At the beginning of 2023, Action with Communities in Rural England (ACRE) was shortlisted for a Third Sector award celebrating a project it had undertaken with corporate sponsors Utility Aid which revealed that over half of England’s 10,000+ village halls were experiencing financial difficulties due to increased energy bills.
But out of a crisis, opportunities have emerged. Whilst energy prices have remained high, many management committees secured funding for energy improvements to their building through the Platinum Jubilee Grant Fund.
And in the past month, there have been two more pieces of welcome news. First the government announced it would extend a VAT reduction scheme on the installation of Energy Saving Materials (ESMs) to buildings used for a charitable purpose in response to feedback from organisations including ACRE. And significantly, a new VCSE Energy Efficiency Scheme has been announced that will support organisations such as village halls conduct Independent Energy Assessments and apply for capital grants of up to £150k which can be used to retrofit energy improvement measures.
Whilst it remains to be seen whether the new support on offer will be sufficient to meet demand from those managing rural community buildings, there are at least some emerging and impressive examples of what can be achieved such as Kirtlington Village Hall in Oxfordshire who’ve installed solar PV and EV car charging points.
It is precisely these examples of best practice that ACRE is now looking to capture and celebrate in the New Year. Working with stagg architects, the charity has been visiting village hall groups across England that have installed a range of different technology, from draught proofing to ground source heat pumps. These case studies will be featured in design guidance expected to be published as part of Village Halls Week, 18-24 March 2024, for which the theme has been confirmed as ‘go green!’.
Speaking of the new support on offer, Deborah Clarke, ACRE’s Village Halls Manager said, “These are challenging, but exciting times for village halls. The energy crisis has put huge pressures on rural community buildings over the past year, but it has also been a catalyst for action. Both government and voluntary groups are recognising the need to embrace new technology to survive and contribute to a Net Zero future.
My advice to village hall groups is watch this space, take a look at what support is becoming available, and scope out whether this is something that is possible and would be of benefit to your community. If in doubt, ACRE members are on hand locally to provide independent support.”
ACRE (Action with Communities in Rural England) is a charity speaking up for and supporting rural communities. It is the national body of the ACRE Network, England’s largest rural grouping of community support charities which support of initiatives that equip people with the knowledge, skills, and connections needed to improve their local community.
The Platinum Jubilee Village Halls Grant Fund managed by ACRE is currently closed to applications.
The VCSE Energy Efficiency Scheme is being administered by Groundwork. Enquiries about the fund should be directed to email@example.com or 0121 237 5894.
Details of Village Halls Week 2024 are being added to ACRE’s website. Village Hall groups are advised to register their interest in the campaign using a form embedded on the site to receive more information and resources to help them get involved.