Bridge ace joins fight for Hitchin community hall

Bancroft Hall at Bancroft Gardens in Hitchin.

Bancroft Hall at Bancroft Gardens in Hitchin. - Credit: Daniel Wilson

A CAMPAIGN to rebuild a “much needed” community facility after it has been demolished has rocketed this week, with a national figure wading into the debate.

Hitchin Bridge Club and other users of Hitchin’s Bancroft Hall could be made homeless if plans to knock down the facility proceed.

The bridge club has been urging the council to rebuild a new facility for the past two years – as reported previously in the Comet – and this week, the UK’s top bridge player Andrew Robson joined that campaign.

Mr Robson, who is an OBE, wrote in his daily column in a national newspaper this week that there was a need for a new facility in the town. He also praised the work the club has done in the town.

But North Herts District Council (NHDC) claims there is enough community provision in the town already.

Speaking to the Comet, bridge club president Margaret Eddleston, who has been in talks with the council, said this was not true.

“They’re still saying, effectively, when the town hall reopens the provision will be there. It seems very short sighted,” she said.

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“It will take three or four, maybe longer, years, during which time they could be planning for a replacement, rather than sticking their heads in the sand.

“Our members are just fed up that the council is in denial. The club has researched all possible options in Hitchin and there aren’t any.”

On Mr Robson’s involvement, she added: “It is enormously rewarding to have Andrew’s support for our activities.”

Mr Robson has called on the council to stop “digging its heels in”. The bridge club has even offered to use its charity status to cash in on grants to pay for a new facility for all the community, but NHDC has so far ignored this approach.

Cllr Tricia Cowley, NHDC’s portfolio holder for community engagement, said: “The council has been looking carefully at its community halls to ensure they give residents the best value for money.

“Bancroft Hall, the premises used by the Hitchin Bridge Club and a range of other groups, was found to require more than £200k to bring it up to a reasonable standard for hire, and we have therefore agreed that the hall will close and be demolished, but only at such time as the refurbished Hitchin Town Hall facility re-opens in 2014.

“We have also offered Hitchin Bridge Club other alternative venues in Hitchin, including four community centres and before its closure, space at the Hitchin Town Hall, none of which, unfortunately, they have deemed suitable.”