Do you have cherished memories of Forres Town Hall? Did you see The Beatles play there, or did you meet your partner at a dance in the sixties?
The custodians of the landmark building are appealing for people to come forward to build a picture of how important the town hall has been to local people over decades gone by.
Town Hall Tales is a project being run by Forres Area Community Trust (FACT) with local historian Helen Avenell and storyteller Margot Henderson, and will culminate with a party and exhibition on 28 April.
FACT Development manager Debbie Herron says small projects like this are underpinning a major £4.3m refurbishment.
“Funders don’t just give money for buildings. They give money because they want to see the building is thriving, being used and has potential, and this project that we’re doing now really demonstrates how important this facility is to the community of Forres, and how we need to secure it for the future, so we can continue to bring benefits.
“We’re lucky that we’ve been awarded a £300,000 Community Ownership Fund grant which will go a long way to help us start the work.”
Margot Henderson and Helen Avenell both worked together on a larger project to collect memories of Leanchoil Hospital.
Margot said: “We’re gathering stories from a lot of the users of the town hall, going into lots of groups, such as the old-aged pensioners, the craft and chatter group – to gather stories about their memories of the town hall, and the things that happened here.
Did you see The Beatles?
“Did they see The Beatles, did they meet their partner here on the dance floor? Were they here when the musician fell off the stage drunk, that kind of thing – just to get a flavour of all that has happened here.
“It’s an incredible building, but what makes it incredible isn’t just the architecture, it’s the lives that have been lived in this place.
“The other part of the project is to acknowledge how the town hall has been the heart of the town in recent times, particularly through the lockdown. The way in which it’s really stepped up to serve the community with, for example, the pop-up food pantry, the befrienders – there’s so many ways in which it is supporting the community – the teas, the coffee mornings that bring people together, who might otherwise be isolated.”
The Town Hall Tales project will culminate on 28 April with a party and exhibition of any memorabilia or photographs collected. Some of the groups who’ve used the hall are being invited to take part.
“We’re building it up as we go and inviting groups to participate as we go so that it leads up to a celebration of all the town hall does,” Margot said.
Giant Haystacks wrestled here
Helen works with museums and heritage organisations and community groups and says her role has been to talk to people and listen to their stories.
She explained: “We had a really lovely memory that we got last week from somebody who remembers Giant Haystacks wrestling here, with the ring set up right in the middle of the town hall.
“So that’s what we’re looking for, where people have visceral memories from their childhood, events that they came to, discos, dances. A lot of people met their partners here.
“In more recent years, the Highland Youth Theatre, and then Varis Players, played here for years and years. So it’s really giving space for people to share their memories and stories.”
To submit a memory, go to https://www.surveymonkey.co.uk/r/29YLL22
In the picture are, left to right, Helen Avenell, Debbie Herron and Margot Henderson with a picture of revellers enjoying a dance at the town hall in days gone by.