IT WAS give-away day at West Dorset district council this week – with almost £420,000 in grants and loans given to local community projects in the space of a couple of hours.

Council leader Tony Alford said after the meeting that he was delighted the council was able to help so many organisations...before it goes out of business in April.

“We always aimed to be finishing well – I think today we can say we have gone some way towards achieving that,” he said.

Grants and loans included money to develop a heritage tourism strategy for Dorchester, cash to finish off the county town's South Street refurbishment; a donation for Bridport Museum to restore archives and tackle damp; a 50 per cent grant towards a new skate park at Beaminster and a lease for The Grove, a building close to the Bridport Town Council offices which will mostly be used by community organisations.

There was also cash to help keep sports facilities at St Osmund's School, Dorchester open to the public and a loan and grant to help pay for a new village hall at Longburton.

Money has also been set aside for new public toilets in Beaminster which will eventually see the existing block alongside the hall closed down.

Dorchester councillors David Taylor, Robin Potter and Molly Rennie, although not members of the

strategy committee all turned up at Thursday's meeting to press their case for the Dorchester projects; David Rickard and Barry Bussell from Bridport did the same for their town.

The Dorchester grants are - £15,000 to help St Osmund's school allow tennis, badminton, cricket and netball to continue to be available to the public after it was forced to close its sports centre in January for financial reasons.

Cllr Rennie said there was simply not enough other facilities elsewhere in the town to cope with demand for club sports.

A sum of £50,000 will be used by Dorchester's heritage committee to develop a cohesive tourist strategy for the town's many museums and historic attractions, including its links with Thomas Hardy and the Tolpuddle Martyrs. Town Mayor David Taylor said it would ensure that everyone worked together to attract more visitors to Dorchester and the surrounding area.

A one-off grant of £90,000 also goes to Dorchester to finish improvements in South Street, around the Town Pump. The money will be matched by the town council and will also include new bollards, possibly automatic, to stop vehicles entering the street when it is a pedestrian-only area.

Beaminster will get £60,000, roughly half the cost of a new skate park at the Memorial Playing Field, the rest to be funded through the town council. It will also receive a grant of £70,000 towards the cost of new public loos attached to Beaminster Public Hall which will allow the existing district council-run toilets to close.

Bridport Museum Trust is to receive £25,000 to restore archives which have been damaged by damp at its Coach House store and another £10,000 for a specialist survey to tackle the damp problem.

Archives from the store, part of the Local History Collection, may be stored temporarily at The Grove, a building close to the town council offices at Mountjoy.

The committee agreed a lease of the building to the town council with a £5,000 a year reduction in the £20,000 annual rent if at least a third of the floor area is sub-let to community groups.

Cllr David Rickard told the committee that there was already a waiting list to get in the building.

A one-off grant of £78,000 and a loan of £20,000 was agreed by the committee for Cam Vale Parish Council to build a new community hall at Longburton on land owned by Dorset County Council. It will allow the existing hall, which is too small for most activities, apart from table tennis, to be converted to a home.

Pic - Dorchester's Town Pump area - due to refurbishment