Katherine’s great-great-grandson who lives and works in Breamore House – a wonderful historical link. Michael unveiled a brass plaque commemorating the event, which is located on the wall above the foundation stone laid by his forbear.
In a speech given during the ceremony, the Chairman of the Board of Trustees, Keith Bennett, welcomed Michael and the other guests and applauded the many councils, businesses, trusts, foundations and individuals who had made generous contributions to the Village Hall Refurbishment Appeal. He highlighted the fact that the Sandleheath community itself had donated some £11,000 of the total raised. He also thanked the three councils present for the steadfast and enthusiastic support that they had given the project throughout its progress.
Keith told the assembly the story of the hall’s development that had begun with the trustees taking out a 25-year lease on St. Aldhelm’s in 2018 and had now reached its happy conclusion. He said: ‘Throughout this process, we not only wanted to create a stylish, modern community amenity, but also to sensitively preserve this much-loved landmark to be enjoyed by generations to come. I hope you will agree that we have met both ambitions.’
On the afternoon of Saturday 24th July, a Grand Village Hall Opening Party took place in the village hall and its grounds. Despite the forecast, the weather was kind, and the many residents who attended were able not only to inspect their beautiful village hall in its completed state, but to enjoy the entertainment on offer. This included a pop-up pub, live music, a children’s entertainer, and tea, coffee and cakes by the Village Hall Team. A great time was had by all. Sandleheath Village Hall was created to bring people together – it’s already started.