Thanks to Anne O'Donnell for this article. Anne would like to express her gratitude to members of the Kelsall community who shared valuable information with her and who gave unstintingly of their time, expertise and enthusiasm.
The idea of building a Community Centre in Kelsall had long been in the public domain. When the first edition of 'Kadras News' was published in March 1974, it included an article by John Edwards, who advocated 'a Community Centre to cater for the needs of the village, to give it a positive sense of identity, to provide the social amenities that are so lacking, to serve as an easily accessible focal point when the voice of the village needs to be heard'.
Early in 1985 the Parochial Church Council informed the many users of the Church Hall (formerly the village school) that from 1st May it would no longer be available due to the floor being unsafe, and the cost of repair prohibitive.
In March 1985, the Parish Council called a public meeting which was attended by over 100 residents to consider the feasibility of building a new Community Centre for the village. There were some reservations expressed, but the idea was supported by an overwhelming majority and a Steering Committee of eleven was elected under the chairmanship of Frank Smith. The Steering Committee reported to further public meetings in July and October 1985, and at a further meeting in July 1986 a resolution was passed, with only 7 abstentions, that the newly elected Management Committee should pursue the Project to completion.
From then on, and until the completion of the project nine years later, the most remarkable achievements in organisation and fund raising were made, by a limited number of dedicated people. It is difficult to do justice to all the people involved, some of whom have since died, but many are still active in village life. Looking back at Kadras reports for the period I can only say that the social activities on offer as part of the fund raising were as varied and amazing as could be imagined.
The Management Committee had three questions to resolve: Where? What? How?
The question of 'where' was solved by the Parish Council when they purchased the site of the redundant Filling Station opposite the Church and adjacent to the Village Institute for £27,000, as a suitable site for the Community Centre, and contributed a further £2,000 for site clearance. It was made clear that because of concern expressed by local residents about the cost, this would be the Parish Council's total contribution to the project. The land was subsequently let to the Village Institute and War Memorial Charity and planning permission for development of the site was approved by Chester City Council.
The question of 'what' to build was determined by discussion with and written responses from members of 22 village organisations who expressed an interest in the proposal. The outline plan was then developed. A building group was formed which had the invaluable assistance of a local architect, the late Ken Chesterman, who voluntarily gave his professional expertise for plans, specifications, estimates and related specialist work.
The question of 'how' concerned funds, materials, and labour. The Management Committee decided that the advantages of Charitable Status for the funds was essential and approval was sought and obtained from the Charity Commissioners for a Trust Deed, which prescribed how funds for the project should be managed.
On completion of the project the Community Centre would become part of the War Memorial and Village Institute Charity, but with its own Management Committee.
Local units of the Government financed Manpower Services Organisation had constructed some village halls in Cheshire, and it was agreed that the Kelsall project would be included in their 1988 programme, but in October they were dissolved before work commenced. Laing civil engineering contractors, then agreed to undertake the work under the Government's new Youth Training Scheme. A structural engineer was appointed to design the foundations and structural steelwork, but considerable quantities of spoil had to be removed from the site before the foundations could be started. Building work finally began in March 1990, and a waterproof shell was completed by December 1991. There were many concerns about the management of the trainees by the contractors, and in July 1992 Laing's training unit was taken over by Mowlem who completed the project.
The 'labour content' of the Training Units contribution was valued at £40,000. Whilst substantial labour costs were saved by proceeding through the YTS scheme, progress was very slow and was dependent on the Contractors training commitments.
Specialist contractors were used for double glazing, heating, domestic water, electrics. Many building materials were supplied locally at very favourable prices. Volunteers decorated the hall, and installed the kitchen equipment.
Provision of the maple floor in the large hall was made possible by a grant of £6,992 obtained from the Foundation for Sport and the Arts. Construction expenditure to the end of August 1994 amounted to £108,164.
In addition to the grant for the floor, major grants were obtained from Cheshire County Council £20,000, and Chester City Council £5,400. The project also received a donation of £1,000 from the Mayor of Chester's charity fund, and other donations from local societies, businesses, companies and individuals.
A dedicated and imaginative Fund Raising Group almost had a full time job working to raise funds, together with local clubs and societies. A campaign to raise money by Covenanted Donation was initiated, and a 300 club which raised £10,500 in eight years. There was an annual Carnival, village lunches which raised £12,000, a fun run along the Kelsall bypass before it was open to traffic, and a sponsored cycle ride to Menai Bridge. Dances, quizzes, race nights, bonfire parties, street parties, even a sponsored 'iron in'and many more too numerous to mention were all evidence of the enthusiasm which spread from the members of the Committee to their families and friends and to the wider community. By 1994, the year of the opening, the total sum raised was over £94,000. It was a remarkable achievement, and the essential ingredient had been the people who had the commitment and determination applied over nine years to achieve their objective.
The first group to use the Centre were the Weight Watchers Club on 10th January 1994. The official opening ceremony took place on 24th September 1994 on the occasion of a Craft Fair.
Over ten years later the diversity and number of users is a testimony to the value of the Community Centre to the village. In a busy month bookings can number over 100. They include a wide cross section of activities such as ballet, circuit training, indoor bowls, bridge, yoga, pilates, mothers and toddlers group, theatre performances, table tennis and private parties.