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Get ready to be amazed by Scarth Hall’s £500k revamp

STATE OF THE ART: Electrical engineer Steve Irving, village hall member Ed Chicken, architect Lee Darvill, hall volunteer Peter Barr and Randall Orchard contractor George Morris review plans in the Scarth Memorial Hall's new kitchen

When Staindrop's Scarth Hall officially re-opens later this month after a £498,000 refurbishment, people can expect something exceptional. Martin Paul investigates

IT may not be far off the mark to say that the Scarth Hall is perhaps the most dynamic, most modern and most well thought-out public building in Teesdale.
The Mercury was taken on a sneak preview of what has been achieved prior to the contractors handed over the keys, and it was impressive.
As hall committee member Ed Chicken says, it is difficult to believe what a bunch “of village amateurs” have accomplished. 
Outside it retains its historic character, but even here there are glimpses of the modern marvel that is the interior. Four CCTV cameras, considered as a necessity after an attempted break-in following the annual carnival, watch the perimeter. Modern lighting provides additional security. Inside, it is a revelation.
Architect Lee Darvill likens it to Dr Who’s Tardis.
He says: “Outside it is really olde worlde, but step inside and it is bright and modern.
“There is a really fresh modern feel in this historic building.”
And he knows his stuff – he is the brains behind the conversion of the Forest-in-Teesdale chapel which was highlighted in Grand Design magazine, among others.
Immediately the brightness of the main hall feels welcoming.
Large windows to one side let in huge amounts of natural light, complemented by subtle and modern rings of LED lights along the roof and walls.
Mr Chicken explains that the lights are a prime example of what the hall committee wanted to achieve – they consume little energy and they are expected to last 15 years.
He says: “Once we’ve spent the money it is gone so we wanted the specs of everything to last a long time. We are only getting to do this once in a lifetime so we wanted it to be high-spec.”
He points out some of the attention to detail that makes the project stand out. Some of the lights are marked with a single minute green LED with additional battery power and will continue to burn during a blackout. They are situated at doorways, along stairwells, and critically, in the toilets.
At the front of the hall stands the bar and serving area where the technology that drives the two new sound systems – one for the cinema, another for the stage – and the lights are hidden.
The wires for the system, as well as the extensive telecoms, are hidden in the newly insulated walls.
Mr Chicken says: “We have a file so we know where all the wires are. I wish we had measured how much wiring we have put in.”
No doubt it will run into miles because there is a lot of modern technology. Clever light switches in the upstairs room may only have one switch, but they also dim the lights, doing away with the traditional dial. Other switches that light up storage spaces have small LED fitted so people can see if a light has been left on in the cupboard spaces.
For the committee it is as much about saving money as it is about saving energy.
Mr Chicken says the hall has to be sustainable and they have whittled down their projected monthly overheads to about £2,000. They won’t be spending money on maintaining hand towels because high-tech driers have been installed.
The upstairs rooms are fantastic – on the landing there is a refuge for people in wheelchairs to turn around and to take safety in case of emergency. Fire-proofing will keep them safe until help arrives.
The IT suite is a revelation. It will feature a 50 inch high definition television should people want to do presentations during meetings and its computers will be available to the public.
Mr Chicken says people can come in and research their family tree or other things that might interest them.
A nod to the proud history of the hall is given through the parish council’s meeting room which is to be named the Joe Hodgson room in memory of Staindrop’s former parish clerk. Mr Hodgson has the distinction of being the UK’s longest serving parish clerk, having been with the council from 1955 until retiring in 2012.
The room is fully kitted with telecoms, adds Mr Chicken.
Downstairs, a new entrance has been opened up onto a ramp which allows disabled access. It also allows for two events to take place at once – no longer will a lunch club have to walk through a Zumba class to get to the kitchen.
A new baby changing facility has been introduced, no doubt pleasing to the mother and toddler group which meets at the hall.
Then there is the commercial grade kitchen. It cost £30,000.
All of the kit is stainless steel, easy to clean and durable. It is also ultra modern.
The White Rock walls are also easy maintenance, replacing tiles and grouting that attract grime. The edges where the walls meet the floor are curved so there are no corners for dirt to collect.
Mr Chickens says: “Little things that matter. Just because it is a village hall doesn’t mean hygiene standards can’t be kept up.”
As well as serving the lunch club, the kitchen may well be a strong selling point for the events the hall committee hopes to attract.
Mr Chicken adds: “We think we will do a lot weddings because it is a top quality venue at a very reasonable price.”
This week Lottery officers will be inspecting the facility and their questions will not be limited to the quality of the work and the fantastic array of modern tech. They will be asking probing questions about the viability of the building and how to ensure it is self-sustaining.
The committee will have good answers for that and it is all in their attention to detail.
Truly, a group of amateurs from Staindrop have done their village proud.
The official opening of the hall takes place on Friday, September 30.


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