As in many villages, the Village Hall is host to all kinds of events, such as wedding receptions, children's parties, line dancing, darts matches and a youth club.
But in place of that other traditional social focus, the village pub, Santon Downham has the Brecklands Club. This is a thriving licenced club, with some 500 members - far more than the population. About half of the 90 or so households in Santon Downham include members, but the rules ensure that control remains with the village, as the committee is predominantly made up of villagers.
There are regular events such as discos, cabaret and a trip to the races. The highlight of recent years was the millennium celebration, with four whole days of parties, fireworks and entertainment.
There is often something to enjoy outdoors around the Club and Hall, such as November's giant bonfire, the annual Family Fun Day and sponsored walks or cycle rides.
Hall and Club started life together in the same building, a wooden hut that was brought to Santon Downham in 1954 by the Forestry Commission for its workers who lived here. The building used to stand at High Lodge where it was originally part of a labour camp when planting of the forest was at its peak. The Hall was opened on on 21st December 1954 by the Right Honourable the Earl of Radnor.
The Club expanded from its corner of the Village Hall, and today occupies a modern building adjoining, which opened in 1994. There are plans to rebuild the Village Hall too, if the Charities Board of the Lottery Commission grants help (see below).
Running the Village Hall
Chairman, treasurer, booking clerk, general repairman and licencee of Santon Downham village hall is Andrew Kedar. Other key figures in the Village Hall's management include Val Marsh, Brenda Largent and Marilyn Boulton. Andrew described the running of the Hall in an interview in October 1999 .
The Village Hall operates as a charity, and fund raising is needed to keep it going. Car boot sales have been an essential part of this in recent years. "Without these annual events - about six a year - the village hall would be insolvent," said Andrew.
When the hall opened, the village was almost entirely populated by people who worked in the forest. "It was a time before television was strong, it was a time before cars were common, it was a time when people made their own entertainment," said Andrew. There was a small drama group here, there was a Women's Institute and there may have been other active bodies back in the 50s and 60s. Through time they've gradually faded away.
The hall is used roughly 12 times in a month - mostly private events in the evenings. There are wedding receptions occasionally, baptism parties, birthday parties, a weekly line dancing club and darts matches. A new youth club is being set up.
In time people in the village wanted to form a members-only club with a licenced bar and the Brecklands Club was set up. This was given about a third of the hall, which was walled off to become the Club.
The Club is now very strong and has grown in size, with a new modern building in place of the old part of the wooden hut.
"But the Village Hall end will also be rebuilt as well," said Andrew. "We have permission to rebuild it - but we do not have the money. Something in the region of £60,000-65,000 needs to be raised, and there is a grant of £28,000 available from the District Council if the rest of the money is in place".
"There is no chance of raising the rest of the money inside the village," said Andrew. An appeal has been made to the Lottery Commission Charities Board. "If we can get that, then the District Council grant will follow and we should be able to rebuild."
Through the Village Hall, Santon Downham also hosts an annual major event which raises money for a children's hospice. This is an annual sponsored bike ride in May, which raised £33,000 in 1999. Scout groups also meet sometimes at the hall for special events, and girl guides from outside the village recently raised £3,000 by a sponsored walk, in and around the village area. "These are just some of the events, but we could do with more of them," said Andrew.
Income from the lettings of the Hall is not enough to do any more than just survive, said Andrew, and so car boot sales are now held every month in summer. The Village Hall charges a fee for the pitch and sells teas and cakes donated by villagers.
In 1999, £1,120 was raised after expenses - the best total yet, helped by good weather. "We continue to struggle with the money. It is adequate, but there is not a lot of surplus," says Andrew, " and we will now hope that the Lottery Commission Charities Board will come up with some money for us."
A Forest Heath District Council (Suffolk) Project supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund as part of the Millennium Festival ©2000 Designed by ArtAtac