Monty Crook says St Mary’s Church House Hall is “the best hall in Bridport,” and while we can’t possibly comment – other halls are available to hire, including the excellent facility at St Swithun’s – he’s right that it is a superb, flexible space in a great spot.

A host of hirers would doubtless agree. The hall hosts regular groups from yoga and dance to dog training and Slimming World, plus the Thursday Tots Time sessions for under-fives and their parents or carers, and it’s also available for one-off events such as parties. Last year there were 16 regular (mostly weekly) users and 30 single bookings.

Constructed in 1925 by 12 local church ‘worthies’, the building was run by an unregistered charitable trust and used as a church and community hall until the late 1990s, when it became clear that the trust was in financial difficulties and the hall was sold to Magna Housing for a nominal fee. In 2001 Magna converted three quarters of the building into seven flats while leasing half of the lower floor as a hall to the trustees, who are responsible for the upkeep of its interior. The hall trust has been a registered charity, with a formal constitution, since August 2019.

Monty got involved with the hall when he started organising ceilidhs there in 2011, and he’s now a trustee and secretary to the hall’s management committee. He’d love to see the team of trustees boosted by some new blood. “I worry about the future of the hall,” he says. “We haven’t had any new people for ages, and it would be a huge loss to the town if the trust failed and the hall had to close.”

Only four out of the possible five trustee roles are currently filled, so Monty and his colleagues are looking for someone to take this on. Additionally, charity regulations state that trustees have to step down after a certain length of time, and they may not all choose to stand for re-election, so there’s scope for more new people to get involved. “Our management committee looks after the day-to-day work,” explains Monty. “They report to the trustees, who in turn report to the Charities Commission. In the past we’ve had trustees who were also on the management committee, but this doesn’t need to be the case and in fact we’re now looking for someone who’ll just be a trustee. It’s not an onerous role – the trustees usually meet no more than four times a year for a couple of hours, and there’s some additional admin that’s done by email.”

During Covid the hall had to close completely, so lost the income from hirers while retaining some of the expenses of upkeep. It weathered the storm, however, thanks largely to a crowdfunding project that raised more than £10,000 from 92 donors. Grants from Dorset Council, furlough money for the part-time cleaner, local donations and money from three national charities brought the total to more than £23,000.

“We’ve been through lean times and kept going,” says Steve Bartlett, chair of the management committee. “In fact, in 2021 we ended up with about £7,000 more than our income in a typical year, so we looked at some projects to improve the facilities for our users. We commissioned artist Marina Renée-Cemmick to create a stunning mural in our outdoor play area, and we installed wifi, which is a huge boon for hirers. We’re planning further projects, too. As a registered charity, we can’t make a profit, so all the money we make is put back into the hall.”

“This facility is important to the whole community,” says Monty. “It has a great atmosphere and a lovely floor, and I know bands love coming to play here. We just need someone – or more than one person – with commitment and enthusiasm to come forward and help us secure its future. Please get in touch!”

If you’re interested in becoming a trustee, or have a question about the role, please email Monty Crook: The hall is next to St Mary’s Church on South St and is available to hire for £10 an hour.