Found item in a Parish Magazine
It seemed a good idea at the time. This was in the late 1990s, with the Millennium approaching. A long-term member of the PCC raised it: “Why don’t we build a proper Church Hall for the Millennium?” The vicar thought this a good idea, seeing it as a monument to his incumbency. In the parish there was general enthusiasm, and this extended to some generous benefactors in the village: people whose families had lived there for generations, who had money to spare, and who had long seen the need for better facilities, given that the vestry was far too small and cramped, and had little in the way of catering facilities other than a tea-urn. We all assumed that planning permission would pose no problems, so plans were drawn up. Little did we know how much controversy and challenge we would encounter in the following months and years.
The plan was to build the hall in the small field adjacent to the churchyard which had been abandoned ages ago. No one was really sure who owned this land. Enquiries were made, nothing was forthcoming. While we waited, one brave soul dared venture in, slashing a way through the overgrown brambles and scrub, and discovered a badgers’ set. Not good news. So we kept quiet and gently urged the badgers to leave. Which was probably good for them as they would have no doubt been culled at a later date. Now it was safe to have a survey done.
A historical search revealed that there had originally been a building on the site, a leper house, but this had been destroyed, or had fallen down centuries earlier. Concerns were expressed by English Heritage. A proper archeological survey had to be carried out, ancient monuments informed. The Millennium was approaching – so far not a brick had been laid.
Access and parking were especially contentious – the environmental lobby were against turning half the land into an asphalt covered carpark. There was heated debate and discussion about access for vehicles along the lane to the church, as this was from a rather narrow lane – churchgoers had been content to walk the last hundred yards or so, but now the Highways Agency were involved, more delays, more traffic surveys, forms to be completed.
Once the undergrowth had been cut back, various people began poking around. Members of the local archeological group – that sounds grand, but it was nothing like Time Team – discovered some old graves, complete with human remains. Panic. Everything stopped. Some were worried that there might be plague victims buried there – until it was pointed out that no ancient parishioners would be so daft to bury them so close to habitation. The police weren’t interested. Forensic pathologists were called in and declared the bones were ‘of antiquity’. Having carefully removed them, with the Vicar’s blessing, we had them reinterred in a corner of the existing graveyard. We held a ceremony for this.
Now, way past the Millennium, some sad news: the PCC member whose idea it was died. The good news was that he had left a substantial amount in his will towards the building. Otherwise, raising the money was an ongoing problem, especially as we’d had to pay for those extra surveys. Now the actual building could commence, however, it was not easy finding builders – they all seemed to have gone off to long-term housing developments, and no one was available for our hall. It was suggested that people from the village should work as unpaid laborers – a community project. But a quick survey of the village revealed few sound of body and wind, with the necessary skills, so it was back to whistdrives and carboot sales, and further applications for funding to ecclesiastical benefactors.
Over the years, enthusiasm for the Millennium Hall has fluctuated rather like the concern for climate change: veering high and low but never disappearing altogether. When the vicar retired in 2010, he left a legacy of a brilliant idea still unrealised in actual bricks and mortar. The incoming vicar – when we finally got one – was less enthusiastic about building the hall. She saw this as wasting funds for local benefit, when what was needed was helping third world communities to improve their lot. Africa was more important than our village.
And now, seventeen years later, it looks as though the project could be completed in the near future. But I’m heeding the old Chinese saying: that on a journey of one hundred miles, the 99th mile should be considered the half-way point.
© Peter Young 2015
[NB There is no connection between this piece of fiction and the photograph at the top.]