'Village centre has become a hub of culture and community'

Keith Hobday and Lucy Murphy in the concert hall and gallery part of the Belfry Centre Picture: DEN

Keith Hobday and Lucy Murphy in the concert hall and gallery at the Belfry Centre in Overstrand. - Credit: DENISE BRADLEY

In his latest column, Cromer resident Peter Smith, 88, talks about the Belfry Centre for Music and Arts in Overstrand and the dedicated people who run it.

This year marks the 50th anniversary of my first encounter with psychotherapy.

I thought I was headed to a nervous breakdown because of pressure of work. The psychiatrist asked if he could interview my wife.

I said it was OK with me if it was OK with her. When the interview was over we talked about it. One of the questions she had been asked was “When is Peter happiest?”

I was delighted by her answer – “When he’s working with people who are really good at what they do.” This column is about someone who is really  good at what he does every Friday afternoon. His name in Keith Hobday.

There’s a nice coincidence in that the work I was doing 50 years ago is the work Keith is currently engaged in – in both cases it is a matter of running an arts centre.

The one I ran was is an Ivy League college, had about an acre of floor space and an annual turnover of more than a million dollars.

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The one Keith runs is in the small community of Overstrand, consists of a handful of rooms, and I’m sure its budget is tiny. But the biggest difference is crucial – Keith is the person who founded his centre, along with his wife Lucy Murphy.

They live in Overstrand, and in 2016 they arranged with the trustees of the old school building to take it over and convert it into The Belfry Centre for Music and Arts – since a couple of years ago, when Keith gave up being the person in charge of stringed instruments instruction at Gresham’s School in Holt, taking care of the Belfry Centre has taken up all their time. I know the feeling – one’s work and one’s life are coextensive.

One has only to go to the Belfry Prospectus to see that it is very much a going concern, with more than one activity on most weekdays, plus frequent Sunday afternoon concerts, the most important of which give young musicians their first chance to play for an audience.

The range of events goes from Monday’s life drawing, through Scrabble and 'Movement for Life' to meditation to 'The Saturday String Group'. 

You have to be with Keith or Lucy for only a few minutes to take in the fact that the centre is the very centre of their lives. And that they are full of energy.

My own involvement comes on Friday afternoons – here is how it is described on the Belfry website: “For 15 years Keith Hobday lived, breathed and devoured Classical Music while working for Prelude Records in Norwich.

"Now he imparts the knowledge he accumulated during that time... [by] examining great pieces of music with enthusiasm, analysis and illustration.

"Don’t worry if you are not an aficionado, just come along and enjoy the music.”

I found this music appreciation effort through a suggestion from my current psychotherapist who saw it as a way for me to get away from the isolation that came with Covid-19. I could not be more grateful to her.

I should add two things here: I am an aficionado and have been for 75 years; in the few months I have been going to the Friday sessions Keith has presented several pieces of music by composers I had never heard of – just two weeks ago we enjoyed a piece by a French baroque composer called Rebel.

Keith’s knowledge is encyclopedic and his enthusiasm is remarkable. Lucy told me the other day that preparing the Friday afternoon sessions is the high point of every week for him. It shows.

Secondly I think it makes sense to add that the word enthusiasm comes from three Greek words meaning 'in' and 'god' and 'essence'. Keith at his best can certainly convey the impression that he is in the grip of a divine inspiration.

The first session I went to was captivating – a comparison of two recordings of Benjamin Britten’s Serenade for Tenor Horn and Strings.

It involves settings of six poems by English poets on the subject of night, and is a small masterpiece.

In the months since that Friday afternoon I have enjoyed sessions on music by, among others, George Gershwin, Beethoven, Purcell, Pleyel (a lovely rarity), Corelli, and Shostakovich.

Keith never tells us ahead of time what he’s going to present; I feel sure that this is because he does not want any of us to stay away because we think we won’t like what he’s offering.

“Any of us” refers to the group of 20 or so people who currently make up the class – usually at least a dozen on any one occasion. My therapist would be delighted to witness the camaraderie on display as we arrive and greet one another.

We hand over £6 and get a coffee and a slice of fruitcake in return, plus ninety minutes of words and music. I usually do not have an agenda when I write my column, but in this case I do hope that some people will google The Belfry Overstrand and check out if there is anything they think they will enjoy.

The main room in this beautiful old building is an elegant space and the Friday afternoon gathering does not come close to filling it. In other words, there’s room for you.