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Exciting news from Bury Parish Council: A plan for a better Village Hall

Bury Village Hall is 45 years old and has been little altered since it opened. Though there have been some useful practical improvements, there has been no review of how the building can best contribute to the potential of the Village since it opened in 1975. The events of the last few months and the lockdowns may not be the reason to reconsider the Village Hall but the effect of them has focussed some attention on how improvements to the building might make it not only more useful as a facility but also help to make it more the ‘beating heart’ of the Village.

Over that 45-year life of the Village Hall, both the village shop and the Black Dog and Duck pub have closed. Going further back, the loss of the river ferry severed the connection to Amberley and the east and, to the west, the traffic on the A29 has introduced a barrier to West Burton and Sutton. Bury is now a community that is very much dependent on its own company. The questions being asked are ‘what can we do to help make Bury more of a community’ and ‘how can the Village Hall best contribute to that aim’.

The Village Hall could be that ‘beating heart’. If there was a café, it could become a place for people to meet informally. If it was more flexibly arranged, it could become a place in which more groups could get together and enjoy. And if it ‘looked out’ rather than ‘looked in’, it could become the place that lessened the sense of social isolation that many in the Village currently feel. If it was staffed by volunteers, it would be both affordable and more engaged. And if it could have a small shop, it could offer a useful and convenient place to buy essentials without competing with the Farm Shop.

Bury is not Fittleworth and it could never justify nor sustain what that village has so admirably achieved, but it is very clear that Bury’s Village Hall could do so much more. Its location is ideal, but it always looks closed. You never know what is going on, there is little to welcome you and it isn’t a place that invites you to drop in to. Its appearance is forbidding and doesn’t add to the character of the village in which we have all chosen to live. Inside, it lacks both flexibility and a clear sense of purpose and the spaces are arranged in a manner that is limiting and uninviting.

With some careful internal rearrangements and some modest extensions, it would be possible to both fix what is wrong and transform the building to be both more useful and feel more a part of the village. An extension could accommodate new toilets that would release space in the building. A new outside stair could make the first floor independently available and allow the existing stair to be removed. And the replanning of the building’s west end could provide space for a shop/post office and café, making the entrance more obvious and offering a place that encourages people to drop in to.

The Parish Council is proposing a new plan for a better Village Hall and it will very much want to know what the village as a whole thinks about the proposal. There are clearly issues in connection with the ambition, the detail, the cost, the funding and the programme but, at this stage, the Parish Council wants to know if this is an idea worth pursuing. In the new year, it would intend to hold a series of events to test opinion and get a clear sense of direction but, before that, the next step must be to establish if, at this stage, there are any serious objections to looking into this proposal in more detail.

If there is a sense that this is something worth looking into, the Parish Council will examine and try to answer a number of questions (outlined below). The Covid context may inhibit the outcome being presented in some form of public display or exhibition but the Parish Council is committed to ensuring that everyone in the village will have the opportunity to understand what is proposed and be able to comment. No decision on how to proceed will be taken until that process is complete.

The questions the Parish Council will seek to answer are these.

1. What is the brief for the project? What is intended? How will it all function? What will it
look like?

2. What will it cost? How will it be funded? What are the risks and how will they be
managed?

3, How long will it take to complete? And how will it affect current users while the work is
being carried out?

Bury Parish Council is inviting initial comments from parishioners on this exciting proposal. Further consultations will take place when more detailed proposals are tabled. For the time being, comments on the broader concept of a more versatile, ‘beating heart’ village hall would be welcomed. Please email any suggestion and/or observations by December 24 to clerk@buryparishcouncil.org.uk