The Star's recent report that the Diocese of Liverpool had recommended the demolition of Sutton Parish Hall will have come as a shock to many parishioners – especially those involved in its construction back in the 1960s.

In these health and safety-conscious times, never again will we see the like of a community not only raising the funds to pay for a building – but actually erecting it.

That, of course, has to be a good thing. Studying the photographs of the build in New Street, near to St Nicholas Church, that were taken by the late Jim Lamb is an unsettling experience. Seeing children on a building site with spades in hands and volunteers up ladders without scaffolding or helmets would never be tolerated today.

St Helens Star: Images showing the community effort to build Sutton Parish Hall Images showing the community effort to build Sutton Parish Hall (Image: Jim Lamb)

That said, I don't believe there was a single accident during the hall's construction.

The man behind the innovative scheme was the late Rev. J. R. Smith, who served as the popular Vicar of Sutton between 1959 and 1966 and was known to his parishioners as "Reg".

Explaining the extraordinary community endeavour, Reg's son Patrick Smith has said: "It became obvious that the existing Parish Halls were insufficient for all that was going on. So a decision was taken to build a new hall and do it all ourselves using volunteer labour. Could it be done? It certainly could and we paid for the steelwork and one gable end wall, the rest we just got on with and Dad was inspirational!

St Helens Star:

"We bought a Bedford 3 ton tipper from Liverpool Sewage Works and called it "Dorcas" after the disciple full of good works, which was a bit dubious! It was insured for six drivers and it carried bricks, sand, in fact everything that was needed. The parish ladies stacked bricks and worked like Trojans! They were fantastic."

The novel scheme did attract a little controversy after Reg Smith had "Sutton Parish Hall"

branded soap bars made. The Vicar of Sutton then recruited a sales force of church workers to sell his soap door-to-door with the proceeds going towards the £25,000 cost of materials. But that upset a local trader whose complaint of losing trade made it into The Times.

But ruffled feathers were quickly smoothed and on June 4th 1963 Reg Smith laid the foundation stone for the new hall. His parishioners presented their vicar with an inscribed silver trowel that praised his "cheerful spadework". Employing part-time voluntary labour saved money but slowed down the work and the hall took over two years to complete.

St Helens Star: Hard at work building the hallHard at work building the hall (Image: Jim Lamb)

St Helens Star: A builder constructs the hallA builder constructs the hall (Image: Jim Lamb)

As Patrick Smith says, his father was fortunate to have had a large band of enthusiastic volunteer labourers giving up so much of their time: "He was just so lucky in having so many loyal people behind him and they grafted. Oh boy did they!"

St Helens Star:

St Helens Star: The Vicar of Sutton Reg Smith lays the foundation Stone for on June 4,1963The Vicar of Sutton Reg Smith lays the foundation Stone for on June 4,1963 (Image: Jim Lamb)

Stephen Wainwright's new book 'The Hidden History Of St Helens Volume 3' is available from the St Helens Book Stop and online with free delivery from eBay and Amazon. Price £12. Vols 1 and 2 are also still available.