Village halls are at the heart of rural community life. According to Action for Communities in Rural England (ACRE), there are more than 10,000 in England alone.
Not only are village halls often the only place local people can meet within a rural community, many are now providing healthcare services for older people and exploring new ways to generate income.
To mark the first Village Halls Week, we speak to two neighbouring halls in northern Cumbria, at different stages of serving their communities.
Newbiggin Village Hall
The small village of Newbiggin has had a village hall since 1956. Made primarily from wood, the hall was showing its age by 2002.
Despite the closure of the local pub, shop and school leaving the village without a focal point, users were beginning to stop using the now cold, draughty and leaky hall. In response, a project to rebuild was started.
The new hall was opened in 2010, complete with state-of-the-art heating and photovoltaic panels to generate electricity (and much of the hall’s income). Despite launching with a big party for the whole village, it took a further 6-9 months to rebuild trust and interest within the local community.
Today, thanks to the committee’s effort to develop a multi-functional space that caters to the whole community, the hall is very well used. There is a full schedule of dance classes, group meetings and community events, and weekend functions are fully booked for the next 12 months.
Delivering healthcare is a particular focus for the committee. The closest hospital and GP are four miles away in Penrith, but with no bus service and a £20 taxi fare, it can be hard for older people to access services.
The hall has a room that can be used for clinics and hosts a regular podiatry session. A weekly exercise class, run by a physiotherapist, means that older people don’t have to travel to Penrith for physio sessions. In the future, the committee is also keen offer GP appointments via video.
Newbiggin’s community café, open every Wednesday afternoon, provides a hub for local residents of all ages to come along for a chat, homemade cake and a warm welcome. Profits are used to organise free days out for locals, helping to build local relationships and reduce isolation. The hall also has a bar, with evening opening hours designed to avoid taking business from the local pub.
Thanks to the committee, made up of long standing villagers and new residents with young families, the hall is going from strength to strength. A business plan has been developed and the committee is now looking at registering as a Charitable Incorporated Organisation (CIO) and extending the building. Read more about Newbiggin Village Hall.
Stainton Village Hall
Across the A66, Stainton’s village hall is past its best. Originally built as a wooden recreation hut for injured WW1 soldiers, the hut was moved to Stainton in 1919. Although it has been extended and altered over the years, it is now in poor condition and no longer meets the needs of the village.
The committee and local residents have been working hard to raise the money to rebuild the hall over the past 10 years. They have secured a Big Lottery Grant and various other local grants, and hope to be able to get started on the rebuild in February.
After surveying residents, and in consultation with local businesses, the committee has developed plans to turn the hall into a Community Services Hub to deliver services to local people.
A proposal has been developed to create a flexible space that is suitable for different uses, and the committee plans to work alongside local businesses, including the local pub, hotel, church and school.
The rebuild process is expected to take around nine months, after which the next big task will be to rebuild a programme of events. Many of the groups and users have gone elsewhere, so the challenge will be to tempt them back and inspire new activities.
The village hall committee already uses the local community newsletter and shares updates on Twitter, however it is also planning to develop new skills and create a website for the hall.
Committee member Judith Derbyshire said: “The main aim of the new hall is to bring local people together, reduce loneliness and build a stronger community. We want to be a truly village-run hall for local people, and one that can be used to help the community help itself.”
PLEASE NOTE: This blog has been reproduced here with permission from Zurich Municipal. This article was first published on the Zurich Municipal blog for charities and community groups. Follow Zurich for Charities on Twitter.