Hadleigh Old Fire Station (HOFS) has been at the heart of Hadleigh for 85 years. Its Firemen and women served the local community throughout World War II and into the 21st Century. In 2012 it was part of the London 2012 Olympics (hosting the mountain biking events) and it was then transformed by ACAVA into the community and creative hub it is today.
Over 10,000 people visit the building every year, 800 of which are currently members of 44 community groups and organisations that call HOFS a home. However, change is yet again on the horizon for HOFS with the regeneration of Hadleigh town centre underway.
With generous funding from HLF Hadleigh Old Fire Station: 85 Years of Community and Place has allowed the HOFS and wider local communities to reflect on the building's importance on both the heritage and future of the town. With the support of Hadleigh and Thundersley Community Archive’s volunteers we have been able to research the building's early history from Mr Lazell, the first Resident Fireman who received £3 per week plus uniform and unfurnished accommodation for his family, to Harry Shafer, the lightest fireman on the watch in the immediate post war years. Photographer Robert Hallmann's images of life in the Fire Station in the 70s and 80s brought to life the everyday routine of the Firemen, and many of the men were identified and invited to the Fireman’s Reunion. Sixty former Fire Service personnel attended the event and contributed with their stories and over 200 photographs to the project.
Echoes and Light is the film that links this heritage with the present. Made by artists Alan Hockett, a former Fireman based in Hadleigh, and Sue Willis, the film juxtaposes the routine of Fire Station life with the current incarnation of the building, its history echoing through the appliance hall as the Hadleigh Voices Community Choir rehearse for their next concert.
The Tower Wrap community artwork by Sally Chinea brought together over 100 members of the HOFS community to create a giant 'rag rug' that enveloped the landmark old fire training tower. The wrap was made with material donated by local people and depicts other key historical landmarks and moments in Hadleigh’s history, from the castle to the 2012 Olympics.
Throughout the creation of Echoes and Light and the Tower Wrap, David Hurrell and Brian Hickey, who is also a former Fireman and currently ACAVA's Building Manager at HOFS, programmed a summer festival of community events, where local people could come and find out more about the projects, contribute and participate. Their heritage events included Vintage Vehicles, a visit to Essex Fire Museum, a Local History Fair, a Family Fun Day and the wonderful Fireman’s Reunion. Over 1000 people attended the events, with a total of 47 people providing significant voluntary support to the project.
The project has been brought together in a newspaper publication Hadleigh Old Fire Station: 85 Years of Community and Place. We intended for this publication to provide a lasting record of the success of HOFS as a community and creative hub, as well as the importance of the building to the heritage of Hadleigh and its identity. The future of HOFS is still in the balance as plans for the regeneration of the town are being finalised. However, the project has certainly succeeded in proving the importance of HOFS and the opportunities it provides to the local community. We have been assured that should the Fire Station be partly demolished and re-built as housing, the artists and community groups currently calling the building a home will be provided with a seamless transition to a new, purpose built facility within the town centre regeneration zone.
Hadleigh and Thundersley Community Archive
Essex Fire Museum
‘Echoes and Light’ Film: