Hundreds of villagers gathered outside Drinkstone village hall yesterday to celebrate the completion of the new £350,000 building.
The previous hall, a former First World War RAF officers’ mess hut from Great Ashfield Airfield, was devastated by fire in 2010.
Welcoming people to the ‘grand opening,’ Sue Foulsham, chairman of the village hall management committee, said: “It’s absolutely overwhelming that so many of you have come along today to join us in celebrating completion of our long-awaited new building.”
She added: “Looking back, it’s difficult to believe that it’s three years ago in September that we were summoned to the village hall, only to stand and watch in horror as the front section burnt out.
“On that day we realised that our much-loved old hall, which had served us so well since the 1920s, had finally reached the end of its useful life at the heart of our community.
“We all realised that we faced a huge challenge to build a replacement hall and so from that day on the planning and the fund-raising campaign began in earnest.
“The opening of this hall is a hugely significant event for the community and the aim of today is simply to give you the opportunity to view our stunning new building.”
A ribbon-cutting ceremony was used to mark the occasion, with everyone who attended asked to bring scissors to claim their inch of the shiny red tape.
After which, the hall was opened, refreshments given out and villagers permitted their first viewing of the venue, designed by Stuart Harrison of E&P Building Design in Mildenhall.
Resident of eight years Janet Smith, 79, said: “Our last hall was used every day but it was nothing like this. It’s wonderful. I can’t put it into words.”
Decorating the walls of the hall are beautiful tapestry squares depicting Drinkstone houses.
They were lovingly crafted by their owners and assembled into panels by Magery Ward who initiated and led the My House village quilt project, which raised almost £1,000 towards the cost of the new building.
Mrs Ward said she was ‘really pleased’ with the ideas and creativity of villagers who had got involved, as well as with the variety of techniques they had used, which included needle point, felt, embroidery and appliqué.
Admiring the wall art, Lynne Woodward, resident of 11 years, said: “Drinkstone’s got a huge history and this is now part of Drinkstone’s history.”
Committee member Sheila Beswick said villagers had wanted a new hall since before she had arrived in Drinkstone 38 years ago.
She added: “But what’s good is worth waiting for. It’s been done to a very high standard. They (builders JH Vaudrey & Son Ltd) have done us proud.”
Robin Sharp, vice-chairman of the committee, agreed.
He said: “It’s been a long time coming. I’ve been here almost nine years and it was a project that was being discussed even before we came to the village. What really acted as a catalyst was the fire. It was a dark day but the sun was shining through that dark cloud.”
Drinkstone’s many clubs, classes and special interest groups, which have continued to meet in All Saints Church, private homes and halls in neighbouring villages, will start returning to Drinkstone village hall, officially known as the Drinkstone War Memorial Institute, this week.
Mrs Foulsham said: “We were so sad when our dear old hall was put out of use by the fire. For almost three years the village lost its centre. Now, we couldn’t be more happy. The heart of the community is beating again.”
To find out more about the hall and the classes on offer there, go to www.drinkstonevillage.co.uk