GALLERY: Duke of Gloucester opens Eastrea village hall which became reality after 68 years

Eastrea Village centre, Official opening. Picture: Steve Williams.

Eastrea Village centre, Official opening. Picture: Steve Williams. - Credit: Archant

A VILLAGE hall was opened with a grand royal celebration after nearly 70 years of fund raising to make the dream a reality.

Eastrea Village centre, Official opening. Picture: Steve Williams.

Eastrea Village centre, Official opening. Picture: Steve Williams. - Credit: Archant

Thousands of cakes were baked, hundreds of fetes organised and endless cups of tea brewed to raise the thousands of pounds needed to create what organisers say is a future-proof community focal point for generations to come.

Eastrea Village centre, Official opening. Picture: Steve Williams.

Eastrea Village centre, Official opening. Picture: Steve Williams. - Credit: Archant

A 68 year campaign for a village hall began as the Second World War raged into its fifth year and people struggled with rationing, nightly black-outs and making do and mending with clothes.

Eastrea Village centre, Official opening. Picture: Steve Williams.

Eastrea Village centre, Official opening. Picture: Steve Williams. - Credit: Archant

As war raged in Europe a local woman with a big dream opened a village hall savings account in January 1945 with just £1.

Eastrea Village centre, Official opening. Picture: Steve Williams.

Eastrea Village centre, Official opening. Picture: Steve Williams. - Credit: Archant

Years later and unbeknownst to the late Annie Tinkler her one pound deposit became a seven decade battle of money spinning ideas and fighting with local planners which ended in last week’s prestigious opening by HRH the Duke of Gloucester.

Eastrea Village centre, Official opening. Picture: Steve Williams.

Eastrea Village centre, Official opening. Picture: Steve Williams. - Credit: Archant

The Duke, clearly impressed by the spacious modern building with views of the open Fens landscape, told an invited audience of more than 120 guests: “You have wonderful facilities that will spur your imagination to great things...you can now do things collectively as a community that you could never consider doing before.”

Eastrea Village centre, Official opening. Picture: Steve Williams.

Eastrea Village centre, Official opening. Picture: Steve Williams. - Credit: Archant

“The possibilities are endless.”

Eastrea Village centre, Official opening. Picture: Steve Williams.

Eastrea Village centre, Official opening. Picture: Steve Williams. - Credit: Archant

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Annie Tinkler’s £1 deposit grew and shrank during the 50s and 60s and in the 70s and 80s new committee members pushed the fund raising to £35,000 with events like the infamous Its a Knock-Out challenges, bingo nights, fairs, dances and cake stalls.

Eastrea Village centre, Official opening. Picture: Steve Williams.

Eastrea Village centre, Official opening. Picture: Steve Williams. - Credit: Archant

An idea to turn a local pub, the Windmill, fell by the wayside and in the 80s and 90s, repeated signs of success were dashed, said current village hall chairman scientist Brian Ford.

“Don’t ever imagine that this has been a one-man campaign,” he said.

“This hall is years of hard work by many people, all with the drive to see this to conclusion.”

Five years ago the village hall campaign stepped up a gear when land was donated by a local farmer and developers, Rose Homes of Whittlesey, agreed to fund the hall to the tune of £250,000 in exchange for planning permission for 14 homes next door.

After intense legal wrangling with Fenland planners and scores of applications for grant money, the hall designs were approved.

Finally the build began at the end of last year.

John Craythorne, who sat on the hall committee in the 70s said: “We’ve wanted a community facility for so long that it’s almost unbelievable to be standing here today, what an achievement.”

The hall includes state of the art digital technology, gallery space, exhibition space. meeting rooms, a kitchen and bar facilities.

It is hoped to become a popular meeting place for community groups like mums and to groups and youth clubs and available for hire for weddings and family gatherings.

Whittlesey Deputy Mayor Dee Laws said today’s committee had achieved the dream of many who went before them and looked forward to it becoming a popular community gathering place.

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