BBC News

Election 2015: England's peculiar polling stations

By Laurence Cawley
BBC News

image captionThe most unusual venue could be when the polling station - in exceptional circumstances only - comes to you

A casual glance down the list of polling stations for next month's general election reads like this: "Parish hall, village hall, village hall, village hall, community centre, parish hall". But every so often they throw up a peculiarity. Here are just a few of them.

Each of the UK's 50,000 or so polling stations has been carefully selected according to a strict set of rules.

They should be accessible, identifiable and provide that all-important privacy for voters.

They should also be the right size to meet the needs of the local electorate and allow a queue of people to "flow" through.

That's pretty much where the law ends and the imagination begins.

So where would you be least likely to find a polling station? A football stadium? A launderette? A school bus?

Actually, all three will be clearing houses for ballot papers when England goes to the polls on 7 May.

BBC News Timeliner: Polling tales

image copyrightMike Hewitt

Up and down the UK there are a number of unusual polling stations, and some unusual voter behaviour too, as a quick delve into the BBC archives displays.

But why do we have these unusual locations?

Pragmatism, says Ian Davidson, the chief executive and returning officer at Tendring District Council, which boasts a theatre and a pub among its polling stations.

"Some locations are fantastic and really good venues," he said.

"This time around will be the busiest election since 1979. We don't always have the luxury of choice. We do have to be pragmatic."

Sport venues

image copyrightDAVID GOODWIN/Geograph
image captionThe oldest football ground in the world is also a polling station

The world's oldest football ground - Sandygate, home to Hallam Football Club in Sheffield - is also a polling station. As is White Hart Lane, the hallowed turf of... no, not Tottenham Hotspur, but Haringey Borough FC.

In the picturesque Essex village of Little Bardfield, votes will be cast at the cricket club pavilion while in Brixham, in Torbay, the local rugby club will be in service.

Polling stations will also be set up inside East Hull Boxing Club, the Victoria Park Bowling Club Hut in Bradford and the Swerve Table Tennis Centre in Middlesbrough.

image copyrightAFP
image captionEast Hull Boxing Club in Kingston-Upon-Hull has been converted to a polling station

Religious buildings

image copyrightGetty Images
image captionChurches, like this one in Teesside, have long been used as polling stations

Churches and their associated halls have long been used as polling stations.

But Christianity is far from the only religion whose buildings are put to use at the coalface of democracy.

Bradford, for example, will be housing polling stations at the Al-Hudaa Mosque, the Hindu Cultural Society of Bradford and the city's Shree Hindu Temple.

In London, the Central Synagogue in Marylebone High Street will once again be a polling station, as will Brighton & Hove's Reform Synagogue.

The Nagarjuna Buddhist Centre in Kelmarsh, Daventry, will make its inaugural appearance as one of the nation's polling stations and, in Chesterfield, voters will be heading to the Spiritualist Centre.


image copyrightMiss Steel/Georgaph
image captionThe Dolphin in Gillingham is one of this year's polling stations

Pubs are very well represented.

There is the Dolphin in Gillingham, the Red Lion in the Essex village of Belchamp Otten and the Elephant and Castle in Rochdale for starters.

For those wanting something non-alcoholic, there's the Time Out Coffee Shop in Paignton, the tea room at the Wolfe Recreation Centre in Crowborough or the coffee shop at Brandhall Golf Club in Oldbury.

But when it comes to a full range of facilities, few polling stations can beat the The Royal Chase Hotel in Shaftesbury. It has a spa and indoor swimming pool, though casual voters need not bring their towel and swimwear.

image copyrightJonathan Billinger/Geograph
image captionA spa hotel is on the list of polling stations this year

Culture and Learning

image captionOne of the nation's polling stations is a museum called Explosion!

For voting with a cultural twist, West Yorkshire offers up Ilkley Playhouse, while voters in High Peak have two band huts on offer - the Thornsett Band Room and the band room in Glossop.

In London, voters will be heading to the Royal Geographical Society and The Hellenic Centre.

Museums make it onto the list too.

Torquay Museum - the oldest in Devon - will be doing the election honours, as will the museum with arguably the best name of any polling station; Explosion! The Museum of Naval Fire Power in Gosport.

With wheels

image copyrightGetty Images
image captionThe oft-photographed caravan polling station of Little Smeaton is bowing out

There is nothing in the guidelines prohibiting wheels.

Sheffield will have a community bus out in the Darnall area of the city while the London borough of Wandsworth has a specially kitted-out election bus which, when not on democratic duties, is used to take children to and from school.

Wandsworth's Mayor Stuart Thom said the bus was there in case of "flood, fire or some other emergency" which might befall another polling station.

"Ensuring residents can exercise their right to vote is a key responsibility for us and this is a simple and cost effective way of guaranteeing that right."

But the days of caravans being used as polling stations appear to be coming to an end. Not least for the oft-photographed caravan which has serviced the electorate in Little Smeaton in Selby.

The council there reviewed its future and decided it did not have one.

Richard Besley, democratic services officer at Selby Council, said the idea of replacing it with a temporary building for "such a small community" was too expensive. This year Little Smeaton will vote in neighbouring Kirk Smeaton.

Even more unusual

image copyrightReuters
image captionIn Oxford, a launderette was used as a polling station

The Ace Launderette at Girdlestone Road in Oxford will again open its doors to voters this year.

In Hull, two hair salons - Ush-Hair and Hair by Kayleigh - will be turned into polling stations. Sadly, you won't be able to have a cut-and-vote says Kayleigh Peck, owner of Hair by Kayleigh, because the business will be closed for the election.

image copyrightGoogle
image captionThe dining room of this stone cottage in Rochdale will once again be used by voters

Less-centrally located is a three-bedroom cottage in Lanehead, Rochdale, which for the last 40 years has been used for elections as Peter and Christine Hodgkinson turn their dining room into an election booth.

Speaking previously to the BBC, Mr Hodgkinson said: "Because of the area that we are in, a lot of people come and we have a natter because we do not see them one year to the next so it's like a social gathering.

"When people come for the first time they cannot believe where they are coming to."

Voters in Roddymoor, Crook, County Durham may well feel the same when they cast their votes in the garage of a house.

But the most unusual polling station of all could be your own car.

Mr Davidson said in exceptional cases - such as for those physically unable to get into the specified venue - the polling station would come to them outside.

"It is very, very unusual," he said. "But it does happen."

Related Topics

  • Shaftesbury
  • Sheffield
  • Hull
  • Wandsworth
  • Ilkley
  • Bradford

More on this story

  • Dogs, selfies, topless and rosettes in polling stations