VIDEO: ‘Delight’ as Dame Joan officially opens village hall

Residents flocked to see the cutting of the ribbon by Lady Olivier at the official launch of Ashurst Village Hall last week.

What has become a labour of love for the Ashurst community, the new Village Hall has been in the making for an exhaustive three years, but the results are remarkable.

Ashurst Village Hall official opening. Committe members. Pic Steve Robards SR1515091 SUS-150607-103834001

Ashurst Village Hall official opening. Committe members. Pic Steve Robards SR1515091 SUS-150607-103834001

Those in attendance included retired actress and long-time Ashurst resident Dame Joan Plowright, former Horsham District Councillor Roger Cockman and members of the Ashurst Parish Council.

In a rare public appearance, Dame Joan joined the celebration. As the 85-year-old approached the ribbon, a resident shouted: ‘It’s lovely to see you in public again,’ followed by a large applause from a crowd of 40-odd people.

The 101 Dalmatians actress told the Herald: “I think it’s such a great achievement. They’ve worked so hard and so long to get it, and we have had the old house for over 40 years.

“We [Dame Joan and Laurence Olivier] lived in London a lot of the time. We came down to Ashurst almost as a sanctuary and it’s a wonderful place to get peace and quiet.”

Describing it as a ‘calming village’, Dame Joan admitted that she and her husband, Sir Laurence, did not frequent the old Village Hall, but they have always been close with their neighbours.

She added: “We came down here to get away from the bustle of London life and just to chill out... is that how young people say it now?”

Roger Cockman stood down as the district councillor for Steyning and Ashurst this May after 20 years of service, but his work with the council stems back even further. He said the old building was ‘dilapidated’.

“I respected it because it had served it’s purpose and there are a lot of happy memories. But it had lived its natural life and they did sterling work keeping it afloat. I think the new building is delightful.”

Gay Davenport was one of the key residents behind the total redevelopment, which saw the demolition of the old building in 2012, following a generous grant.

She said: “It’s taken three years to the day!

“When we got our first grant from Viridor Credits we had to spend our money in just six months, so we took a deep breath and demolished the hall, but it was the right thing to do.

“I feel we have left a legacy to the village and I think it looks really nice and it’s going to be here for a long time. I’m very proud.”

Mrs Davenport said the event had been made ‘hugely special’ by the presence of Dame Joan.

Just under £400,000 has been spent on building and furnishing the Village Hall, most of which has derived from local fundraising events.

“There were some doubters in the beginning,” said Mrs Davenport, “but that made us even more determined.”

Mandy Hedley, who has also been one of the main driving forces behind the project said ‘it’s lovely’.

“We’re really pleased, we couldn’t be more happy,” said Mrs Hedley.

“We started with nothing and we still have got a little bit more fundraising to do.”

If you’re a resident or business who would like to help Ashurst Village Hall complete its last stages, call 01403 711036 or visit www.ashurstvillagehall.btck.co.uk

The Village Hall is now available to book for events, including birthday parties, and has a wide range of weekly activities.

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