We’re back again for another Community Spotlight. We hope you enjoyed our previous two with Pailton Village Hall and All Saints Church, Bradbourne as much as we enjoyed catching up with them. It’s been a real balm for the soul to stay in touch with the Live & Local network and hearing about how communities – big and small – are sticking together during tough times. For our third in this latest mini-series, we spoke to Paul Stephenson of Hemingby Village Hall Committee in Lincolnshire. He’s a seasoned promoter and has even taken to the stage himself, so understands every angle of the rural touring experience. We’ll stop harping on then and let Paul fill us in.
Hemingby is a small village which nestles in the vale of the River Bain on the fringe of the Lincolnshire Wolds. It has a population of just over 200. The community has a pub, a church and a much-used village hall which was formerly the old village school. The village has a strong community feel to it with many activities centring on the village hall. After the closure of the village school, the building was purchased in 1974 by the Village Hall Committee. With the help initially of local council grants, an insurance claim following a fire after a lightning strike, and more recently lottery funding, the hall now is modernised. It has excellent catering, conference and toilet facilities, whilst still retaining some of its character from its former school use. It has two small halls which can be combined together to create a lovely intimate performance space and we pride ourselves on our welcome.
Hemingby Village Hall has been involved in Live & Local Lincolnshire Rural & Community Touring as early as 2007. The person who originally got involved wanted to step down and I offered to take over at the start of 2009. Being personally involved in the local folk/ceilidh scene through a band called Ploughman’s Bunch was, I suppose, my credential for taking the role on. Ironically the first show – Kevin Tomlinson’s The Seven Ages – bid for by my predecessor contained no music at all but was thankfully an enthralling piece of comic drama.
We’ve held at least two shows a year during the last 10 years and like to take advantage of the diverse nature of the shows offered through the scheme. Country/folk seem to be most popular and these shows suit the small size of the hall. We do put on drama but are limited to the amount of space. It’s always very difficult trying to select the best shows we’ve had – every show we’ve had has been unique and superb in its own way – but my favourites have been shows with a bit of music, a storyline and some humour e.g. GreenMatthews’ The Wind in the Willows: A Folk Opera or Serious Kitchen’s The Whispering Road.
It’s great personally to meet and hear the wonderful musicians and artists offered through the rural touring scheme but I most enjoy hearing the audience’s response after a show. So often people come up to me and say what a privilege it is to have such high-quality professional entertainment made available within our small community. A few years ago, we were lucky enough to have the Tannahill Weavers perform in the hall, booked through the rural touring scheme. To see Hemingby printed as a venue on their worldwide tour programme which included some famous venues was just remarkable! We had our biggest audience attend and the hall rocked!
A tip for new promoters would be to try to select shows based on what the audience would like rather than just personal preference. We’ve never had a show that was a flop which is a massive compliment to the scheme. Another tip is to build up your contacts through email and Facebook as well as advertising in the local media.
What did 2019/20 bring?
We bid for two shows in the 2019/20 programme with ‘old boy band’ Men In General performing their zany A cappella Quadruplets, which was hilarious. Then, on the 13th March, Harp & a Monkey brought their show Victorians – Songs, Stories and More. We had a lovely evening although little did we know at the time that this would be the last live performances before we all went into the Covid-19 lockdown!
Up to this date, the Village Hall has had a really successful year with increased bookings and attendances at events. This in turn, however, brought its own problem as we often struggled to find sufficient car parking on the narrow roads around the hall. So, Hemingby Parish Council and the Village Hall Committee put their heads together and, with the help of a local farmer, came up with a really exciting plan to convert an old sheep pen/enclosure into a hard standing car park. This would provide sufficient, safe and secure parking for visitor vehicles and would mean we would keep the narrow roads clear of vehicles. The enclosure is situated near to the hall but is separated by a beck, a spinney and the road adjacent to the hall. A footbridge has been commissioned and a short footpath will be cut through the spinney, which will be planted with wildflowers and offer a quiet area for the community. It should certainly improve upon the experience of people visiting our village and especially for Live & Local performances at the Hall when we eventually get back to some sort of normality.