Big plans afoot for Volunteer Hall

JUSt three years ago the future of Duns Volunteer Hall was hanging in the balance but now a group of residents are intent on safeguarduing its future and making it a top drawer facility for the whole community to be proud of.

The building is owned by the Ministry of Defence but leased to Scottish Borders Council and it was the council’s announcement in early 2009 that they had no plans to renew their agreement that had the whole of Duns up in arms, only for them to later commit to the hall for the indefinite future following a ‘Save The Hall’ campaign.

However, since then no money has been spent on the hall even though groups such as Duns Operatic Society and Duns Players make regular use of it along with the Air Training Corps and Army Cadets who use it as their base.

Keen for it to thrive rather than just exist, the recently established ‘A Heart for Duns’ are keen to make extensive changes to the building but for now are focused on making essential improvements to its fixtures and fittings.

The group met on Monday evening and speaking to ‘The Berwickshire News’ afterwards, chair Andrew Lester, said the Volunteer Hall was something that needed to be taken on although people would have to be patient.

“The council haven’t spent any money on the hall and a group of us felt that something had to be done.

“Improvements need to be made to the heating, insulation and kitchen area as well as the sound system and the rooms around the back of the stage which act as dressing rooms.

“What the hall needs the most is a lick of paint but all of these things cost money so moving forward we need to think about how we can get this.”

A Heart for Duns have so far had positive lines of communication with the MoD who said they’d be happy to liaise with them and possibly offer financial assistance, and a meeting is planned with Scottish Borders Council in a few weeks time so the terms of the current lease can be established.

But Andrew said like many community projects, lottery funding was going to be the first port of call for the Volunteer Hall.

“There is a lottery fund called Community Spaces, with a possible £250,000 worth of funding available,” he explained.

“But getting access to that money is going to take time. We have to complete stage one of our application by December then apply for development funding. If our applications are successful stage two of our application would need to be ready by October next year with a view to receiving the funding in February 2014.

“Other options available to us are the Big Lottery Fund, local trusts and windfarm money and we’ll be looking into all of these.”

Looking at the bigger picture, Andrew said that A Heart for Duns were looking to renovate whole areas of the Volunteer Hall; creating another hall for smaller groups; adding in a new bar area and foyer and improving facilities for the Air Corps and cadets, who currently use what is known as the Hay Hall at the back of the building but what he said in reality was “a glorified tin shed”.

And with grand plans in the pipeline, the group which also includes Stuart Renton, the man who spearheaded the Save The Hall campaign, have launched a public consultation to gauge the opinion of local residents.

Comments can be made at www.aheartforduns.org, on the A Heart for Duns Facebook page, on slips at the Volunteer Hall or in boxes at Romaines Chemist or Duns Post Office.

“We want to give Duns the very best hall possible; one the community can be proud of and one which will serve the needs of the town for years to come,” Andrew enthused.

“The Legion is closing which will mean small groups in the town losing another venue in the town to make use of.

“I really hope residents get involved with the consultation as it’s up to the people of Duns to tell us what they want. We need to know what they like and don’t like about the hall as it is and what people would like to happen to it in the years to come.”

A Heart for Duns originally formed under the umbrella of Duns Community Council, who earmarked leisure as one of the key areas of their Duns 2020 vision.

But with the council going into abeyance after a recent election failed to find enough members, A Heart for Duns are determined to push on themselves and as well as keeping an ear and eye to feedback coming in from residents have discussions planned with various groups in the town, both those who currently use the Volunteer Hall and those who don’t.

Andrew added: “We’ve got a good group of people on board with Heart of Duns and we’ve started to get the ball rolling. We’re people with a heart for Duns looking to put the heart into the Duns and the Volunteer Hall is the right place.

“The response to the ‘Save The Hall’ campaign showed just how passionate the town is about the building.

“One of my fellow members, Eloner Crawford from Duns Opera put it perfectly “We want to give Duns a right posh muckle hall!”