A VILLAGE hall has seen one of its busiest summers after undergoing a mini make-over.
Users of Hepscott Parish Hall have waited patiently for years to enhance the building as it is run by a small community group, with limited funds at its disposal.
About five years ago, the management committee managed to pull together enough cash to improve the car park, which made a substantial difference, however, the biggest challenge was how to add new toilet facilities for disabled people.
Initially, the committee hoped to build an extension, but the plans were costly and complicated and it seemed the wait would go on.
However, following a re-think and with support from county and parish councillors earlier this year, the group managed to incorporate the facilities into the existing building — and there was even some money to re-decorate the hall.
Now the work seems to have paid off, with bookings up and visitors impressed with the new look.
Management Committee Chairman Katie McDonald said: “It looks really nice now and everybody who comes in says how much they like the toilets.
“We have certainly improved our bookings. I don’t know if it is coincidence, but we have done really well since we carried out the work.
“The hall is available for parties and other celebrations and we are getting bookings all the time. There is quite a few, not just from Hepscott, but from outside the village as well.
“We have a kitchen, the toilets and the main hall. It is not somewhere big, but it is big enough for what we need it for.”
The new-look facility is now used by a range of users, from quilters to keep-fit classes, while art exhibitions have also been held there.
One of the regular groups is a monthly meeting of former Hepscott residents who have moved away and return to catch up with friends and the village goings-on.
The disabled toilet cost around £9,000 to install, with a further £2,000 allocated for the refurbishment.
County councillor for the area David Towns gave £5,000 from his small schemes allowance, while Hepscott Parish Council awarded around £3,000.
The council also worked with the hall committee to raise funds and co-ordinate the project, ensuring it complies with new legislation.
Parish Chairman Derrick Melia said: “The disabled toilet was very important because we were having to turn bookings down without one.
“Over the last few years there has been all sorts of fund-raising going on for the hall to bring it up to scratch and the parish council also contributed some money from its funds.
“This work means that the people who run the hall and take bookings can let it out to organisations in the full knowledge that it is up to the standards required.
“We are delighted with the help we have had from Coun Towns and the interest he has shown in the area. Without his help, we wouldn’t have been able to do this.”
Coun Towns said he was happy to help out.
“I was delighted to offer my support, generally and financially, towards this scheme as it has been a long time coming,” he said.
“The ongoing viability of facilities such as Hepscott Parish Hall is essential to small communities throughout Northumberland and the whole country. They help to maintain a sense of community identity and they present opportunities for activities which bring people together.
“I think my contribution of £5,000 is a small price to pay to top up previous funding to allow this work to finally go ahead.
“Previously, disabled people may have been put off attending events at the hall because of the lack of toilet facilities designed for their needs.
“However, the hall can now cater for virtually all potential users and this should not only boost user numbers, but also means that the future of the hall can be secured.”
He added: “The management committee and the parish council in Hepscott have shown true grit and determination in bringing the parish hall well and truly into the 21st Century and they ought to be very proud of themselves.”