The Royal Wedding Hall Art Exhibition
“It’s such a pity, don’t you think?” Holly said as she turned to face the hut.
“Royal Wedding Hall,” Laura read from the faded sign hanging at an odd angle from the door. She had past it hundreds of times before and barely given it a thought. “Such a grand name for a shed on the beach.”
The building had been erected in 1981 to commemorate the marriage of Lady Diana Spencer and HRH the Prince of Wales and now after almost forty years of wind, rain and sea breezes was looking rather sad.
“It’s quite a large space inside,” Holly continued, “bigger than the beach huts further along the bay. I remember coming here as a child for all manner of social events.” Standing back, she eyed the place critically as fond memories washed over her.
Turning away, she stared out over the bay, it was a view that she knew well. Coloured pebbles covered the beach and out towards the horizon the sea glistened under the springtime sky. Waves washed in, gently hissing over the stones and gulls called lazily overhead. It was an ideal spot for a beach party, the end of May was fast approaching bringing with it the holiday season.
“Perhaps we should rent it for a month, put on an art exhibition.” Holly glanced at Laura and smiled enthusiastically. “It’s an ideal location during the summer holidays.”
“Look at the state of the place,” Laura exclaimed doubtfully. “It hasn’t been used in years.”
“True, but you have to admit, it does have potential. I can remember how it used to be.”
“Who owns it?” Laura asked, still not convinced.
“The local authority I guess. I’ll make some enquiries and find out.”
They continued along the pathway towards a wide grass area that ran beside the coastal road. Here large houses enjoyed uninterrupted views across the bay and in the distance, they could see the grand hotel that once served as a hospital for injured soldiers during the war.
“We could get Emma and Tracy from the art club to join us,” Holly was still thinking about the exhibition. “Together we should have enough artwork to fill the place.”
Laura listened as Holly made her plans and after a while began to think that maybe she was right. Hundreds of people passed this way during the summer and she was certain that the locals would be thrilled to see the old place opened up again.
The following day Holly telephoned the council offices and managed to speak to the person responsible for the hall.
“If you would like to hire it then the normal charges apply.” When he told her how much it would cost she was appalled.
“That seems an awful amount of money for a rundown shed on the beach,” she gasped and suddenly it seemed that her ideas had stalled.
“I will send you the details in case you want to go ahead.” He replied trying to sound helpful.
That evening the art club met. A prominent local artist was giving a demonstration on how to turn everyday items into works of art, not quite Holly’s thing but she found it interesting enough. At the end of the evening, she gathered her friends together and gave them the disappointing news.
“How could they ask so much?” Emma groaned. “The place is in such a state and I dread to think what might be lurking inside.”
“What if we offered to re-paint the building?”
They stared at Holly in silence and waited for her to continue.
“I’m just thinking that if we offered to do the place up a bit then the council might be willing to reduce the hire cost.”
“If we volunteer to clean it up then I don’t think we should have to pay anything.” Emma said, confident that the others were thinking the same.
“If the council were to agree to our proposals,” Holly continued, “then they may be willing to help if the hall should need structural repairs. Decorating is one thing but I don’t think we have the skills to re-build the place.”
The women nodded their heads in agreement.
“I will speak to the guy again tomorrow.” Holly promised.
The following day she discovered that the hall was due a visit from the surveying dept, it was time for its annual health check. All council owned buildings were community assets so had to be maintained.
“I would like to meet up with your surveyor,” Holly said as she began to outline her plans for refurbishing the hall.
She was surprised that her idea was not dismissed out of hand, the council it seemed liked to encourage community led projects and were keen to get local people involved. The Royal Wedding Hall would benefit from some urgent repairs so a date was arranged for a site meeting.
“If the meeting isn’t until July then it doesn’t leave us much time to get the place sorted out before our August exhibition.” Laura said when they met up later that day. “Did you tell him that we don’t expect to pay the hire charge if we are going to do the work?”
“Err, no, not yet,” Holly glanced at her friend. “I will have to speak to someone else in a different department about that. I think we need to get the surveyor on our side first before we go any further.”
Laura rolled her eyes. “So it could all be a complete waste of time then.”
“I’m sure it will be fine.” Holly replied confidently.
The hall was in much better shape than they expected. Both Holly and Laura met with the surveyor on the morning in July and when the door finally creaked open, they were pleasantly surprised.
“The electricity supply works,” the man said ticking a box on his list. “There should be running water in the little kitchenette at the back.”
Sure enough, there was fresh water but the kitchen area was in need of a thorough clean. Mould where the wood was damp would have to be treated so a note was made on the all important list.
“The electrics and water mains were checked last year but I’ll get service engineers in to have a look at both systems again.”
Slowly ticks filled the boxes on the list and the hall passed its basic safety checks then Holly and Laura began to outline their ideas.
“There are rules that have to be observed,” he told them when they revealed the colour scheme they had in mind. “We have to use standard colours.” He went on to tell them that the council would provide all the materials including both interior and exterior paint.
Laura could see that Holly was not amused.
“If they are willing to provide the materials,” she pointed out, “then it will save us from having to pay for it.”
It was another two weeks before they were able to start work and it was then that Holly brought up the subject of renting the hall. Her objective was to get the hall cost free and she had two points in her favour when negotiations began. Firstly, they were giving up their time to nurse the hall back to health and secondly they would miss their deadline for an August exhibition. It was clear that the work would not be completed in time so they would have to re think their plans. The council finally agreed to let them have the hall free of charge for the month of October.
“Why not September?” Emma asked when Holly told them what she had arranged.
“Apparently people have heard about the hall re-opening so the council are taking bookings.”
“But that’s not fair,” Tracy pouted. “Surely we should have it first.”
“True,” Holly replied, “but half term falls in October and if the weather remains fine we always get a surge of last minute visitors to the town. This could work to our advantage besides it will give us more time to prepare.”
They discussed their options and worked out a rota to steward the exhibition. They all had commitments and could not be there all of the time so it was decided to work in pairs.
By the middle of August, the building looked as good as new. Paintwork was gleaming and most of the roof had been replaced curing the leaks in the kitchen. For the first time in years, the sign on the door was hanging straight.
October arrived and the Royal Wedding Hall Art Exhibition got under way. The town Mayor opened the exhibition and although the weather was a little blustery, the launch party was a success. Sales continued steadily for the first week then began to tail off but with the arrival of half term, business began to boom again. Emma was the first to sell out, her little watercolours were always popular. Tracy favoured pastel and pencil drawings, her speciality portraits of wild animals. She also made greeting cards. Laura had just a few pieces left but Holly had unfortunately not sold much at all. With just a week to go before the end of the month it was decided that Holly could have the space to herself, so filling it with her own work she laboured on alone in the hope of making a few last minute sales. The fact that she had not done as well as the others did not bother her, her satisfaction came in the knowledge that they had brought the hall back to life. It would now stand for a few more years creating happy memories for all those who used it. Rising from her chair, she glanced at her work hanging from the newly painted walls before going into the little kitchen to make a cup of tea.
A man hesitated as he walked past and glancing in through the open door could see no one. The place looked deserted but he wanted to see the artwork on display so making up his mind he went in.
Holly appeared from the kitchen and stopped abruptly almost spilling her tea. She saw him immediately, a rugged looking man dressed in an old overcoat, his hands pushed deeply into his pockets as he stood frowning at one of her paintings.
“Oh!” he said when he realised that she was standing there. “I hope you don’t mind, the door was open.”
“No not at all, you are very welcome.”
Moving toward the table, she stood behind it taking comfort from the barrier that it provided. She felt uncomfortable in his presence, his stare was intense and he didn’t seem the type to be interested in art. She told herself not to be foolish and sipping at her tea, she watched as he made his way slowly around the exhibition.
“Is this all your own work?” he asked suddenly.
The tone of his voice alarmed her and it must have shown on her face.
“I do apologise,” he grimaced, “that sounded rather rude. My name is Roger Amis.” He took a few steps towards her but stopped before he got to the table. “My company is called Amis Designs. I’m an interior designer, currently working on a number of apartments along the Thames in London. In fact, I’m looking for original works of art and I rather like what I see here.”
“This is all my own work.” Holly confirmed.
“That‘s good,” he smiled. “I would like to include your paintings in my designs for the new development.”
“Which paintings are you interested in?”
“I think you misunderstand.” He said moving a little closer. “I have dozens of huge apartments that require individual design work so I’m thinking that I would like to buy everything.”
Holly nodded her head and blinked quickly, hardly able to take in what he had just said.
“Do you have any more like this?”
“Yes,” she replied. “I do.” The spare room that she used as a studio was stuffed full of paintings that she had no room to display.
“Then I’m sure that we can do a lot of business together,” he said offering her his card.
©2018 Kevin Marsh