‘COMMUNITY atmosphere’ and more than 20 years of hard work paid off for volunteers when Lifton Community Centre was officially opened by the Lord Lieutenant of Devon on Saturday, writes Amy Dennis.

Lord Lieutenant David Fursdon officially unveiled the plaque at noon, with celebrations in the main hall, where local groups were promoting themselves with stands and people had the chance to catch up with one another in the new village hub.

The idea for the community centre is more than 20 years old — in 1994 Lifton Parish Appraisal identified a need for a community centre and fund raising began. A board of trustees was formed in 1995 and charitable status was granted in November of that year.

In 1998, in liaison with West Devon Borough Council, they found the site, which they now own. The land was finally obtained in 2006.

By 2008 total funds raised were £20,000. In 2009 an architect was appointed, Steve Whettem, from Tavistock. Surveys were then carried out and they were awarded a five yearly silver bond place for the London marathon.

Three plans were presented to the public for them to choose their preferred option and to add comments. This resulted in the final plan. Planning permission was granted in 2012 and they obtained ownership of the bank in 2014.

Fundraising continued, and the biggest boost came thanks to the Big Lottery Fund agreeing to grant hundreds of thousands of pounds.

Today the centre is impressive and stands out as you enter the village from the Launceston direction, on Fore Street. Described as a ‘state of the art’ building, it boasts two meeting rooms upstairs, an accessible alarmed lift, a modern and spacious kitchen — although trustees are still on the lookout for donations of plates — and facilities including baby changing.

The main hall was said to house an ‘amazing’ stage when the Red Spider Theatre Company drew crowds to see its performances of ‘Fantastic Mr Fox’ last month, and the ceiling height in the main hall allows for badminton to take place there.

So far the hall has also been used by the Cubs, Scouts, Beavers, art group, and Learn Devon, which delivers adult learning courses, and soon there will be yoga classes, karate and tai chi starting up.

Tony Phillips, centre trustee and chairman, expressed his gratitude to the architect, Mr Whettem, saying: “He’s done more than his architectural duties right from the word go. He’s been fantastic, and Chris Edmonds, the parish chairman, has been a great support and helped us no end.”

Mr Whettem, who has been involved in the project for around 10 years, said: “It’s always very enjoyable to be involved in a community project. They really deserve congratulations. They worked very hard for many years.”

Cllr Edmonds revealed he nominated Lifton Community Centre’s trustees as a group for West Devon Borough Council’s mayoral awards, and they have been successful. They will receive their award at a meeting at Kilworthy Park, Tavistock on March 27.

Building regulations have also asked the trustees to enter the LABC (Local Authority Building Control) Regional Building Excellence Awards.

The trustees also have visions going forward — they would like to have another two rooms and a ball play area but are currently restricted by funds available.

Conservative Devon county councillor for Okehampton rural, Kevin Ball, was the one to break the ground at a ceremony in 2016. He said of the new building: “To see the place actually finished now, it’s absolutely fantastic. The last time I came there was still scaffolding everywhere. To see it full of people and ready to use, it’s a brilliant asset for the community. I’m sure that actually it will be an asset not just for Lifton itself but the wider community.”

Volunteer Mandy Kenyon, who has been behind much of the form filling to try and obtain grant funding for the project, added: “I’m so delighted for Lifton because they have really got behind it. We have lived and breathed this for such a long time. People probably thought it would never happen. When we got the Big Lottery grant, it changed the game.”

Trustee Roger Cheves expressed his gratitude to fellow trustees Vin Marshall and Tony Phillips, and Mandy Kenyon, adding: “Without their amazing burning of the midnight oil this would never have happened. I’m hugely admiring of what they have done. People just think these things happen. They had no idea what we were doing in the background.”

Mrs Marshall added: “I’m just delighted we have actually got a centre for our community.”

On unveiling the plaque, Mr Fursdon said: “I love the community atmosphere that lies behind this whole thing. Having met a number of you and having seen the hard work that’s gone into this over many years, I’m incredibly impressed that you have got to this stage. That’s a fantastic achievement.

“I got to know Lifton better when I was determined to get a royal visit for the celebration of the factory, for Ambrosia, which as you know we managed to do. It was a way to understand the community. Then to see it come to this, and I think what I really want to say is the people who have done so much — over 20 years I understand it’s been — the people that have stuck with it, they are the people I really should be thanking.

“Well done to you all. A really impressive building too, as I drove down here it really hits you as being something which is modern but blends in really well as well and is accessible.”

Conservative MP Geoffrey Cox also told the Post he thought it was a ‘fantastic achievement for the village’, adding: “It shows just how public spirited and community minded people are — they are not only thinking about the present but looking after future generations, which is why I think it’s such a wonderful achievement.

“The hard work that goes into it over decades — it’s not about bricks and mortar, it’s about protecting the future of the village, I think that’s what Lifton shows in spades. I’m very proud to be its MP.”