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Valley Church, Andover

History of The Bridge

The Bridge The Bridge

The Valley Church purchased 31-33 Bridge Street in February 1996 from Test Valley Borough Council to renovate it as a Community Building. It had initially been a Coaching Inn when built in 1797, then an Engineering Association offices, the Town Library until the 1960’s when the new Library opened in the Chantry Centre and was finally Council Offices until the Beech Hurst offices opened in 1990(TBC).

The roots of the Valley Church Andover lie in the work of the Tasker family in the village of Anna Valley. On the 1st January 1867 a hall was opened in Foundry Road, Anna Valley by the owners of the Waterloo Iron Works for the benefit of their employees. This happened at a time in the history of England when it was not an ordinary occurrence for employers to spend a considerable sum of money (in excess of £1000) to provide a place solely for the recreation and benefit of employees. The large room in which workmen could eat their breakfasts and dinners, relax and play games had “domestic offices” adjoining it where coffee could be obtained “at a merely nominal price”.

The purposes for which the Waterloo Workmen’s Hall was provided were briefly outlined by the chairman, Mr. W. Tasker, Junior:

  • For the physical comfort of the men employed at the Iron Works.
  • For their mental improvement, by compiling a library, holding “penny readings”, evening classes and concerts. A Sunday School was proposed also.
  • For their moral benefit, by elevating their tastes, and providing a wholesome alternative to the village alehouse.

The hall was built right opposite the Plough Inn and every day the workmen crowded in for their meals and for the evening activities. Later on the day school was moved to the building and it became the centre of village life. The building was closed most of Sunday as the Workmen’s Hall had not originally been intended as a place of worship. However, it was understood that evening activities in the hall might include a Bible Class for men who wished to attend, and an occasional religious meeting. The Workmen’s Hall was therefore intended to provide for the needs of the whole man, for wholesome entertainment as well as Bible studies, for village celebrations as well as education.

The Valley Church purchased the old library building in Bridge Street from Test Valley Borough Council (TVBC) for the purpose of providing a facility to meet both the needs of the Church and to continue to provide services to the community. The Church consulted many different groups and organisations about what services or facilities were missing in the town centre, before deciding on the layout and facilities to be implemented in the Bridge Street premises.

The needs identified in the community included (those in bold were incorporated into the Building Project at some point and may or not still be running):

  • Need a place to love people and express God’s love to them.
  • Youth needs to be targeted, need focal point for them to meet/discuss/socialise. A drop-in centre for young people especially the unemployed, ie. a coffee bar, billiards, pool table etc. with people available to chat and offer practical help. Open both day and evenings, especially Friday, Saturday, Sunday evenings.
  • Need place for people to get out of the “river of life” and get cleaned up / recuperate before carrying on journey – temporary accommodation to give rest or a break before going back to routine life.
  • Building must be very “homely” so as to be an attractive place for people to come to.
  • Need regular place for Health Visitors to offer services on parenting, basics from newborns up, including speech therapy etc.
  • Need to stimulate sharing in the Church – gifts, clothes, games etc.
  • Need place to have coffee etc. which has room for pushchairs, space for kids to play and is preferably downstairs. Other coffee places in town very limited for Mums with small children.
  • Need somewhere running holiday activities for children. Mums and Toddlers Group having to close down for summer because can’t get insurance etc. to cover older children coming along as well.
  • Need place for Ladies Bible Study Group to meet on Tuesday mornings, recently have had to meet in the park. Room(s) required for small group use. ? Disabled access to all parts of building essential.
  • Suggested links with local GPs to get names of those who need a visit/help.
  • Need a “swap shop” for games/toys/clothes where those in need can either borrow or buy cheaply what they need at the time and return or sell back when finished with item.
  • A drop-in chat/counselling service for one parent families. Also a team of workers available to help out in practical ways.
  • A centre for the elderly. So many elderly people who are lonely and just want someone to talk to.
  • Need for Information Centre where people can just drop in and browse through leaflets etc. for information on what agencies can help with their problem.
  • Need for shower, launderette and locker facilities for homeless.

Out of 16 identified needs the project therefore provided facilities to meet 10 of them. One, the need for temporary accommodation, could not be incorporated into the building because of design and space constraints. For the remaining 5, the facilities provided in the Building were suitable to meet them, but no-one came forward at the time who was willing to champion them or establish the lead for them. A counseling service and Debt Advice service have since been started in the building.

The building was extensively modified, in fact “gutted” would be a better description, and lifts were installed to provide wheelchair and buggy access to all the facilities. The major structural work took place between March and October 1997 the Vine Trust Bookshop opened in November 1997, in time for the Christmas rush, but the other community facilities didn’t open until late 1998, with the formal opening of the building on 14 November 1998.

The photographs show the major work done on the building to adapt it to its new role. When it was purchased the bottom floor had very low ceilings and consisted of a boiler house, coal cellar and storage rooms, none of which were suitable for any of the purposes identified. The middle and top floors consisted of offices with a very substantial chimney and structural wall running across the middle of the wing running alongside the river. The chimney and wall on the top floor were removed completely and replaced by a steel frame to open up the main auditorium. The majority of the interior partition walls on both the top and middle floors were removed and the first floor raised in one wing to provide additional height on the ground floor and one level throughout the building. A similar process was done on the top floor to get a single level, except for the front office which was too difficult to alter without completely altering the stairs from the middle to top floors, which were a feature the Conservation Officer wanted to keep. The new lift shaft provided additional stability for the building and new stairs from the ground to the middle floor opened up access to the new lobby on the ground floor (together with the platform lift to give access from street level to the new ground floor). The main lift required mini-piles to be driven down to the rock bed and a waterproof sump to be created for the hydraulic machinery, since the bottom of the sump is below the water table of the river. Additional reinforced steel girders had to be inserted in several areas to support the new first floor and lift shaft, as well as to support the extension out into the courtyard. A chemical damp course had to be inserted into the ground floor walls as there did not appear to be one. The two existing windows on the ground floor overlooking the river had to be replaced and two new window openings made with matching windows. All the electrics and plumbing in the building was completely replaced, including cables for video and audio distribution, and the building was replastered throughout. After the project was completed the “Town Jail” tableau was added to mark the role of the inn keeper as a temporary jailer until prisoners could be taken to Winchester.