Changes and renewals

A fine old building like ours needs constant care and attention. Here are several of the major enterprises which have been undertaken over the years.

1984-6: A restoration and improvement scheme

A public appeal was launched by the Hall Committee on 31st May 1984, and over £50,000 was raised and spent on improvements, of which one quarter was raised by the village of St Boswells, one quarter by the Borders Regional Council, and one half by the Scottish Education Department.

The improvements included: an extended upper hall and storage area; the demolition of main hall entrance vestibules; a new kitchen, complete with storage cupboards; a new pitched roof over the lesser hall; new wiring, alarms, and emergency lighting; a new gas boiler and electric heating system; a new stage extension; stage lighting bars and a lighting control console; new floorcoverings; and interior and exterior redecoration.

The hall was officially reopened on 22nd June 1986 by The Rt. Hon. David Steel, M.P. ‘Long may the village of St Boswells respect its Village Hall and long may its people retain the spirit of cooperation that the Hall Committee received when money was requested’. That was the hope expressed by the then-management committee, led by Paul Gregory (chair), Rose Cameron (hon. secretary), and Christine Lawrie (hon. secretary). That spirit of cooperation has indeed been retained, and respect for the hall maintained in subsequent decades.

2012-14: A major refurbishment

In 2012 the Hall Committee raised money to update the boiler and heating system. With a more efficient system in place, thoughts turned to insulation, double glazing as well as better accessibility and upgraded toilets. In December 2013, St Boswells Village Hall closed for refurbishment after months of fundraising, seeking donations and applying for grants. In partnership with local architects Camerons from Galashiels, and a host of other experts, a plan was drawn up to turn St Boswells Village Hall into a community building that the whole village could enjoy for years to come. A key part of that was making the Hall a building that stays warm in winter with minimum heating and is generally energy efficient. The Climate Challenge Fund came to the fore with a substantial grant covering roof and Main Hall wall insulation, double-glazed windows, exterior doors, and low-energy lighting. With very generous donations from villagers and a number of external benefactors and grants, other necessary works could be completed: new toilets including disabled toilet facilities, a new stairway to the Upper Hall, the complete refurbishment of both the Upper and Lesser Halls, renewal of all electrics, and repairs to the Bell Tower. Galashiels builders, Murray and Burrell Ltd, along with the many expert subcontractors, completed all the works in under five months. The architectural plan can be seen here.

Work on the Main Hall

Work on the Main Hall

Work on the Main Hall
Work on the new front doors

Work on the new front doors

Work on the Main Hall

4th April 2014. Paul Wheelhouse MSP, then the Environment Minister, visited the hall to view progress and also to announce a further round of Climate Challenge Fund grants across Scotland (the village hall had received two substantial CCF grants towards the works). The Minister is at the centre of the picture; on his far right is Mark Douglas, representing the Village Hall Committee, which was then chaired by Robin Wild.

2014 Hall Reopening

Since then…

We first became aware of a patch of dry rot (the building owner’s terror!) during the renovation works in 2014, and this was treated. What we didn’t realise is that it was elsewhere, though fortunately contained at one end of the building, beneath the new toilets and the Lesser Hall. Nonetheless, opening up the floor as it appeared to be sagging, one March day in 2017, was an unpleasant experience … We called in Dougie Oliver, a local dry rot expert, for an assessment, who confirmed our worst fears. The likelihood was that the rot had spread quite far from the accessible (disabled) toilet, into the foyer and to other areas that had wooden floors covered by impermeable flooring, beneath which – inconveniently – runs a small underground stream! Over the next year, two major pieces of work were carried out: initially to re-floor and reinstate the accessible toilet, then the same for the similarly affected ladies toilets and foyer. This included removing the plaster walls up to a metre in height and installing a concrete sub-floor. In common with most old stone buildings, the Village Hall didn’t have a damp-proof course, so we took the opportunity to install one adjacent to the kitchen at the same time. Other recent highlights include the installation, in early 2015, of a low energy lighting system. This system was expertly installed by Black Light of Edinburgh over a period of less than 3 days, which was an incredible achievement considering the architectural challenges of the Hall. The same year also saw the installation of a new sound system, designed and installed by the same company, consisting of a top quality integrated wiring system for signals and data, a mixing desk, and speakers fixed to the front of the stage. This was thanks to the fundraising efforts of the club St Boswells Live!, led by Keith Farnish, who were awarded £10,000 by ‘Awards for All’ (National Lottery) in April 2015. Keith was also responsible for the acquisition of a projector and related sound system, enabling films to be shown at private functions. In the Summer of 2021 we embarked on a complete repainting of the hall’s external woodwork. A re-slating of the roof on its modern extension was undertaken in May and June 2022.

A new commemorative light over the front door, June 2022

On the 2nd June 2022 an ornamental light in commemoration of the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee was unveiled by the Duke of Buccleuch, the Lord Lieutenant (and hence the Queen’s representative) for Roxburgh, Ettrick and Lauderdale. Duke Richard remarked that the erection of a light was a highly appropriate way to mark this occasion, since Queen Elizabeth II has ‘been simply a true light in our lives’ during her long reign. Interviewed by ITV Border outside the hall, he said that it was ‘really special to come to see something that is going to be permanent. …. It’s about leaving something that will remind future generations of this extraordinary monarch’.

In his own speech the hall committee’s chair Douglas Oliver congratulated local craftsman Mike Fox for his superb work in making this light, expressed his gratitude to architect Mark Douglas for helping to devise its specification and location, and thanked the Scottish Borders Council for the grant from the Platinum Jubilee Fund which defrayed the costs of the enterprise. Alastair Minnis handled most of the bureaucracy, planning and publicity which was involved, and Allan Drummond contributed the photographs which feature here, in addition to serving as main chef for the reception which followed the unveiling ceremony. Now we have a light over the 2014 door which echoes the two which were erected in 1902 to commemorate King Edward VII’s coronation, and showed people the way in and out of the doors at the Main Street side of the building. (Originally the main entrances to the hall, at present they are fire doors.) Henceforth the light which commemorates Queen Elizabeth II’s Platinum Jubilee will facilitate access from Jenny Moores Road.

2023 – ongoing: greening the hall

On the 7th March 2023 the village hall committee set up an energy subcommittee, with the brief of driving forward an Energy Cost Mitigation enterprise, consisting of John Farquhar (project manager), Mark Douglas, Christine Little and Alastair Minnis. The first results have been the installation of solar panels on the building’s front roof (linked with storage batteries) and a low energy (LED) lighting upgrade. For details, please click on this PDF. The former has been supported by funding from SSE Renewables, the Royal Bank of Scotland Regenerate Fund, and the Scottish Borders Council, amounting to £30,000 in total. The latter has been fully funded by the National Lottery Community Fund, to the tune of £7,550. Currently we are seeking funding to enable underfloor insulation to be fitted in the Greater Hall, and finally – following our carefully-planned sequence of events – we shall focus on the prospect of installing an air source heat pump.

Further, we have been playing a major role in raising awareness and sharing good practice with other community centres. For example, at our 2023 AGM members of the energy subcommittee made a presentation on the ‘Risks and Opportunities’ related to tackling the energy cost crisis and greening village halls, based on our experience in St Boswells, which was attended by representatives from eight other village halls. This was followed-up by substantial correspondence with several of them.

Back to the future…

We look forward to the future with confidence, continuing to make our 1896 building a welcoming community centre for the people of St Boswells and beyond. Offers of help are greatly appreciated; there’s always something to be done. Here’s our black cat to wish all of us good luck!