LIKE all Scouts, Richard Clark is resourceful. Not only has he and his fellow leaders at Billericay and Wickford District Scouts found themselves a new headquarters, they have saved a community hall from closure.
The keys to Langham Hall in Langham Crescent, Billericay, were about to be handed to Basildon Council after the charity running it dispanded, when Mr Clark and other Scout leaders came to the hall’s rescue.
A community fundraising effort to pay for an £80,000 refurbishment was floundering when, at the 11th hour, the Scouts were accepted as trustees of the Langham Hall Charitable Trust, and signed a deal to use the hall for weekly meetings.
Mr Clark, who is also an assistant district commissioner with the Scouts, said: “It would have been such a shame if it closed.
“It would have stayed boarded up, but there are several dance groups, disability groups, and community groups who all use it.
“Someone would have broken in and set alight to it.
“The building is at an amazing standard. We had been looking for a district headquarters for the last few years and when we heard the hall was going to close we thought we could get involved.”
The hall had become a target for vandals when it was boarded up in 2009.
Due to a lack of volunteers, it closed and was handed to Basildon Council, who boarded it up.
But in 2010 residents were appalled to learn Basildon Council was considering building a housing development on the site. The authority said it had become too expensive to maintain and was a hotspot for antisocial behaviour.
It wasn’t long before residents came forward to try to turn the hall’s fortunes around.
They formed Langham Hall Charitable Trust, signed a 25-year lease with Basildon Council to run the hall, and launched a campaign to raise £80,000.
Fundraising went towards new toilets, a new kitchen, new entrance doors, loft insulation, guttering and pipes and modifications made for disability access.
New flooring was also added, and the heating and electrics updated.
But the trustees weren’t in it for the long term, and only formed to complete the upgrade.
But Billericay and Wickford District Scouts, which has 12 Scout groups from across the area, agreed to take over as trustees.
The Scouts also hope their efforts will benefit the wider community, knowing there is a shortage of halls available for hire.
Mr Clark said: “Hundreds of people use the hall every week.
“The main problem at the moment is a lack of places available. In Billericay there is only one Basildon Council-run hall and the same in Wickford. The council hasn’t got many resources.
“If Langham Hall closed, all its users would have to find other places, but they are all full to capacity.”
Community groups are already making use of the hall, and the trustees hope to attract a preschool or other group to use the centre during the day.
Mr Clark said: “The more groups we get in, there the more secure the hall will be.
"Hopefully with the Scout Association giving extra support as a user it will keep the trust running so it can benefit the rest of the community.
“I would hope Langham Hall is now safe for the future.”