Exeter Street Hall

Exeter Street Hall was a hive of activity when I visited. The building and the surrounding streets of Prestonville were covered in a thick layer of snow, which meant that sodden coats were drying all around the building. But, most importantly, the all-important deadline of 31st January 2013 was approaching fast.

St Luke’s Church was built in 1875 on the Old Shoreham Road. St Luke’s Church Hall – known fondly as Exeter Street Hall – was built around the corner nine years later, as confirmed by a ceremonial foundation stone on the building’s red-brick façade which was laid, presumably when construction was completed, on 6th May 1884.

It was at the end of 2011 that residents of Prestonville were informed by the Church that the hall was to be put up for sale – and soon afterwards that a community campaign sprang up to purchase the building for the public good. £200,000 was to be raised by selling shares to anybody who wanted to chip in. Hundreds of people got involved. But the deadline was tight and it was an awful lot of cash to find in such a short space of time.

I was shown around by campaigner Peter Golton, a resident of Exeter Street (and physics teacher at BHASVIC), who introduced me to Paul Winter who got the whole operation going in the first place. Leaflets were being batched, banners folded and lists checked. It was a highly-organised chaos in the kitchen behind.

The front of the building consists of the main hall, which is situated between separate entrances for boys and girls. These doorways presumably date back to the original Sunday School. A multitude of gables (I counted ten) and medieval-themed fireplaces clearly define the building’s style as Gothic.

A trap-door in the floor close to the boys’ entrance was simply dying to be lifted. It came up fairly easily, at which point a small crowd gathered to see what was below. It had clearly been explored before by successive tradesmen as electricity cables and gas pipes can be seen zigzagging across the cavity below. It is fairly deep though and itching to be navigated properly.

When I visited, an impressive £138,850 had been raised with only around one week to go. A flood of last-minute share applications, and a £50,000 reduction in the selling price, meant that the hall was saved.

Visit to www.exeterstreethall.org to see what is planned.