Quartet helps secure brighter future for community hall

The four Merton Hall officers, left to right, Carl Rawlings, Carole Butler, Jean Finch and Christine Greenwell.
The four Merton Hall officers, left to right, Carl Rawlings, Carole Butler, Jean Finch and Christine Greenwell.

A COMMUNITY venue in Ponteland is becoming even more popular thanks to the efforts of a team of volunteers.

The group of trustees at Merton Hall elect four officers at its AGM and last spring Jean Finch became chairman, Carl Rawlings vice chairman, Christine Greenwell treasurer and Carole Butler secretary.

Since then, they have carried out some improvements – including new signage – and a change to its regulations means that a greater range of age groups are coming along.

And now they have got their feet under the table, the quartet is aiming to come up with ways to increase the number of residents using the building to enjoy an activity or socialise.

Mrs Finch said: “Merton Hall is a valuable community resource enjoyed by many people, however it had got to the point where a refreshed look at things was needed.

“We now have a good group of 40 to 50 volunteers on board, including the four officers as we are volunteers as well.

“There is an operational team of nine who each have specific jobs – organising the catering, looking after the building’s interior, coordinating the bookings and developing links with other groups and organisations in Ponteland are some of the areas of responsibility.

“I’m the coordinator for the exterior and work is set to start this week to create an area for bike racks and mobility scooter/buggy access at the north side. Funding came from the trustees and Ponteland North county councillor Richard Dodd and some of the racks were provided by the ParkThatBike social enterprise.

“Improvements are also being carried out at the south side as the disability access ramp will be widened and levelled.

“Most of our time since taking on these roles has been spent on administration and organisation, so this year we can use our energies on other things. As well as our input, we would welcome suggestions for future improvements and activities at the hall from residents.”

Works to be carried out in the coming months include changes to the conservatory area, new carpets, refurbishing the chairs and putting up new signage on the doors.

Mr Rawlings said a survey was carried out with users and non-users and one of the things which came up was that some people did not know what the building is called, so signs have been attached to the exterior on both sides.

“The people who do come here said Merton Hall is an important part of their daily lives, particularly those who come along to chat with their friends and read books, newspapers and magazines,” he added.

“This means we need to do what we can to make sure they remain happy and enhance their experience where possible. A few months ago we formally adopted a new constitution, which allowed us to register for charity status, and this makes us more accountable to the public.”

The new constitution means people of all ages are covered, it was previously restricted to those aged 60+, and this has allowed a weekly mother and toddler group to be set up in the hall.

Other groups include bridge clubs, yoga, chair exercise, U3A bookworm and photography. The local Inner Wheel and Lions Club have meetings there, a country market will take place in one of the rooms every Friday from March 1 and an adviser from the Citizens Advice Bureau comes along on Tuesday mornings.

Mrs Greenwell, who is in charge of the day-to-day management at Merton Hall, said: “A broad cross section of the community uses the building, there is a good mix of ages and cultures.

“The people running it before us did a great job to the best of their ability, but they didn’t have the extra support which is now in place and has allowed us to take it forward.

“Some of our volunteers are nearly 90, but they absolutely love coming in to help out by serving biscuits, coffees and teas.

“One lady recently rang me three times as she couldn’t make it because of the weather and didn’t want the hall users to miss out.

“From the income we currently receive, it is just about self-sustaining and on course to hit budget this year.”

The trustees lease the hall from Northumberland County Council and although they have to pay for improvements, they do not have to pay rent and the authority will carry out repairs and maintenance to the exterior when required.

During the past ten months, the officers have also done health and safety and risk assessment policies, hiring agreements and made sure that user groups are aware of their responsibilities.

Mrs Butler said: “The hall is a very comfortable, warm and welcoming environment and we have worked hard to raise its profile in the community, including having a regular section in the Pont News and Views.”

The coffee/tea drop-in is open between 9.30am and 11.15am every Monday to Saturday. For more information about what Merton Hall has to offer, telephone 01661 872917.