ANNE Bottomley has lived in Eccleshill since she was three-weeks-old.

She was a childhood friend of David Hockney and recalls him sketching congregation members in hymn books at the Stoney Lane Methodist Chapel.

Back then, Eccleshill Mechanics Institute was at the heart of the community. Anne has been going there for 75 years, since she was three, and her earliest memories are of the library there.

“It smelt of polished wood,” recalls Anne, now 78. “It was run by Mr Birdsall, he used to save me Sue Barton books.

"In those days it was a library and dance hall. My mother remembered it as a picture house. During the war it was an air raid wardens base.

"This building means a lot to me – if they cut me in half it would say ‘Eccleshill Mechanics Institute’ all the way through.”

The past year has seen the 150th anniversary of the Mechanics Institute. Today it’s a thriving community hub used for a range of activities, from yoga to model car racing, with a busy cafe, a bistro and a spacious hall for parties and weddings.

The historic venue has come a long way since it was on the brink of liquidation two years ago.

Saved from closure, it has since been refurbished and is used by various organisations including a men’s health group, majorettes, a children’s dance group, a monthly farmers’ market, a Monday get-together and Northern Soul nights, making use of the sprung dancefloor.

Currently owned by Bradford Council, the building is in the final stage of a community asset transfer that will see it returned to the people of Eccleshill.

The board of trustees, which looks after the building, will then apply for funding to take it into the future. A consultation will find out what local people want from the venue.

Trustees chairman Terry Pearson hopes more people will get involved in running events there too. “This place was built for the community of Eccleshill,” says Terry.

“Once the transfer goes through we’ll be looking to develop it to maximise its use and make it more accessible.”

The plan is to apply for Lottery funding initially, then other grant funding, and the first job will be to upgrade the kitchen.

“The cafe, open Monday to Friday, is buzzing,” says Terry. “The kitchen is run by Chris Lockwood, who was a fish fryer for 30 years and is one of our wonderful volunteers.

His ‘Fish Fridays’ are packed out! We turn the cafe into a bistro on the last Saturday of the month, from 7pm.”

It is thanks to the tireless work and vision of Terry, along with other trustees and a team of volunteers, that the building remains at the heart of the community.

Refurbishments over the past two years, costing around £25,000, include decorating the main hall – an elegant upstairs space with Victorian arched windows, a stage and upgraded bar – installing new toilets and front doors, digital signage promoting events, and a spacious, fully equipped conference area.

The venue has a music and drinks licence and is popular for parties. While takings have enabled some investment, the aim is to secure funding to make the building more accessible, with a lift.

Longer term, there are plans for a third floor conservatory offering a cafe/restaurant taking advantage of Eccleshill’s hill-top position.

“The building has so much potential; we want the community to make full use of it,” says Shirley Holdsworth, one of three directors – along with Terry and Andy Chiltern – of Eccleshill Community Association, which runs the Mechanics Institute.

“There must be many dance groups that could use the sprung floor – a rarity in buildings like this.

"I came here as a child, to storytime in the library, and back then my parents and friends’ parents got together to organise events here. There were regular dances in the hall.”

Adds Andy: “Our vision is to make this a community hub again, over the past two years that has been gaining pace. Someone wrote on our Facebook page: ‘You have turned Eccleshill back into a village’.

"As funding grows, so too can the impact on the community. For older people particularly, coming here is a lifeline.”

The community events group is headed by Julie Pearson and Sharon Hodges, who also runs the cafe.

“We’ve had table-top sales, Yorkshire Day events, a psychic night,” says Julie.

“On February 15 we’ve got a dance for Marie Curie and we’ve just started monthly Northern Soul sessions on Sundays, from 3 to 9pm.”

Adds Sharon: “We’d like to get tea dances going, and craft events, board games and a knit and natter group. We have a few volunteers helping out but could do with more. This is a place for local people – it’s up to them to get involved.”

With a mention in the Domesday Book, Eccleshill was an ancient settlement that grew into a 19th century mill town. The Mechanics Institute was built in 1868, and in 1911 the upper floor was converted into a 360-seat ‘Picture Palace’.

Anne and other longterm users of the Mechanics Institute would like to see it used more. “I’d like the history group to meet here again, and tea dances,” says Anne.

“This building is run by a group of exceptionally hard workers but people of all ages should be supporting it, so it has a future.”