Now, we must not only support these existing spaces and develop their potential, but also identify new spaces. I am passionate about this because village halls have bookended my life to date, helping to form my values. My education began in an overspill primary class in Danehill Memorial Hall, before my parents’ active involvement in a neighbouring hall framed the rest of my school years. More recently in South Herefordshire our hall here has enabled us to integrate into our new community, even allowing me the transformative experience of producing their biennial pantomime. These experiences, enhanced by the immense insights gained through ACRE and the remarkable contributions of the Network’s VH Advisers, have reinforced my vision for accessible halls serving our rural communities. But my emphasis lies less in the buildings themselves than in the spaces they enclose.
I believe that to ensure such spaces continue to be at the disposal of rural communities, we must first maintain ACRE’s National Information Service, complemented locally by the 1:1 support of ACRE members. But we must go further and ensure professional support is easily accessible to the 10s of 1000s of volunteers who maintain our current halls wherever they may be in England. With the confidence of that knowledge being available at the click of a proverbial mouse, communities can then be encouraged to explore both extended roles for existing halls, as well as the yet unimagined possibilities that other rural spaces could offer. For myself, necessity is not the mother of invention: I believe real creativity follows from having the time and confidence to explore ideas, but for which we need to be in a safe and comfortable place. Extended guidance to reassure those running our halls will provide that space. Then that confidence can stimulate exploration of new spaces, and of new ways of operating in them – together these will enhance and sustain rural communities.
I conclude with the memory of the miners in Treorchy, South Wales, who in 1892 built a working man’s institute called the Parc and Dare. They built that institute by donating a penny from every pound of their wages because they saw value in that space and what it meant to come together. My vision is to reclaim and restate the value of the rural spaces across England, where people regardless of circumstance may continue to come together to the collective benefit of our communities.
Get involved in #VillageHallsWeek https://acre.org.uk/our-work/village-halls-week