The other week I gave a talk to the Darfield branch of the U3A, the University of the Third Age, at Darfield Church Hall, that venerable building in what I like to think of as Darfield’s Cultural Quarter, with the three other points of the cultural compass being Darfield Museum, The Cross Keys pub and All Saints Church.
I’d not been into the Church Hall for a few months; last time I was there it was for the Darfield Gala where the hall was the ‘indoors if wet’ option, because it was pretty blooming wet, but as always, as soon as I walked through the door I felt a sense of the familiar, a sense of welcome and a sense of that warm word ‘community’. This isn’t to suggest that Darfield Church Hall is in any way luxurious: it isn’t. Not that you need to be luxurious to be welcoming, of course, and indeed maybe that’s why the Church Hall feels so cosy, because it's not like one of those spaces that feels too posh to lounge around in.
I sent somebody a photo of the front of the hall and they texted me and said ‘It looks like the Alamo’, and it does. Imagine the Texas desert transposed to South Yorkshire; you can almost picture John Wayne coming through the doors, if his hat would fit through. Years ago, until 1956 in fact, it was the Empire Cinema, and when you go in you can still get a sense of what it was like then because it feels as though you’re walking into a picture house and it often feels to me that, like many community spaces, its endlessly showing the films of the lives of the people who live in that place.
The U3A were meeting in the Supper Room, the smaller of the two main spaces in the hall; the main room is huge and cavernous and for groups like the U3A the Supper Room is perfect. I’m not sure why it’s called The Supper Room although my mate Keith Barlow down at Low Valley School told me that it was because that’s where Jesus had The Last Supper and when I queried that he said ‘that’s why it’s near the Church’ with a kind of finality that left no room for argument or discussion.
I told the U3A that I used to rehearse in The Supper Room in 1970 with Oscar the Frog, the band I used to play drums in. We’d go do a few songs and then one of us, probably Stephen Sutcliffe, would shout ‘Let’s progress!’ and we’d start improvising an avant-garde freeform piece that we thought sounded really cool but in all honesty probably didn’t. Halfway through the progression, around the time when I was playing the stacks of chairs with my drumsticks, and the aforementioned Stephen Sutcliffe was lying on back playing his violin, the caretaker of the hall would come in and say ‘Right, that’s it. You can pack up and go home now. It sounded all right before but now it’s just a mess.’
Mind you, the Church Hall (and the big room too, not the Supper Room) was the site of Oscar the Frog’s first gig in the summer of 1970 which I guess was the Barnsley equivalent of the Summer of Love. Somebody from the Church Hall Committee came up to us after a rehearsal and said that we didn’t sound too bad now that we’d stopped doing the progressive numbers and were just sticking to folk songs so would we like to play at a jumble sale that was happening the following weekend. We certainly would!
‘All right’ he said; ‘We’ll let the sale get going for a bit and when they’re all stuck into the buying and selling, we’ll open the curtains and you can do twenty minutes on the stage.’ (Like all good Church Halls, Darfield has a stage) I told the U3A this story the other day, pointing from the Supper Room into the main hall. I told them how the man from the committee didn’t seem to believe us when we told him we were called Oscar the Frog so when he opened the curtains he announced us as The Oscar Frogs. We played for twenty minutes and nobody at all took any notice. The curtains closed and still nobody took any notice.
I told the U3A about this and then I said, and it’s true, that everybody needs community spaces like Darfield Church Hall because they help to build individual and community memories.
More community spaces, please. Let’s progress!