Villagers celebrate opening of new Thornham Village Hall in style

At the official opening of Thornham Village Hall are (from left) Louise Howell, Ian Barrett, Wendy B

At the official opening of Thornham Village Hall are (from left) Louise Howell, Ian Barrett, Wendy Brooks, Colin Venes, Tony Morris, Sue Grout, Anthony Needham, Ann Whiting, John Warham and Stephanie Mocatta. Picture: Ian Burt - Credit: IAN BURT

It took them four years of fund raising, meetings, and dogged determination to make it happen. But the celebration ale was flowing as Thornham said goodbye to its old village hall and threw a gala party to christen its new one.

Campaigners won a £475,000 lottery grant towards the cost of the new hall, with the remainder of its £650,000 build cost coming from Norfolk Rural Community Council, West Norfolk council, Norfolk County Council and funds raised locally.

'You need a good team and you need to stick at it through thick and thin,' said John Warham, retired businessman who chairs the Thornham Village Hall and Playing Fields trustees.

'Like everything else in life you get all the hurdles to cross, you need the support of the community.'

The airy, modern building, off the main A149 coast road, replaces the wooden drill hall, on Ringstead Road, originally built in 1906 for the Church Lads' Brigade.

It offers a function room/venue for up to 250 people, meeting room, wifi, kitchen, and changing rooms for the village football and cricket teams. Volunteers spent Saturday decking it out with ballons and bunting, ready for the opening night.

But before the new hall could be christened - with a special Thornham Celebration Ale (3.9 ABV), brewed by Heacham's Fox Brewery - it was time to say goodbye to the old one.

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Villagers packed into the drill hall on Saturday night for a farewell toast. Antony Needham, chair of the Thornham Drill Hall, said: 'It's very sad, particularly for those of us who have grown up using the hall and all the events which have taken place here.'

Mr Needham said the hall was originally used as a target range by the Church Lads' Brigade.

'In a very short time those young lads who used to come up here would have found themselves heading off for France, the Western Front, even Gallipoli,' he added. 'And as we know, there were many who did not return.'

By the 1940s, air gun tournaments were replaced by a machine gun challenge, which the youth of Thornham won in 1943 and '44. The machine gun cup was ceremoniously unscrewed from the wall, to be taken to thenew building.

Mr Needham said after the war, the hall was used for more peaceful purposes, such as WI meetings and wedding receptions. Bought by the village for £500 in 1962, the wooden hut and its site have now been sold for development, to help fund the new hall.

More than 200 villagers walked from old hall to new, as festivities commenced.

Welcoming them, parish council chair Wendy Brooks said: 'We are all sad that our much-loved drill hall can no longer meet up to date requirements as the social and sporting centre of our village.

'But we look to the future with this wonderful new asset which provides the standards which the modern world demands.

'I know that I have thanked the project team publicly on numerous occasions but I must say again that all this has been achieved by this small team of people who have worked so hard and with total commitment and, without whom, none of this would have been possible.'

The fund raising triumph equates to £1,666 for each of the 390 people who live in Thornham. As well as making a business case to lottery officials, villagers had to show some fund raising flair.

Colin Venes, chair of the Village Hall Committee, said: 'We had a team of people in the village raising money, they organised folk and jazz nights, auctions, barbecues, raffles. People turned out to help move tables or put up marquees.

'The good thing about the new hall is we'll be able to do things we couldn't do in the old hall. It's not just for the village, it's a community hub.

'Most people who play for Thornham cricket team don't live in Thornham, most people who come to Thornham Village Cinema don't live here.'

Work on the new hall began in Ferbuary, when King's Lynn-based Walker Construction Services moved onto the six-acre site, which the parish council aquired in a land exchange in 2006.