Side project – the village hall

Another thing that’s been keeping me occupied for the past year or so is our village hall.  Our village had an old hall, built by subscription in the 1920s, and in 2018 a newly-formed committee decided to try and raise some money to renovate it for its 100th birthday as it was looking a bit sorry for itself and was barely being used.

We’re lucky in my area that community projects have the opportunity to apply for money from SSE’s windfarm funds, thanks to having one a few miles away.  And we did some fundraising ourselves, including a very popular bingo and cake night that proved to us there was a demand for bringing the hall back into full use (any health and safety officers, please look away now!).

We were awarded an initial £11,500 to employ an architect to do a feasibility study for us and he came up with a plan of taking down the kitchen and toilet extensions and the porch and then building a big steel-framed building over the top of the hall itself, retaining the original heart of the building and putting new loos, kitchen and an entrance hall around it.  Then one day we turned up to a meeting to find him waiting for us, wearing a boiler suit, with a pile of floorboards lifted, looking rather ashen.  This is all that was holding the main floor up – the whole length and width of it was propped like this.

It could obviously take some weight, as evidenced by the amount of people at the bingo, and many people in the village had fond recollections of how well-sprung the floor was at dances, but from a public liability point of view, as well as building standards, it was a non-starter.  So after a lot of drawing and re-drawing and an unexpected large legal bill when we found out the hall actually belonged not to the committee but to six trustees appointed in the 1930s who were all dead, meaning we had to apply to the High Court in Edinburgh to confirm new trustees, the old hall was carefully taken to pieces and taken away to start a new life on a nearby croft as an agricultural shed.

In March this year, the builders started on the groundworks.

They were making great progress – in three weeks they had the foundations complete and inspected by the council, poured the slab, laid out the pipework for the underfloor heating system and poured the screed over the top.  The day the first half of the kit frame was delivered to site, Nicola Sturgeon shut down all construction sites due to Covid.

It was three months before we were allowed to commence work again, but I’ll say this: a kit frame building goes up flipping quickly!

Currently we have the roof on and we’re waiting for the exterior cladding, which has made it as far as Inverness and hopefully will turn up on site this week – it’s large sheets and nobody wants to be fixing them in winter winds, which can gust to 100mph here and may reach 45-50 as a base speed.  The guys have been sorting out the inside in the meantime and it looks amazing – just look at the new main hall.  Doors at the back lead to storage area and a green room which will also double as a drinks serving area for functions etc. (if and when we’re ever allowed to do them again!)

We’ve got a bigger kitchen with yards and yards of storage space, plus the island in the middle to plate up on and a serving hatch through to the main hall.  A double Rangemaster is going into the blank space on the right of the picture next to the door.  The kitchen has a separate handwashing sink to comply with the council’s environmental health standards and we’re exploring the option to let anyone locally who wants to have a crack at starting a food business use it for a while to test their market, so they don’t have to get their home kitchen certified straight away.

The entrance hall has an office with a ticket window, the loos are to the other side and we’ve also got two shower rooms – being on the North Coast 500 we get a lot of passing tourists and the hall is opposite the path down to the beach, so we’re hoping to raise some income from opening the loos and showers to public use every day.  Initially it’ll be on a donations system, but we have the option to add pay-per-use locks at a later date.  (I have no idea why this picture has come out so small!)

It’s been my first involvement with a new build and it’s been FASCINATING.  Whilst old buildings are always going to be my first love, this has really whetted my appetite to do a new build of my own in future.  Or two.  Or three.  Or more…