North Yorkshire community transforms its once-tired village hall

When Katharine Henrietta Venezia Grey gave the residents of Sutton on the Forest their own village hall in 1926 it came with a restrictive covenant that if it ever ceased to be used by the villagers it would revert back to the ownership of Sutton Park, the community's best-known landmark other than All Hallows Church.

The Grey Village Hall in Sutton-on-the-Forest has won the Hambleton District Village Hall of the Year 2016 award. Pictured (left to right) are committe members Ron Chester, Tricia Allison and John and Lis Smale, holding their prize for winning the competition. Picture: James Hardisty.

That situation is extremely unlikely to take place as the current committee that manages The Grey Village Hall, named after Katharine, have transformed what had become a dark and inhospitable venue into the latest recipient of Hambleton Council’s Village Hall of the Year.

Tricia Allison came to the village 30 years ago and has been a member of the village hall committee since 2008. She tells of how Sutton on the Forest has developed in that time.

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“Times have changed since we came here. In those days there wasn’t a huge amount of movement from homes in the village. That’s now very different and we have become a dormitory village for York and Leeds. There were five farms and now there’s only one. We’ve lost our garage, post office, village shop and butcher’s shop. In more recent times we’ve also gone down to just one pub. The Blackwell Ox closed leaving us with just The Rose & Crown.

“Thirty years ago there was no Clifton Moor with its massive Tesco and there was no Monk Cross Shopping Centre. We’re fortunate to have two vibrant community-run shops in Huby and Stillington both within a couple of miles but they wouldn’t be as viable if every village in the area had one so we’re grateful that although we’ve missed the boat ourselves theirs are working well.

“I’ve always believed that the village hall is important to the community and what I really wanted was to transform it into what it is now, somewhere accessible and available for all of the village to come together for meetings and activities.

“It was leaking and cold. Keeping the hall warm was simply impossible and something had to be done to reduce running costs. The heating bill alone cost £3,000 a year and even then most who used it were still in their coats in winter. Nobody really wanted to come to what was a dark coffin-like place where you could freeze.”

The transformation into a light, well-heated and well- used hall has been brought about with a new kitchen, new heating, new decor and the establishment of a false roof - a project costing almost £50,000. The committee has been responsible for obtaining grants and raising other funds as well as managing the project. There was another village hero too, someone who would never know of the work but who lived in the community for many years.

“The ladies of the committee have raised considerable monies through events in the hall,” says John Smale who is on the committee with his wife Lis.

“Helen Smith from the village helped considerably and Nicky Smith of Hambleton Council aided the ladies in their efforts. Yorventure were responsible for the kitchen but another real village hero is someone many of us will never have known. Charles Cook who worked on the railways as an engineer left a legacy to the Parish Council and we were able to bid for some of that money towards the hall improvements. Without Charles we would have taken longer to reach the figure we needed.”

The story of the hall saw another link while the false roof was being put in.

“I was chatting with two of the chaps undertaking the work and the younger of them told me his great uncle, who was one of the farmers in the village at the time, had been the man who had originally transported the timber from Tollerton railway station on his farm carts to build it.”

Sutton on the Forest’s other amenities include a Church of England Primary School attended by around 100 pupils, the pretty All Hallows Church, playing fields and children’s play area run by a Playing Fields Association and The Rose & Crown pub that the village hall committee is keen to see remain as such.

The Village Hall of the Year trophy picked up by The Grey Village Hall this year has taken pride of place inside a clear Perspex cabinet in the hall for all to see.