The Trials and Tribulations of Designing a Community Building

It is not often that the opportunity or request to work on a community building comes my way, so when I was approached to design a local village hall, I just couldn’t say no.

Designing by committee is a very different way of working, when it comes to private homes clients are often coming at the design from the same objective. Community builds are different, they must work for everyone in the community, and that’s where it gets interesting.

The funding for Chearsley Village hall was a primarily obtained from grants, Antonia Stratford a volunteer and resident worked tirelessly to secure them, the remaining money was gifted by people living in the village and a national house builder, building in the village.

Once the funding was in place the task of designing a space that worked for a diverse community began. One of the primary functionalities of the build was that it had to operate as a playgroup Monday – Friday but also be usable for gatherings, classes, parties and other functions. The requirement was ultimately to design a hall with flexible spaces.

As an independent architect, I was able to give an honest picture of what was achievable, present new ideas and new technologies that perhaps hadn’t been thought of before and slowly over time a design started to take shape.

The solution was a building with two separate entrances. The large central area (the hall) was designed so it can be split into two different spaces, if required, by the installation of a fully folding soundproof partition.  A new kitchen, toilets, entrance hall and two storage areas complete the design.

The attention to detail focuses on functionality over aesthetics, which stretched as far as having the playgroup furniture on wheels so that it can be easily stored and locked away when it is not in use.  The soundproofed partition also means that a yoga class can take place in one hall while the playgroup next door is in full swing and you cannot hear a thing.

The real test of the success of a community project is not the aesthetics or even the design, but in the maths, if you can’t secure revenue from it, you cannot guarantee the future of the building.

In the first 6 months of operation, the new hall has already doubled its income when compared to the old building. In the first few months it hosted a wedding, family christening, a 50th Wedding anniversary, children’s parties and is taking more and more bookings every week. It’s fabulous to see the hall, flooded by light and buzzing with families making their own memories in the heart of their village.

 I have thoroughly enjoyed working on this project, the passion, collaboration and determination from the community was a privilege to be part of.

Chearsley Community Hall is shortlisted for an AVDC Design Award on 29th November 2018. I can’t think of a project more deserving and hope it inspires others.