On Saturday I joined over a hundred villagers to celebrate the official reopening of a fully refurbished Diddlebury Village Hall. This was a great pleasure since I well recall chairing a meeting nearly ten years ago when the issue of what to do about the village hall was causing some controversy.
The village hall committee got together a small group of dedicated volunteers who rallied the Parish Council and the whole community to back a plan to restore the village hall to a central place at the heart of village life, sitting as it does adjacent to the school and the parish church.
A major fundraising initiative managed to raise enough support from local people and charitable donors to persuade the national lottery to make a substantial grant to allow the project to succeed. In total £660,000 was raised in effect to create a new energy efficient building around the shell of the previous village hall, with a well equipped kitchen and bar area. This has led local groups to plan a wide variety of events and activities to use the new hall.
I highlight this as a great local example of what a community can do to maintain and secure facilities during challenging times. It also acts as a positive reminder of the continued legacy of John Major's introduction of the national lottery, which has supported a vast number of community organisations in Shropshire and all over the country.
This also illustrates a wider point about community facilities, that the closer responsibility gets to the user, the more motivated people are to make services work and to get involved in running those facilities. We have seen this with moves over the last year or so for closer community involvement in getting things done.
Examples include the new Health and Wellbeing Centre developed by the Mayfair Centre in Church Stretton; the refurbishment of the swimming pool lido in Highley by the Severn Centre committee; the Library in Broseley being taken over by Broseley Town Council; and the Community Centre in Craven Arms and the Rockspring Centre in Ludlow being run by South Shropshire Furniture Scheme.
Some of these reflect the increasing number of Community Asset Transfers which Shropshire Council is working on with local town and parish councils or community groups where there is the determination to maintain facilities which the Council is not able to continue to prioritise. I am actively encouraging local groups and councils to consider working together to find solutions to maintain these locally valued assets which help keep South Shropshire special.