The picturesque Calderdale town of Hebden Bridge has always innovated, as might be expected of somewhere once named the funkiest town in Europe, and this extends to local politics.
While many rural communities may have banded together to take over the running of the local pub, library or post office, the Hebden Bridge Community Association went a step further – they own the Town Hall.
Once the hub of all the town’s activities, the Victorian Grade II listed building had fallen into disrepair when it was signed over by Calderdale Council to the association in April last year, following four years of discussions.
Now, the building is not only a place for the community to come for information and advice, but somewhere for people to meet and even get married. The authentic Victorian council chamber has recently been licensed for marriages and civil partnerships.
And an extension to the building, currently under construction, will further help the town’s economy by offering meeting rooms, offices and a conference hall from Spring 2012.
The association, which has about 550 members, about a tenth of the town’s population, is well placed to step in and assist any local services which come into difficulty.
Company Secretary Andrew Bibby said: “The Town Hall is the finest architectural building in the town and in Victorian times was the focal point of civic life – births and deaths were registered there, rates were paid there and the fire station was downstairs.
“It remains an important building and there is a need to redefine the Town Hall’s role in the 21st century. We want to combine all aspects of a healthy community.”
While Hebden Bridge may appear to be the model Big Society community the Government is hoping will spring up everywhere, Mr Bibby warned that their success may not be easily repeated.
“We would caution that everything we’ve done here may not be directly replicable elsewhere,” he said. “We have been well resourced in terms of volunteers, but that won’t necessarily work elsewhere.
“There is a danger that an asset transfer like a Town Hall can turn into a liability transfer, expensive repairs are needed and the community is lumbered with it.”