Keith Skipper glad to open Great Dunham’s village hall

A much-needed village hall – which cost about �1,500 per person living in its community – was officially opened this weekend by Norfolk squit merchant Keith Skipper.

The writer and broadcaster congratulated the people of Great Dunham, near Swaffham, on their efforts to raise �450,000 to pay for the new building.

Speaking at the opening ceremony on Saturday, he said: 'Villages change and how lovely to come to a brand new community meeting place. I don't need to tell you how important these buildings are to Norfolk, or anywhere else.

'This is the kind of building, the kind of village, that makes the old heart feel gladdened.'

The Litcham Road hall is the result of a seven-year struggle for locals who had to find about �1,500 for each of the 300 people living in the village.

Allen Wakeling, parish councillor and a member of the Great Dunham amenities committee, said the bulk of the money came from the Big Lottery Fund which awarded them a �345,000 grant.

But, as the financial climate got tougher, villagers were made to fight even harder for their hall.

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Mr Wakeling said: 'When we applied for the grant four years ago that was going to be the price of the build. But in the time it went from the initial application to being granted, all the building costs, fuel costs and wages had gone up. Suddenly we were looking at a projected cost of �450,000.'

Further grants and support from organisations including the Nigel Bertram Charitable Trust, Garfield Weston Foundation, Breckland Council and the Iceni Partnership, and the sale of the old village hall to a developer, helped the committee reach its final target.

The village hall, which includes a main hall, meeting room and kitchen, has already secured its place at the heart of the community which does not have a pub, shop or post office.

Groups running ballroom dancing, short mat bowls, quiz nights and jumble sales are already making use of it while there are also plans to run book clubs, mother and toddler groups, self defence and yoga classes.

Great Dunham Primary School, which does not have a hall of its own, was the first to get inside and use it for indoor PE classes, dance and drama.

Headteacher Sally Bone said: 'We are also starting a breakfast club and are hoping to have after-school clubs here.

'It's making a huge difference. Before we had to travel to another school to do indoor PE.'

During the official opening, which was also attended by mid Norfolk MP George Freeman, builders T H Blyth and Sons, and the Norfolk Rural Community Council, Keith Skipper unveiled a number of plaques.

They included one naming the meeting hall in honour of project chairman Keith Mitchell.

A community park is still to be completed.