Wellow: Auf Wiedersehen UK

Show notes (summary)

Renovating a heritage property is a major task at the best of times. But when that property is also the centre of an English village community and you’re trying to manage the project from over 600 miles away in Germany… well that’s seemingly impossible. Our guest, Jane Crofts describes how she and her sister Joanne have worked together for 8 years to bring the village hall in Wellow, Nottinghamshire back to life, from afar. And now she can’t even get home!

Transcript: Season 1 / Episode 6

Johnny Thomson 00:01
Hello and welcome to The Village Halls Podcast sponsored by Allied Westminster, the UK’s largest specialist provider of village hall insurance and the home of VillageGuard. Now today I’m delighted to be joined by someone who technically qualifies as our first ever international guest. Well, that is if you base that around where they’re calling from, rather than where they actually come from. My guest, Jane Crofts, who right now is in Germany, has invested a huge amount of time and effort over the past eight years into the refurbishment of a village hall in North Nottinghamshire. It’s fair to say the project has been challenging at times and Jane has kindly agreed to tell us about why, she and her sister took on this huge task, and how it’s all been. Welcome Jane.

Jane Crofts 00:44
Thank you for inviting me Johnny.

Johnny Thomson 00:46
It’s a pleasure. Thanks for joining me today. Now, interestingly, Jane spends most of her time with her husband and children living and working in Germany, where she’s a business consultant and language teacher. However, her great passion in life is actually the village of Wellow in North Nottinghamshire, where she grew up, and more specifically, Wellow Church Schoolroom. So come on, Jane, explain a little bit about how all that works.

Jane Crofts 01:13
Well, yes I’m Wellow born and bred and have a family that stretches over at least eight generations living in this rural village. My mother is churchwarden looking after the 12th century church, but she’s also trustee to the small schoolroom. This is a Victorian schoolroom and yes, over the last years it’s sadly been in disrepair and in 2013 we needed to look at doing some major restoration.

Johnny Thomson 01:41
How old’s your mum Jane, if you don’t mind me asking? Well, she’ll be coming up to 80. This may. And she’s still involved in the local community in the hall and everything there. Yeah.

Jane Crofts 01:51
Oh, absolutely. She’s the heart and soul of village, I’d say and she looks after everybody and everything. Very much so the church. Without her, some things would fall apart. At the times when she used to, you know, be coming over to Germany to visit me there’d be people phoning me from the village saying Jean, what do we do here? She’s that kind of person. Every village needs such a person.

Johnny Thomson 02:16
Brilliant. Fantastic. And we can’t mention Wellow without mentioning the famous maypole as well, because that’s the landmark, that’s the famous landmark there, isn’t it?

Jane Crofts 02:24
It is indeed, yes. It’s 60 foot tall. It’s rather unique. I think there are only a handful of maypoles that still being danced around. We have our May Festival on Spring Bank Holiday Monday, where hundreds if not, you know a couple of thousand people turn up to the village to see the May Queen crowned and the dancing. It is it’s the main sort of thing of the of the village, the maypole. It’s beautiful. It’s on the village green.

Johnny Thomson 02:52
And the renovation project at the school room. What stage is that at right now?

Jane Crofts 02:57
Well, we’re at the point where we only have the west boundary wall to restore. And that’s a 60 foot long, four foot high wall. The rest of the building, we completed sort of summer 2019 and had an opening. But we just had this west boundary wall that needed about £5,000 to get that sorted. But basically the rest of it’s, yeah up and ready to go.

Johnny Thomson 03:24
Yeah, okay. Okay, so so let’s step back to I think it was 2013, wasn’t it? And the moment you and your sister, what’s your sister’s name? By the way,

Jane Crofts 03:32
My sister’s name is Joanne.

Johnny Thomson 03:34
Joanne. So when you and your sister decided to take on the project, how and perhaps more importantly, why, did you both become involved in this?

Jane Crofts 03:44
Well, we couldn’t bear to see a heritage building in the village just beginning to really fall apart and not be used in the way that we’d known it to be used and which had served the community for all those years before.

Johnny Thomson 03:58
And I guess you’d grown up seeing your mum heavily involved with with the schoolroom as well, so you felt that was something that you had to, you had to take on from from that perspective?

Jane Crofts 04:08
That’s right. You couldn’t expect… we’ve got three trustees looking after the school room, the vicar and the two church wardens. And they’re all in their 70s and 80s. And they were not going to be the ones that were going to be able to fill in forms and get funding together. So we thought we’d better take that on.

Johnny Thomson 04:26
Brilliant. Now, now, be honest here. How long was it before you realised the magnitude of the task that you’d taken on here?

Jane Crofts 04:36
That’s an excellent question, Johnny. We thought at the beginning okay this will perhaps be a two year job. We’ll, you know, get everybody as enthusiastic as we are. The funders will see, oh yes a heritage building that has to be looked after. Everybody screams about how important the heritage of Britain is, they’ll be straight on board. But we hadn’t realised that there was so many others that needed money too and also that we would be in competition with perhaps cities that, you know, had social deprivation and needed help from certain funds as well and a heritage building sort of seem to come on the, the end of the list. And so, yes, so ended up being a much longer process than just two years.

Johnny Thomson 05:16
And how much in terms of funding did you did you need? Or did you need at the outset, but ultimately need as well?

Jane Crofts 05:22
Yes, we had, at the very beginning, an architect come in with a quantity surveyor, looked at everything and quoted about £120,000, which was a big gulp at the time. But it has actually taken £90,000. So I mean, that has been with some, you know cleverness from ourselves.

Johnny Thomson 05:41
Well done!

Jane Crofts 05:42
Yes, getting local tradesmen in and, you know, trying to help them at the same time as helping us and getting good quotes. I would say we fought hard to bring it under that £120,000. So £90,000 is where we’re at.

Johnny Thomson 05:57
And where where’s the funding come from, has it come in dribs and drabs?

Jane Crofts 06:01
It has, and that’s what’s taken the time? It really did. We’ve had it from Awards for All. I mean, to list the number. I mean, there were 15 of them. I’ve counted about 15 funds, so dribs and drabs put, you know, biggies were Nottinghamshire County Council’s local improvement scheme and the County Councillor, he gave us some of his little grants, Awards for All, Charles Littlewood, Hill Trust, the Garfield Western, JN Derbyshire Trust. So many. But it has been dribs and drabs and that’s what’s taken the time, but we’ve gone stage for stage. Interior first, we had to do because we wanted to get the place being able to be open at least used, a little. Then the exterior. And now like I say we’re on the very last bit of the west boundary wall and we’re so excited we have the funding in for that too.

Johnny Thomson 06:51
So brilliant. So and aside from the fundraise, and what are the kind of obstacles and pressures pressures I guess yhave you faced during the during the project?

Jane Crofts 07:00
Oh, well, it’s it’s quite challenging being away from home to do this. But, you know, I’ve got my right hand man, my sister, my angel, as I call her, she’s right on the doorstep. And I phoned her up many times, giving her maybe even half an hour’s notice saying, oh counsellor so and so’s coming or representative from this funder is coming, please meet them at the schoolroom, show them around, tell them what we’re doing. Excite them! And so she’s beeen my right hand man. She’s ah, without Joanna you know, I couldn’t have managed this.

Johnny Thomson 07:32
And you must have you must have met some interesting people and characters along the way as well I would imagine with with this?

Jane Crofts 07:39
Yes. Yes. We’ve met some wonderful people. And I call them now Friends of the Schoolroom. Because we’ve had heritage building specialists out from the County Council. We’ve had heritage tourism, conservation people out. And I keep hold of those contacts. Because you know, who knows? We need we’ll need them come other projects within the village?

Johnny Thomson 08:04
Yeah. And listen to all of this, then Jane it begs the question, has it as it all been worth it?

Jane Crofts 08:11
Absolutely. Absolutely. Oh, in 2019, when we had the opening ceremony, we weren’t going to wait for the last west boundary wall to get its funding. We thought, no we’re ready to go, sort of now. So let’s have the opening. That was a mammoth task in itself. And we invited the fundraisers representatives for the morning and the villagers in the afternoon. And the villagers. Oh, how wonderful. They patted us on the back and said, wow, how could you possibly manage this from as far away as you are? And I said, well, there’s mum and Joanne on the doorstep and other volunteers that I’ve encouraged to come in. I said, so it’s been absolutely worth it. And just to have, you know, some people pat us on the back and say, oh, how marvellous is going through the village, past the maypole and straight ahead of you is this glorious Victorian school building back as it should be? So that’s good enough for me. I mean, definitely, it’s worth it.

Johnny Thomson 09:08
And of course, you’ve had the lockdown to contend with and the fact that you’re in Germany as well.

Jane Crofts 09:14
I can’t get home. haven’t been home for a year and that’s unprecedented. I’ve never been longer than five months away from Wellow. It’s hard.

Johnny Thomson 09:22
Yeah. Because you regularly go back in the holiday times and all of that. Yeah, yeah,

Jane Crofts 09:25
I do, that’s it, every school holiday. We’ve we’re home, every school holiday, I’m lucky enough to be self employed and my husband’s a teacher. Of course, children at school. So every school holiday, we usually sat in the car and travelling home. And using most of the holiday to look after schoolrooms, not going on nice holidays or relaxing. It’s coming home to do jobs.

Johnny Thomson 09:46
Yeah. And I understand as well, even though you can’t get back home, you’ve been handling a heritage project.

Jane Crofts 09:54
We have yes

Johnny Thomson 09:56
So tell me a bit more about about that as well.

Jane Crofts 09:59
Yes this is an arm really of the schoolroom. It’s the schoolroom’s Wellow Heritage Restoration Project. Restoration and interpretation. So we’ll be putting boards up with all the different parts of heritage that Wellow has, I mean, it’s not only the maypole and the schoolroom and the church, there’s also a moat around the village, an ancient dyke, which is scheduled monument in parts. And a lost village on the edge of the village. That’s to talk about as well. Also many things. There’s so much to uncover. And yes, we’ve done that. Almost about three quarters of the way through now. But the majority of it has been done through lockdown, which, you know, with archives and libraries closed, it’s all been internet for quite, it’s really been quite a challenge. I must say, but I think I think we’re gonna get that.

Johnny Thomson 10:49
You’re a living example, really, of how things can be done remotely, as well these days. Because I can’t imagine, in my mind, somebody you know in Germany being able to handle, you know, a renovation or a project, a heritage project and so on. It’s incredible.

Jane Crofts 11:06
I think it’s the love of your home. Yeah. I mean, it’s I could get quite emotional now. It’s, my home is everything to me. And I think with eight generations and more having been in this village and played their part on tythe appointments, on registering the common land and yes, looking after the 12th century church as my mother does. It’s just, yeah, it has to be this is this is what I was probably born for to, to do my part. To look after this precious village.

Johnny Thomson 11:43
It’s almost like with a family connection and so on, it’s like you’re duty bound?

Jane Crofts 11:48
That’s right.

Johnny Thomson 11:48
Yeah. Yeah. But it’s a passion. It’s a passion as well.

Jane Crofts 11:52
Absolutely. And my background, of course, my degree was Recreation and Tourism Management. The heritage tourism was a module within that. Everything rural, I took every module that was anything to do with rural England. So all of that has helped through this restoration and this further project.

Johnny Thomson 12:11
Yeah, brilliant. I love the commitment and the resilience, of course, as well that you’ve shown for the village and and I guess you’re not alone, in that among village hall, people. There’s so many so many unsung heroes like you and your sister and your mum who give up so much of their lives to the local community.

Jane Crofts 12:30
Absolutely. And I was so pleased to hear your other podcast with Louise Beaton and and Simon Bland. There are, there are so many that volunteer so much time and give so much effort. And yeah, they have to be applauded, really, because it’s it’s a task that not many would take on

Johnny Thomson 12:50
A thankless task.

Jane Crofts 12:51
A thankless task. That’s the word I was looking for. Perseverance. And yes, passion. Yes.

Johnny Thomson 12:59
Yeah. Okay, brilliant. And before we finish, let me just ask for the benefit of others as well. What would be Jane’s top tips for anyone out there who’s thinking about renovating their village hall or who might already be partway through a project right now?

Jane Crofts 13:16
Hmm, that’s a very good question. I would say that if it’s a heritage building like ours, which is 165 years old now, so Victorian stay true to that building’s heritage. Stay true to its deeds, ours is of education as it was a school to begin with. It’s looks. And yeah, it’s materials. I mean, we fought very hard to make sure it was it was done correctly. I mean, we put the instead of having the plastic guttering and drains that were were there in the last, I don’t know, 50 60 years, we’ve exchanged and we’ve got cast iron again. And the roof tiles, we kept the the originals that we could and put them on one side of the roof. On the other side, it’s a handmade replica, which fits very nicely. Stay true to it is one of the main ones. Have dog ear determination to see the project through and have a yeah, a wonderful, supportive family behind you. And yeah, good friends, if if not the family as well, that will jump to and and do little jobs that are needed to be done. I’m so grateful for those in the village that have stepped up and helped us and for all those that bought raffle tickets, which gave us the little bits of extra funding to keep us going along the way.

Johnny Thomson 14:35
Brilliant Jane. Well, well thanks for the insight. And most importantly, congratulations on representing your family and keeping up the tradition there. You never know one day there may be a plaque next to the famous maypole in the village with yours and your sister’s names on it. Yeah?

Jane Crofts 14:51
I don’t I don’t need that at all. I just I’m, we’reso we’re so relieved to see the building as it should be and that the next generation don’t have the mammoth task that we had. So we’re just glad to see it as it’s looking now. I’m pleased that the community can get in as soon as COVID is over.

Johnny Thomson 15:08
Yeah. Excellent. Well, well thanks Jean. And as you’re in Germany and with this northeast accent that I have, I guess I can’t let you go without saying Auf Weidersehen, Pet!

Jane Crofts 15:21
Very good. Auf weidersehen. Ya. Tschuss.

Johnny Thomson 15:26
Yeah, no, no, no, you’ve lost me already.

Jane Crofts 15:29
That’s just the alternative auf weidersehen.

Johnny Thomson 15:33
Sorry about that as well. And sorry to the listeners.

Jane Crofts 15:36
No, but a good one. I like it.

Johnny Thomson 15:39
Thanks again, Jane. Brilliant.

Jane Crofts 15:40
My pleasure.

Johnny Thomson 15:41
Now, before we go, I’d just like to welcome on board another sponsor for our podcast as well, Hallmaster, which helps village halls through its online booking and invoicing system. Hallmaster have kindly agreed to support our shows, which is fantastic. And you can find more information about Hallmaster on the sponsors page of our website. Many thanks too of course to our headline sponsor, and specialist insurance provider Allied Westminster, for also making our podcast possible, and whose services you can discover more about at www.villageguard.com. You’ve been listening to The Village Halls Podcast, a new and unique listening community for Britain’s village, church and community halls, and anyone interested in the vital community services they provide. We’ll be back with another episode soon. So if you haven’t already, please visit thevillagehallspodcast.com to subscribe, sign up for updates, link through to our social media pages and to find out more. Until the next time. Good bye for now.