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'Delight' as East Boldre Village Hall makeover approved by New Forest National Park Authority

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AN ambitious plan for a thriving community hub in East Boldre has been approved by the national park authority to the delight of villagers.

Mike Husband said the renovation of the current village hall will protect its heritage as one of the few surviving World War One buildings while transforming its modern elements.

"We are absolutely delighted," Mr Husband, the chairman of the village hall committee, told the A&T. "It has been a long old road to get here but we have done our utmost to deliver what villagers and the various agencies that we have to deal with wanted from this scheme.

An artist's impression of how the revamped hall will look
An artist's impression of how the revamped hall will look

"The whole concept has been about maintaining the wonderful heritage and amazing history of this site, but also bringing the other facilities inside into the 21st century."

The hall is community owned and operates as a charitable organisation, but stands on Crown Land managed by Forestry England on behalf of DEFRA. Built in 1918 on the WW1 military training airfield known as RFC Beaulieu and later, RAF Beaulieu, the hall has a fascinating history.

Also used as a parish and church hall, cinema, WI hall and as a base by the local Home Guard during the Second World War, it has become somewhat dilapidated since it sustained severe damage when a tornado hit the village in December 2018.

The proposal will see the at-risk village community shop incorporated, with the original hall enlarged by the addition of a small, two-storey extension to increase seating capacity by around 20%, as well as a mezzanine area where the stage lighting and sound equipment will be housed.

A four metre, roll-down cinema screen will be fitted on the stage and a high-definition projector fitted for film nights with live streaming of top shows from London theatres.

Vertical wooden slats covering the walls and roof will create a rustic, barn-like appearance, and restrict light emanating from the building at night. Solar panels will also be fitted to the roof.

A basement area will house a large kitchen, storerooms, eight toilets and a lift, and a small theatre dressing room and office will be built above the main entrance making the hall ideal for amateur dramatics. It will also be available for private hire.

The project began more than three years ago when villagers set up a Save Our Shop campaign following the site's owner putting the land up for sale.

The campaign was boosted by a grant of nearly £10,000 from the Bright Ideas programme run by the Power to Change trust, which supports community businesses in England, which will go towards converting the 100-year-old village hall.

A team of volunteers set about developing plans for the new building, negotiating issues over its location on the open Forest with Forestry England, the verderers and Natural England.

East Boldre resident Rebecca Gabzdyl, one of those volunteers, took charge of the creation of the community shop and is working with the Plunkett Foundation, which supports such stores, to develop it further.

Architect Guy McNair-Wilson and his company Yawning Dog Productions, were behind the designs of the newly approved building.

"I am super excited about this project," he said. "What I am most looking forward to is the new theatre and the heritage exhibition that will run throughout the building.

"This project has serious potential to be a big asset to the New Forest, from a culture and heritage perspective. A uniquely wonderful location for poetry, theatre, music, art and history."

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