Help Save St Mary's Church Hall House Hall!
The building then known as Church House, which includes our community hall, was built adjacent to St Mary’s Church after the First World War under a Deed of Trust created in 1918. Its use was mainly as a church hall and Sunday school.
Church House was sold to Magna Housing Association in 1999 and the existing hall comprises half of the ground floor. Now leased by a newly registered Charitable Incorporated Organisation, St Mary’s Church House Hall Trust, the hall continues to serve the people of Bridport and its surrounding area in West Dorset as a community hall used by a wide cross section of people.
Current and past users and activities at the Hall House include:
- Community clubs
- Charitable endeavours such as packing food hampers for those in need
- Four different dance groups (Bridport Youth, Friday Women's Dance, Scottish and Ceilidhs)
- Tots Time, a local 'tots and mums' group
- Dementia-friendly activities
- Exercise and health classes such as Yoga and T'ai Chi
- Dog training
- St Mary's itself, the adjacent church
- Small commercial concessions such as Slimming World and Weight Watchers
- Occasional funeral wakes and private parties
The hall is run by the St Mary’s Church House Hall Management Committee, made up exclusively of volunteers from representatives of current and previous hirers of the hall; this 'executive' committee reports to the Charitable Trust.
All income is derived from hirers and the hall is intended to run on a not-for-profit basis. Annual income and expenditure over recent years have been in the order of £13,000 – 16,000. We do not run events ourselves or profit directly from the events which groups run.
WHY IS THIS MUCH-USED LOCAL AMENITY AT RISK?
As you can imagine, Hall finances have been badly hit by the series of Covid-19 restrictions - the various lock down situations of the past year and additional associated expenses.
The hall was shut due to lockdowns and restrictions for a total of 235 days in 2020 alone and full use this year may not be achieved until after June or as late as September. All income is derived from hire fees – so no income when the hall has to be shut. In 1919, a 'normal' year, the hall was in use an average of 37.5 hours per week, typically 7.5 hours a day (in the usual Monday to Friday usage). This amounts to about a third of 'available' hours.
The hall has been kept open as far as possible to those hirers allowed (and willing) to return, and 'Covid-secure' measures have been introduced as per A.C.R.E. guidelines to rural communities. As a leased hall, the Management Committee is responsible for all its internal matters - these include:
- Necessary cleaning and ‘caretaking’
- Maintenance and utilities provision as needed with an old building
These are our main costs, many of which do not drop appreciably even when the hall has to be closed.
Our hire income for 2020 was down by 55% compared with 2019, and the annual loss was 40% our reserves.
Of course, the Committee is doing what we can to reduce any expenditure which can be avoided, postponed or cancelled altogether, but we have to acknowledge the very real prospect that our reserves may not last further than another ‘bad’ year or two.
With regard to income, we can of course make no realistic estimate for 2021, it all depends on the success of the government’s ‘Road-Map’ and level of new or returned bookings, so this valued amenity faces a genuine risk to its future within the next 12 – 24 months, if additional funding cannot be found to provide support until a level of 'normality' returns
WHY IS THIS IMPORTANT TO EVERYBODY?
St Mary's Church House Hall is a vital local community resource, allowing people of all ages from the local community and beyond to engage in a wide variety of activities.
The hall was rented by more than 40 different organisations, groups and entities in 2019 alone, for a total of 1948 hours, and the loss of such a venue would have real ramifications for these groups in terms of the premises they are able to secure at a sustainable rate for the services they provide.
Here's what the hirers themselves have to say...
Christmas Hampers: "St Mary’s Church Hall is a valuable asset to the Bridport community in many ways. It has been a central point for packing and distributing [our] Christmas Hampers to needy families each year. We work closely with the local food bank, schools and health workers. There is a growing need for supporting the wellbeing of families in and around Bridport who would otherwise be unable to furnish their children with a nourishing Christmas dinner and tea."
- M. B.
Tots Time: “We use the hall for a toddler group which meets every Friday (pre-Covid). The [centrally located and easily accessible] hall is an excellent facility for this group as it has a good kitchen as well as generous storage area for all our equipment. We have also been able to develop an outside area where the children can play with sand and water activities when the weather allows.
We usually have 30 adults plus their children each week. It is well known that opportunities for children to play and socialise is essential for their development, so this is an important facility for local children.
At the same time, we are able to offer support to parents and carers, with a listening ear, and signposting to relevant support agencies when needed. The parents and carers are a great support to each other and this group helps to facilitate that; we also help to combat loneliness, and isolation amongst young parents.”
- Diana and Peter Wright on behalf of "Tots Time"
Slimming World: "...Can I just say as a SW consultant that the use of the hall is key to helping members of the community lose weight, which in turn helps with their health and wellbeing.
My groups use the hall in the 'normal' world on Tuesday and Wednesday evenings and before lockdown I was helping between anywhere 100 to 150 people.
The impact of lockdown has been huge to them all. If we lose the hall after lockdown it would have a huge impact on all of us."
- Sue Phillips (Slimming World Consultant)
Bridport Youth Dance: "St. Mary's Church Hall is a wonderful asset for the town of Bridport, where there is limited space available for the community. St. Mary's is an ideal space for classes, workshops, community events and more. It is big and airy, with a good, sprung floor for dance such as with my junior and senior after-school sessions. It is good for parking and is very well equipped."
- Nikki Northover (Bridport Youth Dance)
(image credit: Peter Dibdin - used with permission)
Bridport Scottish Dancers: "...We have been using Church House Hall for about 25 years on a regular basis, it is a very important amenity for us; without it, and halls like it around the country, clubs like ours would not exist. Bridport is central to our Club and provides the space and environment we need to operate in... [and] provides us with a social gathering point which helps keep us fit in body and mind.
It is important to our club that this hall is maintained and ready for us when we are able to dance again and we will be ready to use it again as soon as we can do so safely. It is obvious that the hall has lost almost all its income and needs to be supported so it is ready for us and all the other clubs and groups that have used it in the past and hope to use it in the future.
The hall... deserves all the support it can get so that it can continue to be a valued venue for [the] many clubs and groups to meet, for the wellbeing of the residents of Bridport and the surrounding area. I believe it would be a great loss to us, and the locality, if this hall did not get the support it needs to be able to remain open ….. if it’s not there, many of its users may well not have anywhere else they can go."
- Malcolm Laws (Chairman, Bridport Scottish Dancers)
Yoga and Sound Therapy: "I have been using Church House Hall for workshops for about three years. When we have been able to meet, the hall has been invaluable to our groups for somewhere to come to for comfort, advice about injuries and stress and pain relief in these difficult times. It is a very well maintained, light, warm hall with plenty of space for people to move around or relax in and it is ideal for setting up larger musical instruments there, as there is enough height and width in the room.
There are many other community groups that use the space for weekly events and classes when that has been possible. In fact, there is no other hall of that size and easy accessibility in Bridport."
- J. S. (Yoga and Sound Therapy)
Women’s Friday Dance Group: "The hall... has been a lifeline for many of our Friday Dance Group (who have been meeting there weekly for over 10 years), as it has space for those who wish to dance around freely, but also those who need to have some support (physically and mentally). The ability to meet regularly has been a great help to those who are elderly/bereaved and need somewhere to meet up with friends for mutual support, or just someone to talk to."
- Sue Wilkinson (Friday Dance Group)
"I have been involved in numerous groups who have used the hall regularly for many years including LETS and a Women's Dance group. These promote the well-being of the community through friendship and exercise. You need a good venue to be able to meet and flourish and SM CH provides this. It is, I believe, a very valued asset to the local community. It is clean, spacious, well equipped and reasonably priced to hire and in a central, convenient location.
Louise (Friday Women’s Dance Group)
“I have used St Mary’s Hall regularly over more than a decade as part of the dancing group on a Friday morning. We are all women, mostly over 30 and some over 70, and the use of the hall allows us to keep fit, contributing to our physical health, but also to our mental health as it gives an opportunity to get out of the house and meet others to socialise in a safe and enjoyable context. The activity is sadly missed during this period of lockdown and social isolation. The hall is ….. the only hall of its type and size in Bridport which could accommodate a group such as ours.”
New Elizabethan Singers: “We … are a large choral group of around 60 singers. Without doubt the use of Church House Hall is crucial to our continued use of the [adjacent St Mary’s] church as a venue. We normally perform two concerts per year, usually of large set-piece choral works. Mostly, though not always, we like to perform in the church and it is not uncommon for us to have packed audiences. We also often hire an accompanying orchestra of around 20 professional instrumentalists. I cannot over-emphasize the importance of this facility to our choir if we are to continue... It would be a major loss to the whole community if it were to be removed from use."
- John Haylock (Chairman, NES)
Bridport Dog Training Society: "On behalf of the Bridport Dog Training Society I would like to say that Church House Hall is invaluable to us. It is the largest hall in Bridport and we would struggle to carry out the dog training in a smaller venue. The dogs are trained according to The Kennel Club guidelines and we are providing a service which benefits the dog owners and the community at large. There is a social side for all those involved in the dog training as we also operate as a club."
Yoga: "St Mary's Hall has proved itself over the years as the ideal venue for my regular, and long-standing, yoga classes. Those attending have formed close and supportive friendships and social groups. They've shared celebrations, joy and grief; supporting each other through mourning, family problems and ageing. There's a 'sub-group' of those living with cancer who support each other through treatments, check-ups and experiences.
It is proven that regular attendance and practice of Yoga strengthens physical and mental resilience. Studies have shown that mobility, strength and the cardio-vascular system all benefit from even just a weekly class. Attendees include carers and those with mental health issues. All say they value their once-a-week safe and peaceful space and time for themselves. They all continue to come and recommend to others because of the benefits they gain from being able to access and attend the sessions.
I've had numerous messages during the lock-down to say how much the classes are valued and missed."
- Lesley Wilson, Yoga Teacher (British Wheel of Yoga)
Local Vocals: "I run a set of 5 choirs based in different towns in Dorset... Singing is famously good for mind, body and spirit and my singers have the space to sing their hearts out. I don’t think I’d find a better venue for my singing group in the Bridport area!"
- Lesley W (Local Vocals)
Bridport Folk Dance Club: "Members of [our club] attend the regular dances held in St Mary's Hall which …… enable the dancers to practice [but also] social occasions where visitors from the surrounding towns and villages can meet and enjoy the social interaction. The club also holds a number of Special celebratory dances in the hall which enables it to raise sufficient funds to keep the club financially stable and thus securing its continuation.
The hall is also used annually by the Bridport Folk Festival Committee for dance and music workshops, for meetings by the U3A and for various other organisations. Personally, I have in the past organised and helped at fund-raising Jumble Sales and Table -Top Sales to raise money for both local and international charities.
Without the use of this size of hall, which has been hired out at a very reasonable fee, the fund-raisers would not have been able to support the charities who would have then suffered.
The town (Bridport) needs community indoor spaces for numerous reasons; [it] is a thriving town with an increasing population and spaces like this hall are vital to community groups for social interaction as well as charitable fund-raising."
- Mrs Val Moore
Bridport Folk Festival: “My role within the Bridport Folk Festival requires booking of suitable venues and Church House [Hall] had always been a vital venue proving fundamental to our charitable causes. I have personally booked the hall on many occasions over the years for charity fundraising and social events [and] have attended many events and functions held in [there] over the last 40 years, varying from Badminton to Wakes. It has always been and should remain an essential asset to the Church, the Town, its residents and visitors; the demise of Church House Hall should never be on any agenda – it should be preserved at all costs.
- Chris Deacon
Bridport Local Food Group: “On behalf of [our group] - we have been very pleased with the few occasions we have used Church House Hall for our 'Bridport Big Breakfast' event, which is an event held for local residents to enjoy and to help promote the annual Bridport Food Festival and local food producers. The hall is a great asset to the town and its position and facilities for us meant it is the ideal venue (probably the only venue) for us that is the right size with a good size kitchen. We will certainly be using it again when we are allowed to run such events in the future and it would be a tragic loss to Bridport if it was not able to function as it has for many years.”
- Jay Anderson, Bridport Local Food Group
Bridport Community Orchard Group: "This is an active group that maintains an orchard in the centre of town ……. that is of great benefit to the local community. It is appreciated by many, and attracts visitors not only from town, but much further afield in central and southern England. Our key celebration each year is our annual Apple Day, which is held in early October. This celebrates ’the apple’ in all its forms, either as fresh fruit, apple juice, or, indeed as cider! We also have a Mummers Play. This event has become very popular and attracts hundreds of people each year. It is also our major annual fund raising event; all of the proceeds being ploughed back in to the upkeep and support and maintenance of the orchard.
Church House Hall is an invaluable and essential asset for our event. We use it to host a supply of refreshments [for] our visitors and we also have information displays and a children’s play area. The Hall is vital when offering shelter in the event of inclement weather, and is a crucial element of our wet weather plan. The plentiful supply of tables and chairs is particularly appreciated by our older visitors. It also has the added benefit of providing on-site lavatories. As our aim is raise several hundreds of pounds for our worthy cause, we would be lost without the facility of Church House Hall.”
- Paul Arthur (Secretary of Bridport Community Orchard Group Committee)
Bridport Ceilidhs: “Until the arrival of Covid-19 put an end to them, my partner and I ran not-for-profit ceilidhs in the hall, 8 times a year, from 2012 to March 2020. People came to these from as far away as Bournemouth, Blandford, Exeter and even, on occasion, Derby! It was not uncommon that tourists in the area arrived at the door having seen an ad around the town. The dances did exactly what we set out to do, provide a much-needed friendly, fun, Saturday night entertainment to visitors and locals alike, adding to the general appeal of the town.
There was nothing quite like having a room full of laughing people thoroughly enjoying themselves regardless of their level of dance experience. We were able on occasion to donate all takings or profits to charity, such as the Bridport Arts Centre. Without Church House Hall, no such dances would have been possible, no other hall in the area was suitable. Dancing should be available on the National Health – and this hall should be available as a provider!”
- Mecki Testroet
HOW CAN YOU HELP?
In order to ensure the survival of St Mary's Church House Hall, we are crowdfunding for the following:
- To recoup some of the loss from 2020 and 2021 so far
- To protect the Charitable Trust against inevitable loss of income in the rest of 2021
- To make sure we are in a reasonable starting position to serve the town in subsequent years
We have applied to various local and nationwide organisations for financial support but so far have only been successful with two grants from small charities here in the South West, plus government furlough payments and some recent Dorset C.C. Additional Restrictions Grants. We will need additional funds to help meet our objectives.
As such, any donations - large or small - will make a MASSIVE difference to the Charity's ability to continue providing this invaluable resource to the local community.
Our humble aim is to secure £10,000 of donations - half of this will help to cover the loss from 2020, with the rest supporting the hall throughout 2021 and beyond, in the ongoing uncertain climate.
As a charitable donation, your generosity can also be Gift-Aided, which will mean we can claim 25p extra from the Government for every £1 that you donate - increasing your donation without costing you a penny!
Who we are:
St Mary's Church Hall House Management Committee are a group of local residents / hall users who voluntarily donate their time to ensure the Hall is managed effectively and continues to be available to the local community. Its success in this is exemplified by the many compliments received for the hall in testimonials from its users.
Our aims are to:
- Improve public awareness of the serious risk of closure for this invaluable public resource
- Raise funds to ensure the survival of St Mary's Church House Hall
- Continue to provide a safe and secure venue for groups and individuals of all ages within the local community and beyond
- Encourage a diversity of groups to be able to indulge their creative and holistic interests
- Allow local freelancers to grow their own businesses and thrive by using the venue
Want to know more? ...or want to become an active supporter of the St Mary's Church House Hall campaign? Email: [email protected] or Call: 01308 423442