Hall trust needs a long lease to access new revenue streams

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A charitable trust which has admirably run a historic landmark since the 1990s says it is in dire need of restoration – but can’t raise the money to do it.

The Dobbie Hall Trust, a board of volunteer trustees, is at present stuck in limbo over the future of the beloved hall in Larbert which has been a focal point of the community since it opened back in 1901.

The trust is also in charge of running the neighbouring Rotary Hall, also a victim of disrepair, but with council funding short on the ground due to cuts in local authority budgets, finding the money to rejuvenate the halls for public use has proved difficult.

Retired GP and former member of the trust, Douglas Stewart, says the buildings need structural repairs urgently, and believes the Rotary Hall is a health hazard.

The group is trying to raise capital for the repairs and upgrades but is hitting brick walls as it does not have a long lease on the buildings, despite talks with Falkirk Council over a “number of years”.

Dr Stewart has written to the council about the issue, but says he has been left frustrated with the lack of response he has received.

He said: “Obtaining a lease for the Dobbie Hall has to date been the main concern of the trust. Any major capital expenditure can seriously impact on the trust finances and to mitigate this, application for grants is a strategy which the trust would wish to pursue.

“But almost all major granting authorities require applicants who do not own the property in question to have a lease in place for a period in the order of 20 years or so.

“The failure of Falkirk Council to grant a lease to the trust has been a major impediment to accessing grants for these projects and reflects poorly on the council’s commitment to support our local communities.”

A statement from the trust said: “The trust entered into negotiations with Falkirk Council a number of years ago with a view to extending the lease of the Dobbie Hall.

“Unfortunately, limitations on funding and budget cuts over the years have meant under-investment in both the Dobbie and Rotary Halls. This has left both halls in a state of repair which requires significant – and expensive – structural and architectural work.

“Whilst we would not wish to comment specifically on the fine detail of the negotiations that have been taking place with Falkirk Council, we are ultimately hopeful that a conclusion can be reached which will allow the Halls to flourish and continue to be run for the benefit of the community.”

The council say financial constraints have made “difficult” to meet the maintenance costs of the buildings.

A Falkirk Council spokesperson said: “We are aware of the challenges involved in maintaining buildings such as the Dobbie Hall and we are working closely with the trustees to seek a solution.

“The council has allocated £104,000 towards repairs at the building and has been working with the trustees to secure additional external funding and establish a new lease. A decision on funding is expected soon.”

Rich history of serving community

The Dobbie Hall was gifted to the district by ironfounder Major Robert Dobbie of Beechmount, to be used as a meeting place. The Drill Hall in Tryst Road had served that purpose for years, but by the end of the 19th century was deficient in many ways.

In May 1899 Dobbie bought ground at the corner of Main Street, Stenhousemuir, and Burnhead Lane (Burnhead Road) from the trustees of Mary Ramsay or Blair, an Innkeeper from Ramshorn near Dollar. This was where the Dobbie Hall was to be built.

On Saturday, June 23 1900 a grand procession of all the Friendly Societies and Trade Guilds left the Tryst Ground and met with representatives of the Masonic Lodges at the Central School (old Larbert High).

They then marched with bands and banners through Stenhousemuir and Larbert, opening the new public thoroughfares at Pretoria and Victoria Roads.

Upon returning to the site, the foundation stone was laid with full Masonic honours. The Hall was opened in August 1901 by the Duchess of Montrose who unclipped a jewelled bracelet from the handles of the entrance doorway. The Duke and Duchess had previously been entertained at Larbert House by J. H. N. Graham, who then accompanied the couple to the hall.

The Dobbie Hall was designed by A and W Black of Falkirk in baroque style and built by J. J. and P McLachlan of Stenhousemuir, at a cost of around £12,000.

The first concert to take place within the hall on the opening night was for the benefit of the wives of the soldiers in the war in Africa. The Larbert Carnegie Public Library, also designed by A & W Black, was erected on part of the ground given by Robert Dobbie for the hall and opened on October 27, 1904. (Source: Brian Watters, 2006, Falkirk Local History Society)