How it came to be - a history of how the idea of having a local community hall became a reality by Myra Creasey:
In the early 1980s the Clowns charity Playbus visited Monksilver each week to provide educational activities for pre-school children. One day the bus driver remarked to the assembled mothers that what Monksilver needed was a village hall. This casual comment gave rise to the thought that maybe something really could be done in that direction and they got to work. A flyer was circulated locally to test the general feeling on the subject. It fell on fertile ground since the only place for communal activity was the coach house of the Notley Arms which was fast becoming unsuitable and a possible fire hazard. Enough people had shown interest to take steps into the unknown and make further investigation. To this end a Cheese and Wine party was arranged at Combe Sydenham Hall to discuss the way forward and guests were asked to enter on a blackboard the sort of activities they would like to have in the hall if it ever materialised.
Quite early on a meeting was held with the Community Council for Somerset dealing with village hall matters, when we learned something about any grants which might be accessible subject to our own fund-raising efforts. No lottery available in those days! We were also told that any application for help would have more chance of success if the prospective hall were to represent a somewhat larger area than just Monksilver alone, for example, with Nettlecombe and Elworthy.
Eventually a committee was formed which, with certain comings and goings, finally settled down to a nucleus of about twelve members, some of whom stayed with the project for many years – and are still there! We became a charity to help with the demands of VAT and started fund-raising in earnest. This presented problems in the absence of premises. We had several commercial clothes sales in private houses, a trout lunch at Combe Sydenham, many raffles, several firework parties, carol singing groups, and so on. Car-boot sales were beginning to gain interest at this time so we decided to organise one at the Rugby Club in Minehead. It was successful and became a monthly event. We charged £5.00 per table, provided refreshments and customers arrived in plenty. These went on for several years during summer months and gave the fund an encouraging boost, until the Rugby Club needed the ground again. Then an ambitious idea was suggested that we might attempt a Country Fair.
Nothing daunted we set about inviting local sponsorship in the form of donations and offers of prizes from local shops and businesses. A farmer made a field available above Monksilver and we started getting together as many of the usual fairground activities, stalls and games as we could muster. Swing boats and a children’s roundabout were hired, there would be a coconut shy and ferret-racing, a dog show and children’s races. We would provide refreshments all day and arrange a pig-roast. Cooking this would have to start at night in the field and cooks would camp on site to keep watch! We had birds of prey and kite-flying. The fire-service brought a fire-engine and crew for boys of all ages. With the complete success of the first fair and in spite of all the work and organisation involved, we decided to do it again the following year and it became an annual event, growing in size and ambition even attracting commercial enterprise such as garden centre producers. Manpower was at a premium, but we had many willing helpers. The local scouts and guides helped considerably by lending and erecting tents and marquees, sometimes fetching them from outside the area. Eventually it was attracting so much traffic that we had to get the police to monitor all the cars and large vans which threatened to block our narrow lanes. We ran the fairs for many years and were told by certain people that they arranged their annual holiday to coincide with the date and were quite upset when it all came to an end! However, this was not until after the hall had been built, energy was waning and so many of our helpers had moved on. The fairs had done their job and proved very lucrative, bringing in latterly about £2,000 + each, which was a considerable amount in those days.
As the fund grew we had to think seriously about a possible site for the building – not as easy as we might have thought. There was certainly no more land in Monksilver village. One possibility in Woodford fell by the wayside when it was discovered that the water-table was too high: constant risk of flooding. The matter lapsed for a while. Then, at quite a late stage, another local farmer agreed to sell us the present site which was of no practical use to him. It was not without problems, being very slatey and on a sharp downward slope to a tree-covered point, but there was no option. No doubt a builder could cope and we could progress hopefully with our fund-raising.
Next came the exciting part – the actual design of the hall. Naturally there had always been differing views on this subject but we agreed that it should be something more ambitious than a simple ‘scout hut’, particularly since we hoped for a badminton court. As it happened the matter was resolved in the best possible way. One of our committee members had a friend who lectured in architecture at Plymouth University and she told him about the project. He became interested and suggested that designing the hall could become a competition for his senior students. A group of them was brought to stay for a weekend at her large country house, during which time they were able to see the site and generally assess the situation. They were then to draw up plans for the competition and we awaited the results with some excitement. The designs were, of course, very varied but eventually two were amalgamated and became more or less what you see today.
After this an official architect was appointed and a meeting held in the coach house to display the prospective design and to give an opportunity for public comment. There were some heated exchanges as individual views emerged, not all complimentary. This was to be expected but most people liked what they saw and were glad that at last it was all going ahead. Builders were booked and after all the many problems entailed in the building process, the hall was formally opened in 1993 by Lady Gass, then Lord Lieutenant for Somerset, who had been present at the very earliest meeting with the County Council.
During the long and sometimes tedious years of fund-raising we had much enjoyment and at the end a great feeling of satisfaction that so much could be attained by so few. We owe a debt of gratitude to all the public bodies which came to our aid with essential financial grants. They include the Rural Development Agency, the Community Chest of Somerset, Somerset County Council, the West Somerset District Council and our local District Councils, with apologies to any who may have been unintentionally omitted, and of course, thanks must also go to the many local residents who generously and enthusiastically supported the project from start to finish.
See more photos of the opening below:
The EMN Community Hall under construction in late August 1992
Newspaper cuttings from the Somerset Free Press and The Somerset County Gazette reporting the opening of the EMN Community Hall in February 1993.
Lady Elizabeth Gass, Don Creasey and Shaun Stacey, a director of Mike Stacey Ltd the builders.
Back Row: Myra Creasey, Bob Barron, Doris Barron, Ann Mitchell, Olive Yeo, Barbara Howe, Graham Hatten, Don Creasey, Brian Cliffe, David Wilson.
Lower Row: Sue Wilson, John Lowe.
Children: Beth Wilson and cousins William and Rhiannon Wilson, the children of Rob and Mag Wilson (not in picture). The Wilsons were the origiantors of the idea to build a hall.