Where there’s a will, there’s a way: rural communities use all manner of spaces to create social hubs (Guest post by the Plunkett Foundation)

Where there’s a will, there’s a way: rural communities use all manner of spaces to create social hubs (Guest post by the Plunkett Foundation)
23 January 2018 by Chris Cowcher,

Plunkett Foundation

More and more rural communities across the UK are pulling together to create community hubs and provide additional services in existing community buildings. At the Plunkett Foundation, we know that declining services is a real issue in rural communities, but we also know that community groups are thinking more imaginatively when it comes to saving and running vital services and that community buildings are a big part of the solution! We have heard of shops being revitalised in new village hall locations and cafes in the churches providing a welcoming place to go for a cuppa and a chat seven days a week.

"The last shop in the village closed in 2000. The timing was good as the Village Hall had been extended with Millennium money, with provision for one-day-a week Post Office. There was a cloakroom that the Village Hall thought was not needed and this became the shop."

One such example is Islip Village Shop in Oxfordshire, which started out in a cupboard in the village hall and has grown to be the hub of the village and, indeed, a focal point for the surrounding communities too.

Maralynn Smith, Shop Manager at Islip Village Shop told us;

The last shop in Islip closed in 2000. The timing was good as the Village Hall had been extended with Millennium money, with provision for one-day-a week Post Office. There was a cloakroom that the Village Hall thought was not needed and this became the shop. A small core of volunteers made it happen, with funds from donations, a loan and grants.

The new shop opened in October 2000 with restricted opening hours. For several years the shop paid no rent, but all profits went to the Village Hall. After three or four years the shop became a Limited Company.

In 2004 the shop was extended to the front of the Hall, previously an empty space, and the existing shop became a small stock room. Over the succeeding ten years the range of stock was widened and more services such as dry cleaning were offered. A range of local products became standard offerings and this has continued to increase. The shop was extended and completely refurbished again in 2015. This resulted in the shop having its own entrance separate from the Village Hall and acquiring the adjoining building as a stock room, thus making the shop larger.

Today, we sell tickets for local events; take on young people to volunteer and do deliveries to those unable to get to the shop in person. The shop really has become the social hub of the village – everyone meets there!

And Islip are not alone, around 1,000 village halls host a community enterprise such as post office, community shop, coffee shop, library, cinema or farmers’ market. However, almost a quarter of all halls don’t derive any financial benefit from this activity.

As vital rural services are in decline, we see increasing numbers of communities taking it in their hands to save their pub, shop, post office or transport links, for the benefit of the community. These services aren’t just about profit, they are about offering a life line for older residents, social spaces for youngsters and a place to go for a chat and a drink after work.

Village halls, church halls and other community buildings remain a vital resource at the heart of many rural communities – acting as a hub for multiple local services.

Feeling inspired? As well as contacting your local ACRE Network member, talk to the Plunkett Foundation about how you can save a vital service in your rural area and bring the community together. Call 01993 810730.