AN AMBITIOUS £1 million project to give an empty former village school a new lease of life as a commercial centre has won an award for community leadership.

Sherston Old School Community Interest Company won the title in the Wiltshire Voluntary and Community Awards organised by the unitary authority and the NHS.

“We are absolutely thrilled,” said Mike Johnson, one of the organisation’s five directors. “It is a village award because it is the village together that put in the effort.”

The Grade II listed building was empty for five years before the village finally bought it in April 2011, having spent months working out a deal with the Bristol Diocese.

Mr Johnson explained as soon as the keys were handed over it was all hands to the pumps.

“It is the sort of place where people get an idea, they want to get it done and they get on with it.”

Before the year was out enough work had been done to allow the first tenant, the Post Office Stores, to move in.

And in the same week the award was presented the final tenancy agreement was signed, meaning the building will soon be fully occupied.

“The whole village pulled together. The support has been fantastic,” he said.

Fundraising is in the final stages. Rent from the commercial tenants will be used to maintain the property, pay off a public loan taken out by the parish council to help fund the scheme and eventually help to fund other village projects.

Other award winners at the ceremony last week included Wiltshire Link, Maurizia Quarter and Stuart Hall of the Wiltshire Parent Carer Council and Chantelle Jenkins, from Wessex Cancer Trust.

Wiltshire Council cabinet member for communities, John Thomson described the volunteers as an inspiration. “We know they do not carry out this work for recognition but for a desire to help others and to make their communities better places to live – for that we want to thank them,” he said.