Built and opened in 1911 the Institute was originally conceived as a venue open to all (particularly young people) with no restrictions either as to creed or to the use of alcohol in suitable circumstances. At the time an Anglican church hall had recently been opened with its use limited to events connected with the Parish Church and it seems that Kelvedon’s Non-conformists saw the need for facilities available to the whole community.
Today the 1911 building remains largely unaltered – a full-height main hall with three-storey rear cross-wing. At its opening, the main hall, approximately 40 by 30 ft had two front doors facing the High Street and was fully equipped with heating, piano, tables, chairs, cutlery, plates etc. The cross-wing consisted of a semi-basement kitchen (connected by a hatch system to the main hall) and toilets; a second floor holding two rooms to accommodate lectures, committee meetings and a selection of books; and across the whole top-floor a single room housing two full-size billiard tables complete with all accessories.
The building was of brick construction with “Tudor” half-timber detail. All doors, staircases and main ceilings were of pine with stout door-frames and deep skirting-boards. Even at almost 100 years old the woodwork shows little sign of age and stands up well to the constant knocks which a public building inevitably receives. The whole project was designed, funded and built in less than a year at the equivalent in 2009 prices of well over £500,000! The site was created through the purchase and demolition of several houses and outbuildings but unfortunately funds did not extend to the acquisition of additional land and indeed did not even cover the whole cost of the project and for many years the Hall Committee had to repay loans first from individual benefactors and subsequently from the Bank. The Hall has now been free of debt for many years and runs at a small annual “profit” – surplus funds being accumulated towards future major projects.
In its early days the Hall was home to the Kelvedon Brotherhood and many other village groups including a popular cinema. During WWII meals for school-children were served in the Hall and in 1949 Kelvedon Players was founded as an offshoot of the WI Drama Group and began its 60 year association with the Hall.
By the 1960’s the body of volunteers who had served the Hall so well as Trustees and Managers had shrunk through age and illness and, as the Hall’s constitution allowed for the appointment of new Trustees only by the existing Committee, there was a grave danger that Management would disappear. Luckily, a group of volunteers with the legal knowledge and skills to retrieve the situation came forward and a new Committee was set up which embarked on the first major alterations to the hall. The building was re-roofed and re-wired, a more permanent stage installed, the kitchen moved to the ground floor from the basement and, at the time of the European Year of the Disabled in the mid-1970’s, the two front entrance lobbies were converted into toilets with a new central entrance with other improvements to the hall including new flooring to the Hall and new heating (just in time for restricted use during the Winter of Discontent!).
In order to avoid any future possibility of “disappearing Trustees” the hall became a Registered Charity with a new Scheme and the Charity Commission as its Custodian Trustee. Day to day management remained in the hands of a local Management Committee consisting of a mixture of representatives nominated by local organisations, elected volunteers and co-opted Trustees able to give the hall the benefit of their particular skills.
During the 1980s and early 90s the need to modernise and extend the building became increasingly apparent to the Hall Committee. Unfortunately the Hall’s land-locked location meant that no work could take place until an area of land to the rear became available. Outline plans were drawn up and presented to residents and site meetings were held with the County and District Councils to explore the viability of plans. However, when Essex CC finally announced its intention to vacate and sell Kelvedon House, Kelvedon Community Association was set up with, as one of its aims, the development of the land to the rear of the hall for community purposes. The Institute Trustees therefore resolved to adopt the policy of carrying out what improvements they could as long as these did not impede the Association’s plans. Consequently, the main hall has been redecorated and Kelvedon Players have upgraded their stage facilities so that these could if necessary be moved to another venue; a whole-building fire-warning system has been fitted as have a hearing-loop and public address system. Since the acquisition of the rear land by Kelvedon Parish Council an additional fire-escape has been installed serving the kitchen, rear committee room and top-floor whilst most recently the kitchen has been modernised and the committee room redecorated.
The hall provides a reasonably-priced venue, located in the centre of the High Street within 100 metres of the new Community Car Park. Current users include Martial Arts (2 weekly clubs), Aerobics and Keep Fit (3 weekly clubs), use by pupils of the Essex Autistic Society School (3 times weekly in term-time), various Drama and Music Societies (2 adult and 2 Youth groups – approx. 5-6 sessions weekly) plus WI, Garden Club, Holistic Healing, Spiritualist meetings, Folk and Music evenings (all monthly). Talks, meetings, social and fund-raising events are held throughout the year by such diverse users as the local Heritage Society, Kelvedon Music Festival, Essex Wildlife Trust, Kelvedon Parish Council, Kelvedon Community Association and individual families celebrating birthdays, wedding anniversaries etc..