Fund raising for the new hall started in 1996 and a suitable parcel of land was generously donated by a local landowner. Over the next 10 years community fund raising efforts generated close to £70,000 in project funds and two attempts to win Lottery funding failed. In 2006, the Trustees recognized that building costs were increasing faster than funds could be generated so they formed a fund raising team, largely made up of local individuals with the necessary commercial, marketing and political skills (most of whom had not previously been involved with the village hall project).
The fund raising team consulted widely, held seminars about eco design options to educate people, carried out surveys and generally built up demonstrable local support for a new eco-friendly building. A straw design was chosen partially because it appealed to local people but also because it provided a unique approach which would help our bid stand out from other projects competing for lottery funds.
Several relatively small but nevertheless very valuable early grants were secured from a range of sources, which gave the Trustees the confidence to invest in a limited amount of professional help to further the case. In 2007 the first stage application for lottery funding was successful (resulting in almost £10,000 in Development Grant funds for more detailed design work) and in mid 2008 the second stage application, for £177,000 was approved. The old village hall was sold for £127,000 in early 2009, which then brought the project funds sufficiently close to the target of £510,000 to allow building work to commence.
The new hall was designed by Cromer– based architect Jim Bond after detailed consultation with the Trustees and user groups. The construction contract was awarded to Norwich-based builder John Youngs Ltd and the building phase took less than 7 months from February 2009 to September 2009, almost indecently quick for a project that was more than 10 years in the making!
The builders faced several unusual challenges in that not only did they have to work with materials such as straw bales, shredded paper and lime render but they also had to overcome their natural reluctance to allow community involvement in the project (Health and Safety Rules—and all that good stuff!). To their credit they did a fantastic job and were very positive about the community open events.
The first of these was held on 13th April 2009 when over 170 people helped move the locally-harvested straw bales to the site. The second event, from 30th June to 9th July 2009, involved over 75 people (including almost all the Neatishead Primary School) helping to build and render the straw bale meeting room. Their efforts are self-evident in the slightly wonky walls! but there is a much greater sense of pride and ownership in the project as a consequence. Who needs straight walls in a round room anyway! The third community event was held in February 2010 when landscaping was largely completed by planting a hedge around the site. Pictures of all these events are available in the picture gallery.