New St Abbs Community Centre opens its doors to the public

Jim Kearsley and Helen Crowe open the doors to the newly refurbished community hall at the Old School House
Jim Kearsley and Helen Crowe open the doors to the newly refurbished community hall at the Old School House

TWO years ago the community of St Abbs paid just £1 for the old school building in the village but now they have a facility, the Ebba Centre, which will be absolutely priceless to local residents and people all over Berwickshire.

The new community centre and Old School Cafe are now both officially open thanks to the hard work of a dedicated group of volunteers who have literally worked on their hands and knees to breath new life into the building which had seen better days.

The school was closed by the then Borders Regional Council in 1992 but following the sale of the old village hall, the building proved a valuable facility for a range of local events including fundraisers, dances, Gala Days, meetings etc.

In June 2009 it was leased for 37 years on a full repairing and insuring lease at £1 per annum and after amalgamating from the St Abbs Putting Green Committee, St Abbs Village Improvement Committee and St Abbs Community Centre Committee, the St Abbs Community Trust obtained ownership for the same price.

Since purchasing the old school building the Trust has been working flat out, firstly stripping back everything that was there and giving it a fresh lick of paint and then installing new fixtures and fittings to make it a place that St Abbs can be proud of.

Like with so many community-based projects, one of the biggest obstacles standing in the Trust’s way was funding but they received a massive boost last summer when they received funding totalling £198,000 from LEADER last summer.

Trustees had already managed to raise £100,000 from the sale of the old village hall together with donations.

Secretary of the Community Trust, Helen Crowe couldn’t put into words just how delighted she was that the centre was finally open and paid tribute to those who helped the Trustees’ vision become a reality.

She told The Berwickshire News: “I really don’t know what to say other than that I’m absolutely over the moon!

“The building is fantastic - the difference in it even from a few months ago is staggering.

“I first have to recognise the commitment of my fellow Trustees, they’ve all been so determined throughout what has been a long hard process.

“And it was vital that we got the backing of the whole community - residents have shown great enthusiasm for the project.

“I must also say a huge thank you to Councillor Michael Cook; we would never have been able to purchase the hall and get the ball rolling if it wasn’t for him.

“A mention to our funders as well: LEADER, Awards for All, BAVS, Garfield Weston Foundation and the Berwickshire Federation of Halls, and everyone in those organisations who was such a big help to us - Maria McKenzie, Jane Patmore, Philipa Whetton and also Sheila Fraser from the Scottish Council of Voluntary Organisations (SCVO).”

Around 50 guests were invited to the fully refurbished centre’s grand opening on Saturday, May 12, but Helen and her fellow Trustees were gobsmacked when 132 people came through the doors eager to have a look at the building they once knew as the old school house.

“We were absolutely thrilled by the turn out,” Helen enthused.

“Everybody in the village and the surrounding area seems to love what they’ve seen so far and I’m glad as I want the centre to be a facility that everyone can make use of.

“We’ve got six weddings booked already; four conferences; eight meetings and four private parties as well as functions like St Abbs Gala Day and an RNLI training day.”

One of the other regular events the Ebba Centre will host is a weekly St Abbs market day and Helen said she wanted to ensure that a strong local presence was maintained as that had been the Trust’s aim from the outset.

“We wanted the community centre to be very much a local project,” she continued.

“We employed local tradesmen to carry out the work and a special mention to our project manager Alan Wood; main contractor James Ingles and to Forsyth Builders; BK Hume; painters David Windram, Willie Wilson and Neil Rutherford; plumbers Craig Dewar and Gareth Wakenshaw and joiners Kenny Wilson, Andrew Gillie, Kevin Denholm and John Lauder.

“And finally I have to say a huge thank you to Freddie Crowe for getting the place looking spotless for the opening.

“Our main goal for the next few years is sustainability. We want to be self sufficient and never have to ask for another grant again.

“There will also be a big emphasis on education.

“Over the summer four under-16s are going to do work experience here and once the new Marine Station is up and running students will be able to use the Ebba Centre to study.”