California Association Ratepayers Hall                 

   Finchampstead Road, Finchampstead, Berkshire. RG40 3RL

About

The California Ratepayers Association was formed shortly after World War II in order to monitor and promote activities in the area.  Interestingly, one of the initial aims (which has yet to be realised!!) was the provision of a Halt on the railway near Soldiers Rise.  The Association needed a Meeting Place and a well-wisher donated the piece of land on which the Hall now stands.  This was originally part of the Walter Estate, and was conveyed to Henry William Brake in April 1922 in six parcels of land (Nos. 844, 845, 846, 847, 848 and 849).  Mr. Brake died on 14th April, 1945, and on 2nd May, 1949, his widow, Zillah Brake, and his daughter, Zillah Gwendolen Brake, of Rookwood, Portsmouth Road, Guildford donated this land to William Collen of Cheerio, Nine Mile Ride, Bertram Voles of Westcombe, Kiln Ride, Reginald Bowyer of Silver Birches, Barkham Ride, and Cyril Munt of Nine Mile Ride Corner.  These became the original Trustees and a Declaration of Trust was made on 3rd May, 1949, appointing Mr. Collen as Chairman of the California Ratepayers’ Association.

Plans were prepared and the building was started by volunteer labour.  Initially, the steelwork for a Nissen Hut was partially raised on the site but that was never completed.  The area to the left of the main entrance was started first, and was completed to form a small meeting room, known as the Annex.  The base was laid for the main hall and, following fundraising activities, including the annual ‘MakeMerry’, the walls were raised to the top of the window level.

In the early 1960s, when the fund had reached about £750, it was decided to seek a loan from a bank so that the roof could be put on, using the land as collateral. This was arranged and, with cash now available, quotations were sought.  The walls were completed, the height of the windows increased and the roof duly erected.  Funds were, however, still required for plastering, decorating and for wiring for heating and lighting.  The Annex, however, provided some income, being used for Bingo, Whist Drives, Jumble Sales and by the Catholic Church.  Progress although slow was steady and many cold nights were spent completing the electrical work and eventually the plastering was completed also.  The floor was then laid and we had a hall which could be used.  A year’s rent, paid in advance by the Nursery School, enabled the Hall to be decorated and toilets provided. 

As the years passed, it has been possible to make many improvements and changes.  The toilets have been rebuilt and extended, a committee room provided and the kitchen updated.  The Hall ceiling has been fully insulated and the heating system changed from electricity first to oil and, more recently, to gas.  Two store rooms have been added and the stage completed.  In our grounds, with the co-operation of the Borough Council, we provided space for the lay-by and bus shelter.  The front car park was provided with two entrances and, by leasing a small portion of land from the Council, we were able to gain access to the rear of the Hall, where the Gardeners’ Club have their trading hut.

When the Poll Tax was introduced, it was decided to drop ’Ratepayers’ from our name and we became the California Association.  We had seen several of our committee members elected onto the Parish Council and, as these members were keeping an eye on happenings in the area, the Association decided to concentrate on running the Hall and not to be too involved in ratepayers’ matters.  The committee is elected at our AGM in October. All the Hall users are represented, and we have monthly meetings.

Originally, in order to preserve continuity of ownership by the ratepayers of the area, The committee took the step to make everybody who lives within one mile of the Hall automatically a member of the Association.  This had two objectives.  Firstly it enabled the committee to cease collection of membership fees from the few actual listed members, and secondly it secured the Hall for the people of the area and prevented the disposal of the land by any future committee without the holding of a General Meeting to which all members would be invited.  Thus hopefully securing the future of the Hall for local residents. Then in 2002 the Association achieved charitable status which then superceded the previous arrangements and the security of the hall is now guaranteed by the Charity Commission.

 

 The name, California Ratepayers Hall, has been retained as an historical reminder of its origin, and whilst a report is made by a Parish Councillor at the monthly committee meetings, the Association’s prime object is the running of the Hall.  After many years of deliberation, and with ‘Ratepayers’ removed from our name, the committee achieved charitable status in 2002:  a situation that was impossible with the political undertones previously involved - although the Ratepayers’ Association, when formed, was always strictly non-sectarian and non-political, as our constitution declares.

Within the past few years, a major transformation has been made to the Hall.  The flat roof that was completed in the 1960s has required re-felting on several occasions, and it was decided to re-roof in 1998 with timber trusses covered with a lightweight metal roof marketed by a company called Decra.  The roof sheets are formed to give the appearance of a tiled roof, with a considerable saving in weight.  The original flat roof was left in situ for insulation purposes after the building inspector confirmed that the footings built by the volunteers in the early days were sufficient to take the weight.

To complete the new look, the trees that were showing signs of decay in front of the carpark were removed and replaced with a new timber fence.  This work was all completed by October 1999.

In December 2010 we installed a new sprung floor.  The floor surface must be adequate for all types of current and future usage in order to minimise the chance of permanent physical injury. Users need to feel confident that they will not incur injury when movements involving rolling, landing and falling are undertaken. We we fortunate to secure 50% of the funding from a National Lottery Awards for All grant award.

In February 2013 we had a major flooding problem when a blocked drain in the main road forced the drain material back up through the drains and into the hall.  Fortunately the levels just stopped short of the main hall floor before the block cleared itself and the water receded.  We took the opportunity to replace the old carpetting with more durable non-slip flooring and in subsequent months we also refurbished the Gents toilet

At present, the demand for the use of the Hall is growing and the California Association are keen to satisfy this need with improved amenities that are fit for purpose. In turn, this will provide much needed further income for the Hall and the local community.

In 2015 we installed a play area at the rear of the hall.  This was mainly funded by a Nation Lottery Awards for All grant and also by fundraising activities performed by the Tuesday morning Toddler Group.

In 2017 we refurbishished the Ladies Toilets with funds raised from regular hall clubs and a very generous donation from the Midcounties Co-operative who raised over £1000 from thr government imposed 5p levy on carrier bags - that is an awful lot of bags!