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The Belfry Extension

By Henry Dawson

 Top class display of banging and screwing.

Having spent quite some time pottering around the Belfry, the general dilapidation of the hut started to get to me a bit. The Belfry is the way it is for a reason, but on repeated trips down to Rose Cottage it started to niggle me that the extension never seemed to get any closer to completion. On Wednesday evenings and at weekends Henry Bennett and I started doing little jobs around the hut. These became more and more frequent moving to quite big jobs (a re-paint of the hut with over a dozen volunteers from Cardiff, Southampton and a few other clubs). Eventually a group of us were having one beer too many and started talking about the extension. The reason for its lack of progress seemed to be that no one was able to take the project on and give it the time and commitment to see it through. Only vaguely aware that I was slurring my words I decided that I would put myself forward to do the job.

Once decided, I was committed. Mike, Trevor, Tony, in fact anyone who I spoke to warned me that everyone would vigorously slag off all my work, generally criticise it and announce how they could do better. Working for the council I thought, ‘that sounds familiar.’  Undeterred I began trying to obtain the plans and wrote about the project to Tyrone, the Hut Engineer at the time. He was rather overwhelmed with work and other matters but gave his consent and pointed me in the direction of the plans. Getting these turned out to be something like trying to find the Holy Grail. Numerous versions had been produced, some superseding others, some not used at all. I built up quite a collection of paperwork and finally began to get a picture of what I needed to create.

Work started on weekends and some Wednesdays, but I rapidly found that by visiting the Belfry for caving, digging and building I was spending not more than 2 days at a time at home. Most people thought this sounded like a great idea, but my girlfriend was not most people. I conceded the point and began working at the hut instead of caving. When Rose Cottage finally petered out (bottom dig that is, I know the middle dig gang are sure theirs will break out into vast echoing chambers very soon) I suggested to Henry Bennett that we work on the extension some Wednesday evenings. ‘Just think what we can achieve!’ I think we surprised even ourselves when we wound up spending every bloody Wednesday for months and months in there.

It was causing problems with me working on the extension and not sitting on the committee. I had always avoided committees, however at the 2007 AGM I went election touting what progress I had made fixing up the hut to date. I felt pretty proud of what had been accomplished to date and didn’t see any problem with getting the post. Then the curse of email struck and I managed to offend (however unintentionally) most of the club membership. This didn’t help when elections came up. Many well-known members were also running for committee, even if one was running under a pseudonym.

I didn’t get it.

Now what? We needed a skilled Hut Engineer to work on the extension. Nobody on the committee wanted the post. In the end Toby (Caving Secretary) took the job and handed it over to me, co-opting me onto the committee. The extension was back in business.

The roof was soon insulated. The electrician had been in and the plasterboard was going up. The latter was a horrible job involving standing, sitting and lying in various positions somewhat reminiscent of those used on SAS prisoners and repeatedly berating Henry Bennett because he would either not screw fast enough or kept on spraying my face with dust. Mike Wilson appeared on several occasions and valiantly abused his mending knees to help with this horrible job. Dany’s comments about our accurate incisions of plasterboard sections, ‘looking like a rat had been nibbling them’, were probably not far from the truth in places, but people got better and the finished job looked rather professional.

It was around this point that we had our first casualty. Henry Bennett, Slug and I were setting a section of board in a location not easy to reach when one of the random sections of steel deposited around the Belfry got knocked onto Henry’s head. He made some pretty worrying noises as he crashed to the floor. The photo shows the mess it made of his head. Work was halted for the day but Henry was okay. A man with a thick head in more ways than one.

altThings were getting on okay and the Building Regs Inspector was invited in. This guy was a real peaked cap type. When he showed up Dany rolled his eyes and pulled a face like he had just seen someone total his van. We did our best with him, but he earned his reputation. Following the visit I wound up having a chat with his boss about the things he raised. He was pretty happy with the answers and the problems were solved. Now I set to work trying to get the requirement for a second fire escape to the common room removed. This new door in the back wall seemed totally unnecessary. Following some negotiations I managed to get it taken away in return for moving the old escape door.

The debate about the use of the extension kept on coming up. This was something nobody had been able to agree on 100% since we started the build. Everyone had a different view. This got progressively more obstructive to the point where a line had to be drawn and stuck to.  The original plans gave the use as a dormitory and it was decided that it would be a members only one. Downstairs was to be a tackle store and workshop. With the nod from Building Regs there was also a new inner sanctum. Bob looked very happy as his new tackle store slowly materialised. I don’t think he heard about our plans to cut a little hole in the door and have him sitting behind it dolling out the kit.

The second working weekend was initiated. Nigel showed up with a petrol saw, which he and Phil used to create two new doorways. There were not a lot of us, but those there worked bloody hard and by the end of it we had frames for two new doorways in, one door hung and the old fire exit blocked up. With so few of us helping ourselves to the barrel I became a little worried when I found one chap using a spatula from the kitchen as a pointing trowel.

The months wore on and Henry Bennett and I remained in attendance every Wednesday night. Cider helped but the tasks with big visual impact had mostly been finished and all that were left were fiddly finishing jobs. These took a long time and caused the finishing stages to drag and drag. The only real highlight was putting on the flooring compound. Not realising how high I was from the fumes I tried to text my girlfriend and accidentally sent a workmate a rather inappropriate message. On the 27th July the last session of work was done and the extension was completed ready for its grand opening at the Belfry BBQ and only a month behind schedule. 

The keys are being kept in the members’ key cupboard. Club tackle available to members only can be signed out while the bunkroom is for members only. Anyone who is dropping by is free to have a look around. Your author will be found underground again and enjoying a break from duties whilst the club bank account builds up ready for the next job. I have already thanked Henry Bennett in my annual report but he has put in hundreds of hours throughout this project and I would like to thank him again on behalf of the BEC for his continuing hard work and the effort he has given on top of the time he has spends as Membership Secretary. We are all truly grateful.

  Whacko! HB forgets to duck.