Oakhill

Village Hall's 25th Aniversary

Long road to a village hall being opened

Back in 1983 Ashwick and Binegar footballers were thinking of moving from their home village because Oakhill recreation ground lacked facilities.

Bryan Wells from Ashwick, then chairman of the Midsomerset Football League, decided to start a fund to equip the playing field with changing rooms, toilets and a room to accommodate cricketers.

This eventually grew into a design for a village hall for the use of the local sports teams, groups and for functions.

Bryan approached the parish council who wholeheartedly backed his plans. The council levied an additional "penny rate" for two years and money was released from the sale of the old Oakhill Hall, a recreation building owned by the Brewery, which had been sold 25 years earlier.

From the outset, Brian was determined that a bank loan would never be needed and the building was "built on a shoestring".

He formed a team of local tradesmen consisting of himself as electrician, Vic Witcombe as plumber, Alan Hill as bricklayer and Andy Ollis as carpenter.

Fundraising events were held – such as a 100 Club and a Barn Dance – and many local businesses kindly donated materials free of charge. Apart from central heating and the main doors the fixtures and fittings were largely secondhand. By the time the village hall was opened on July 27, 1986 the total amount spent on materials was £10,000 but the building was valued at £63,000.

The opening ceremony was performed by Bristol City FC Manager, Terry Cooper, who brought a team that had just beaten Bolton at Wembley to play an evening match with a Mid-Somerset XI.

Over the years the building has been gradually upgraded with improved facilities such as a refurbished kitchen, new windows and disabled access.

In 1991 an extension was added which included storage space for the playgroup and ground maintenance, a small committee room and an entrance hall.

Today the hall continues to be used by a large number of groups and societies, including the village playgroup, toddler group, short mat bowls, football, WI, cricket, Local History and East Mendip Gardening Club.

Bryan has remained fully involved with the village hall throughout the 25 years, he is an invaluable member of the village hall committee, someone who is always willing to help others and gives innumerable hours of his time to ensure the hall and recreation ground are kept in perfect order.

As well as his work with the village hall Bryan has helped in many other aspects of the local community.

He has been involved with the Midsomerset Football League since 1966 and is now joint president. He has served for 35 years on Ashwick Parish Council, 14 years on Shepton Mallet Prison Board of Visitors, for many years he was a Governor at both Whitstone and Oakhill Schools and he has been a local magistrate for 35 years.

Bryan, now aged 75, recently received an award in recognition of his work as the mastermind behind the planning, fundraising, building and continuing maintenance and repair of Ashwick Village Hall which opened 25 years ago this summer.

His nomination for the award by fellow bowls player, Tony Parker, took Bryan by surprise. "When I opened the letter I thought it was something to do with Help for Heroes," he said.

Looking back over his years at the village hall Bryan said: "My thanks go to those who helped get the project off the ground – Andrew Ollis, Alan Hill, Vic Whitcombe and the late Fraser Townend.

Also the players and members of Ashwick and Binegar Football Club and Mr Luff of Wainwright Aggregates who was a great help with materials and also re-surfaced the car park at cost."

The award has brought great joy to Bryan but it is also tinged with sadness as his village hall work was initially shared with his wife Jill who died in 2001.

"Jill was very much part of the village hall and always supported me. When I think of the award I've received I think of her," he said.

source:     Shepton Mallet Journal.   Thursday, August 11, 2011