Highnam Community Centre – A brief history-Bob Train

Highnam is an unusual village in having three community halls, their establishment is an interesting insight into village heritage. I have been fortunate to have access to minute books and correspondence for my research. The halls each have their own history which I will attempt to explain. All have had moments of crisis and celebration. 

The first building was the Parish Room built in 1904 and funded by Hubert Parry to celebrate the coronation of King Edward V11, the foundation stone was laid by Lady Maud Parry. It comprised a hall with a fire place and stage with a kitchen to the rear. It features a relief of Edward V11 on the West Wall and a photograph of Hubert Parry in the fireplace alcove. There is a partly obscured commemorative carved plaque on the east wall adjoining the extension. The hall was intended to meet the social needs of the Parish and was run by a committee. Probably in the 1950’s the current kitchen and toilet block were added and the rear kitchen became a dressing room. The management rested with the Parish Council.  At this time the village school was located on the same site. The Parish Room ownership passed to Tom Fenton, Gambier Parry’s nephew, who leased it to the Parish for a peppercorn rent. Today the lessor is the Fenton Estate. 

Although nearly 120 years old the quality of the original build was exceptional as there have been only minor repairs over the years. A subsidence problem on the corner of the kitchen block in 2018 was caused by diseased ash tree roots not workmanship.

The Lovell Maidenhall Farm development in 1975 which was to be followed by Bovis Homes meant that the village was going to grow rapidly and a new school was planned. What was going to happen to the Old School? The building belonged to the Diocese of Gloucester and would be disposed of. In June 1981 the school relocated to the new site in Wetherleigh Drive and the Diocese applied for planning permission to change its use to a dwelling, the Parish Council lodged a strong objection. The Diocese offered the building for sale by private treaty to the Parish Council for £25,000 on 9th February 1982.  A public meeting was held in February 11 1982 and the Parish Council were authorised to proceed with the purchase of the Old School. This was not without objection with 67 in favour and 9 against. The attached press cuttings record the disagreements which resulted in a motion for a referendum on 29th March, it was defeated 96 against 51 for. The purchase was concluded on 18th November 1982 and a formal Trust Deed was adopted. This established the Parish Council as Custodian Trustees and HOSPRMC (Highnam Old School and Parish Room Management Committee) as Management Trustees. 

The Parish Council lead by Peter Dole had to raise the funds.  The records reveal that he and the Clerk David Slinger undertook a huge amount of work: the result was a £12,500 loan from Lloyds Bank repayable over 5 years and the balance of £12,500 being added to the Parish rates. Graham Barton volunteered to lead fund raising to pay off the loan. GOSH (Get the Old School for Highnam) was born. Through selling pens, sweatshirts, organising social events, donations and Graham, even running a sponsored Marathon, the loan was cleared within 3 years.

The challenge for the committee having purchased the building was to make it fit for purpose and service the loan. In 1983 the committee consisted of 16 members chaired by Pete Dole; expenses were £675 greater than Income. GOSH had raised £6,212. Despite some opposition to having a local surgery, negotiations commenced with Dr Lynch who wished to set up a GP practice in the Old School teacher’s rooms. Legal issues were protracted but resolved to enable Dr Lynch to serve the community there until his new surgery on Lassington Lane was opened in1993.His rent was a key contributor to the income and the viability of the community space.

In 1984 HOSPRMC applied for charitable status. A surplus of £2908 was recorded for the year. By May 1985 the charity was registered and the committee minutes record the activities of users, maintenance and missing teaspoons! Talk was of a new community building prompted by contact with Lovells and that the lease on the Parish Room would expire in 1997, the owner Tom Fenton indicated that it may not be renewed. At the AGM Lovells had offered other land for a new building if they would be permitted to build on the Chestnut Tree site. Tewkesbury BC refused point blank. Arthur and Gwen Chambers were thanked for their service as caretakers and bookings managers and John Gough for his handyman skills.

In 1985 the responsibilities of ownership of the 1851 built school were evidenced with a need to repair the roof for £560, also a worrying crack appeared in the walls of the vestibule on the Newent Road side of the building. Dr Lynch reported that with 1000 patients on his books he was running out of space. Discussions about a new building continued, a site, where John’s Wood now flourishes, lacked support due to poor foundation soil, likely cost of c.£300,000 and objections from neighbouring houses. 

The 1986 AGM recorded that HOSPRMC had decided to renew planning permission for the Old School as a dwelling in case it had to be sold, the lease on the Parish Room remained unresolved. Josie Smith as Chair of the Parish Council reported on future options viz; – new building on NW corner of village beyond the Spine Road, purchase of the Parish Room, renewal of PR leases or extend the Old School site. Tom Fenton was unable to commit to extend the PR lease and the NW site (John’s Wood) had been deemed unsuitable, leaving development of the current site as the best option.

Matters addressed by the committee during the next 3 years appear to have been somewhat mundane, featuring smelly toilets, dry rot and blocked sewers: Pete Dole completed 30 years’ service as a Parish Councillor. The Old School crack had become a major problem and although trees were removed, underpinning was necessary estimated to cost £12,591+VAT. The work was completed in the autumn of 1992 funded by HOSPRMC and the Parish Council.  

A public meeting was held on 27th November 1992 following a Parish Appraisal. 350 voted to keep the Old School, 105 voted to dispose of it. 335 voted to keep the Parish Room with 116 against. The possibility of a bar with a brewery tie in was discussed but a brewery representative advised that his trade was reluctant as consumption may not be sufficient to be financially viable. Tom Fenton offered to extend the PR lease; the meeting voted 58 to 0 to mandate the committee to negotiate an extension

Due to the underpinning and associated work HOSPRMC and Parish Council reserves had been drastically depleted and there was no money to fund any more works. The Old School roof problem remained.

There was still uncertainty in 1998 as negotiation on the PR lease continued.  A new community facility on what is now Lassington Reach was promoted in return for building 50 new houses but Tewkesbury Borough Council would not allow planning permission. The PR lease was finally signed 13th July 2001 for 50 years

HOSPRMC decided in November 2001 that a new building should be constructed on land adjacent to the Old School which had been purchased with the Old School building. 

In January Derek Davies, Tewkesbury Borough and Parish Councillor, secured a £50000 grant to demolish the Old School kitchen extension and convert Dr Lynch’s redundant consulting room into a kitchen. His reasoning was that development of the Old School site would prevent a housing developer gaining planning permission by offering a community facility within any new housing elsewhere in the village. It would be 20 years until the next significant development of Lassington Reach. HCCT after discussion agreed to this by just one vote.

John Evans Architects were appointed in February 2002 to draw up plans and consultation took place with user groups but by September progress stalled with concerns about costs.

HOSPRMC met the Parish Council in November the former complained about the lack of consultation. A display of plans was presented in January 2003 and HOSPRMC withdrew their complaint. Cost was projected to be £630,000 with TBC granting £319,000, the Parish Council £30,000, the balance was raised by a PWLB loan.

Tender documents were issued on September 2003 for submission by 6th October with a build duration of 32 weeks. Planning was dependent on the provision of a Pelican Crossing across the B4215: this would later cause a funding issue and could have delayed the use of the hall if installation had not been completed.  Building by Beam construction commenced on 2nd February 2004 and concluded 15th November. 

The Hall was named the Gambier Parry Hall in September 2004 and HOSPRMC became HCCT. The official opening was 19th March 2005, the Lord Lieutenant of Gloucestershire Henry Elwes performed the opening. Although the Gambier Parry Hall was impressive, it failed to include design suggestions that had been canvassed for by user groups. During the next year problems arose with the carpark surface and the efficiency and expense of the automatic heating system. The latter was never resolved due to the engineer and manufacturer ceasing trading. A sub-Committee was formed to raise funds to equip the hall which was successful with the Foundation for Sports and Arts funding a projector and sound system.

Usage of all 3 halls increased and sufficient financial surpluses were generated to enable the quality of the halls to be improved. The Parish Room had an extensive £18000 refurbishment completed in Spring 2007 and the Gambier Parry Hall redecorated and fitted with black out blinds. 

The HCCT Trustees realised that the Old School was showing its age and the toilet and kitchen facilities were not compliant to current standards. Hall bookings were increasing and with the projected increase in village population better space would be needed. The building being one of Thomas Gambier Parry’s visions, centred on the Church, was also listed and nationally important. In 2014 an in-depth survey was conducted which highlighted a number of major issues, this was the basis of a budgeting exercise in 2016. The Parish Council as Custodians readily supported a project to refurbish. 

A schedule of works was compiled in July 2019 with an estimate of £174,000 and fundraising commenced. Planning permission was granted and funding obtained from ACRE, Enovert, Bernard Sunley Foundation, Tewkesbury Borough Council, Section 106 funds from the Lassington Reach development and HCCT reserves.  King Builders were awarded the contract after tendering for £171,000. Work commenced on 1st November 2021.

As with all projects there were problems, a well was found under the toilet block necessitating a respecified foundation and after the removal of wall and ceiling coverings, extensive dry and wet rot, was found particularly in the roof structure. The increased cost to rectify was estimated at £130000, but without a secure roof, all other works would be wasted. Work was halted in November 2022. This was a challenging time for the lead trustees Yan Watkins, Martyn Ridge, Bob Train and Mike Welch, but fortunately the Parish Council, Enovert and Bernard Sunley Foundation made additional grants. The Parish Council successfully obtained a Public Works Loan and with additional section 106 funds, the money was found. Work recommenced in August 2023 and completed 9th December. Fittingly, Peter Dole, who instigated its purchase, declared the Old School reopened.

Looking back over the records of the last 50 years and the evolution of the facilities, I have been greatly impressed by the commitment and diligence of many volunteers over those years. The community has a debt of gratitude to those stalwarts and rightly take pride in their Community Centre. Long may it continue 

Bob Train 

1st January 2024

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