Parish hall closure spells end of an era

Members of the Royal Voluntary Service Thursday Afternoon Group in Stobhill with artwork, Pauline Chisholm (back row, centre) who runs the group, and a guide-dog trainer guest with a puppy.
Members of the Royal Voluntary Service Thursday Afternoon Group in Stobhill with artwork, Pauline Chisholm (back row, centre) who runs the group, and a guide-dog trainer guest with a puppy.

Regular users of a community facility in Morpeth have described its forthcoming closure as the end of an era.

The parish hall in Grange Road, Stobhill, was gifted by Leech Homes in 1969 and it soon became the hub of the neighbourhood.

It has been the venue for many groups and activities over the years, but it is going to be demolished as the Anglican Parish of Morpeth has sold the building.

Given the costs of improving the hall and then bringing it up to the required standards, the Parochial Church Council (PCC) decided that it would be better to have the land redeveloped and use the funds from the sale and other monies raised to build an extension at St Aidan’s Church on Shields Road.

Phase two of the project – the interior works – is set to be completed in the next few weeks.

The Royal Voluntary Service (RVS) Thursday Afternoon Group meets at the building. It provides those who would like to meet new people, have a chat, find out more about various subjects and try new things or resume a craft with somewhere to go each week and an engaging programme.

It will move to the new facility at St Aidan’s later this month.

Some of its members spoke to the Herald at a recent session. They said that choirs from across the North East used to come to the hall to perform concerts and other activities in the building included line-dancing, ballet, badminton, arts and crafts and fund-raising events.

A WI group met there and after it folded, a friendship club was set up in the mid 2000s.

Ivy Muir, who moved to Stobhill in November 1960, said: “The building has been well-used by the community over the years and it will be a sad day for us when it closes.

“It is very handy for some of us because it is close to our homes, particularly the eldest member of the group, who is 95.”

The hall has also been the venue for Scouts, Guides and Brownies sessions and a babies and toddlers playgroup among others, as well as family parties and jumble sales.

Another RVS Thursday Afternoon Group member, June Atkin, said: “A good variety of people went along to the hall and sometimes we would be stood outside for a few minutes waiting for another group to finish.

“It feels like the end of an era and it has been on the cards because no improvements have been carried out for a while.

“If bits and pieces were done every few years, the building would not have got into such a bad state.

“I wrote to the PCC a number of years ago saying that the groups using the hall were willing to come together and raise funds to help renovate the building, but I did not receive a reply.”

The Rector of Morpeth, Rev Simon White, said: “It was great that people were willing to raise money for the hall, but what they didn’t realise is that it would cost hundreds of thousands of pounds to make the necessary improvements.

“And even if you did all that, the building doesn’t meet the required energy efficiency regualtions so we would need to have a new heating system and panels.

“Therefore, it made sense for us to proceed with the extension project at St Aidan’s.”