by David Cowell
A decade or so ago The Chichester Memorial Hall in Sandgate was in a poor state of disrepair. A slowly diminishing Board of Trustees meant that the running of the building was left to fewer hands and the effect was a rapidly deteriorating structure and no funds to put that right. With lobbying from some Sandgateans, the Sandgate Parish Council, established in 2004, decided to take over the running of the Hall and, in cooperation with the Charities Commission, appointed a temporary Board consisting of willing Councillors. Apportioned their responsibilities, they soon got to grips with the problems.
Zoe Varian, then a Councillor, took on the task of reconstructing the accounts so they knew exactly what they could or could not afford to do. On the ground floor the Sandgate Members‟ Club (then called the Sandgate Men‟s Club) had patiently endured water flowing down their walls from a leaking roof for a number of years so this was one of the first and most important areas to address. Under the astute chairmanship of Jan Holben, funds were raised and a new roof was installed in late 2014. Other projects were undertaken including repair to the external clock which, until recently, showed passers-by the time with reasonable accuracy but sadly no more.
There is a plan to have that up and running again in a month or so driven by more contemporary technology to avoid the Caretaker having to perilously climb twenty feet or so into the loft to make any corrections – the times really are a-changin‟!
Although the main Hall and stairs were given a coat of paint, subsequent Trustees knew that more important work was needed not just on refurbishment but also on upgrading the kitchen and toilets. Then Coronavirus happened and on guidance from the Government, the Hall closed for all its activities in March.
Apparently, the Chinese use two brush strokes to write the word ‘crisis’. One brush stroke stands for danger; the other for opportunity and it Hall together now!
September 2020 11 was with the latter in mind that we decided to start work on what we had grandly called the 20:20 Vision project. With support from Kent County Council, the Roger De Haan Foundation and Sandgate Parish Council plus our own ring fenced funds generously given by the residents of Sandgate and the surrounding area with their hires and patronage of the twice monthly Farmers Market, the work commenced.
By the time you read this article the main Hall and ceiling will have been completed and a new kitchen installed. It is hoped that the first floor toilet will be altered by sacrificing a part of the Caretaker’s store room, making it accessible by wheelchair. We have upgraded the emergency exit lights too, once again, making it a safer place to be.
We had hoped to have all the jobs done before we reopened but delays in funding and an on-site accident caused unavoidable delays so the work will be completed gradually over the next few months. A Government grant via Folkestone and Hythe District Council meant that we have been able to weather the Covid storm much better than expected but we had to give thought as to when to reopen in order to stop the inevitable haemorrhaging of money.
We have decided that the first Sandgate Farmers Market will be on 5 September and hires are able to recommence from 1 September. Each hire has to have a Covid-19 compliance plan to ensure that the risk of transmission is minimised and these are constructed by the hire group in discussion with the Hall‟s Executive Officer. Pilates will be the first to return on the 3rd and their compliance plan has been approved and signed off and others are being discussed and finalised.
Who knows what the new normality will look like? Government guidance changes almost daily and the most recent is that masks must be worn in indoor spaces with a few exceptions. Community Halls were one of the environments mentioned that had to comply so some of the plans are already in their second and third version and I am sure there will be other measures announced that will require further changes.
To answer my own question, I think the new normality is that there is no normality. But life must go on and the Chichester Memorial Hall is determined that will happen, safe in the knowledge that our patrons are diligent, decent and determined people and that we will provide an environment that will keep them safe as they resume their activities together.