Southwell House Highbridge - Sharon Reid and Mike Jones

A Highbridge group that oversees a “forgotten” community hall and war memorial garden has launched a fundraising appeal to raise money for vital work.

The volunteers who maintain Southwell House and Gardens say the money is urgently needed to bring the facilities up to date.

Highbridge War Memorial Trust has begun a crowdfunding page to raise £2,500 for internal remedial works to return it to good order and replace its heating system.

Treasurer Mike Jones told “The hall and gardens are tucked away off Highbridge’s Church Street, next to the rec ground, and we think few people know they are here.”

“They have been forgotten by a lot of people, even though there is a lot of history here. We have a great community hall with historic war memorial gardens.”

“We have enough funds for our day-to-day running costs, but not for much-needed improvements.”

Sharon Reid, Bookings Secretary, adds: “The trustees find themselves having to bring this building and grounds through these unprecedented times.”

“All bookings to the building have stopped, with no date in the foreseeable future for when group meetings will again be able to re-start. Therefore, all money coming in to keep the building running has come to a halt and this has caused immense worry for the trustees.”

“Having various fundraising events cancelled, along with all other monies coming in through hires, we find ourselves just being able to meet the utility bills.”

”The money we are trying to raise is for the old out of date heating to be replaced, ready for the winter months, together with remedial works that have completely been wiped from the plan.”

She adds: “In normal times, our weekly groups are varied from Parkinsons, COPD, Healing, AA, hobbies of boxing, drumming, card making, art and quilting, to name a few. Ad hoc private hires include birthdays parties, christenings, music events, family barbecues, fundraising events, and even the Mayor’s civic reception.”

“We have off road parking, which is disabled friendly, and there’s the bonus of when hiring the building, users get the surrounding grounds and tarmac play area, all adjacent to Highbridge Recreational Ground that for many years was the home of Highbridge Town FC and is now used by Burnbridge Wanderers JFC.”

“Unfortunately, as the building has no rateable value and is situated in the middle of grounds without its own address, we have learned that we cannot apply to the community halls grants available at the moment, which has been made available for halls through Covid-19 funding.”

“Village halls are eligible to claim one-off grants from the government to assist businesses with the Coronavirus crisis. Even if the hall is run as a charity and receives a charitable relief, it still qualifies for the Retail, Leisure and Hospitality Grant.“

“We have been advised that there may be another grant coming that Charities such as ours in this situation will be able to make a claim, however these are not guaranteed, and we could be turned down.”

“We are now calling on the residents of Highbridge and the surrounding areas to donate a small amount into this funding pot to enable us to continue with the upgrading of the heating system and, should we be fortunate in having more than we require for this we do have a list of remedial works, such as water heating in the kitchen, both toilets, flooring, internal decorating. Your help will be greatly received.”

History of Southwell House and gardens

Southwell House and the Gardens were left to the people of Highbrdge, but they became semi derelict under council control. Approximately 20 years ago a group of residents took back the control and, with a lot of hard work and fundraising events, they refurbished the building, gardens and memorial and gained charitable trust, with the prime intention of keeping the whole area for the local community to use the outside space and to hire the building.

The war memorial garden includes the Railwaymen’s Plaque which is understood to have been housed at the Somerset & Dorset Locomotive Works at Walrow, close to the station. It was dedicated to the workers who left to join the services for duty in WW1.

The plaque was later removed to the north end of the booking office at Highbridge Station, following the demolition of the station, and the plaque was relocated to Southwell Gardens and the fenced sunken garden area of the land.

Situated in the Memorial Garden is also a plaque to honour local hero Major Frank Foley. Major Foley was a British spy who saved the lives of more than 10,000 Jews from the Holocaust in Germany.

The original group of volunteers and trustees have managed to keep the facilities going with their hard work and just one grant to enable them to install folding, sound-proof doors a few years ago.

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