Devizes MP Claire Perry joins celebrations with Sixties theme

The Wiltshire Gazette and Herald: MP Claire Perry, left, joining villagers at a party to celebrate the hall's 50th birthday. Pictured with her are David Whitehead, John Head, Linda Hopkins, Roger Dickens, Peter Foxton, Trish Unwin, Pauline Dickens and Judith Tame MP Claire Perry, left, joining villagers at a party to celebrate the hall's 50th birthday. Pictured with her are David Whitehead, John Head, Linda Hopkins, Roger Dickens, Peter Foxton, Trish Unwin, Pauline Dickens and Judith Tame

From dances to council meetings, royal jubilee celebrations to youth clubs, women’s institutes to wedding receptions and harvest festivals to christenings – it has been at the heart of village life for almost half a century.

Over the weekend residents of Wootton Rivers raised a glass to their 1960s-built village hall to mark the 50th anniversary of when villagers acquired the land on which to build it.

Last Saturday afternoon some of the older residents – including fundraisers – attended a tea party and cake cutting ceremony with local MP Claire Perry.

In the evening there was a 1960s-style dance as the hall echoed to the sounds of the Beatles and the Rolling Stones, who were about to come to prominence when the first bricks were laid.

“The hall is tremendously important to us here. It has played an enormous part in the lives of local people,” said Linda Hopkins, chair of the village hall management committee.

Mrs Hopkins said its role had become increasingly important over the years following the closure of the village shop in 1978 and of Wootton Rivers school a year later.

Over the past few years £94,000 has been ploughed into maintenance and improvements at the hall. It was during the late 1950s that villagers began campaigning for a hall.

A piece of scrubland was provided by St John’s College, Cambridge, which let the community have it for a peppercorn rent.

Villagers then set out to raise £2,500 – half the cost of the structure, with the district council contributing a similar amount.

“It was a lot of money in those days,” said Mrs Hopkins.

Wootton Rivers-born John Head was 19 when he was co-opted on to the village hall committee in 1959.

Mr Head, now 72, said: “I was asked to join the committee to represent the youth of the village because they were all much older.”

The hall was eventually opened in 1963 and Mr Head remained a committee member until leaving for Pewsey in 1967.

Returning for Saturday’s tea party, he said: “It was really nice to see some of the people who were around when all of the fund raising took place. It looks in really good shape.”

Vonnie Dickens, 77, and husband Den, 82, also attended Saturday’s party.

Mrs Dickens said: “We used to go to the dances at the school to help raise money for the village hall.”

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