Heather's Monthly Articles

Village Halls

December 2017

monthly article

A village hall

First it was the iconic red telephone boxes, then the good old English pubs, and now it seems Britain’s village halls are also in danger of becoming extinct.

Unlike the telephone boxes, which can be sold to the highest bidder, or turned into mini-lending libraries, or pubs which manage to stay afloat by increasing their selection of food choices from a packet of crisps or a cheese and pickle sandwich, to designer sausages or beetroot and stilton risotto, the lowly village hall has nowhere to turn to but its volunteers. Sadly, however, the reportedly 80,000 aging volunteers who support Britain’s 10,000 village halls are also dying off.

The one-roomed British village halls are the hub of their communities. They’ve played host to jumble sales, flower and fruit shows, toddler play groups, amateur dramatic societies, whist drives, council meetings, coffee mornings and yoga classes. They’ve been the perfect venue for birthday parties (my own 21st included.) But nowadays it takes more than a village to keep the doors open. It takes bodies – preferably young ones who have the energy, enthusiasm and knowhow to keep these institutions going.

Potential recruits, however, are too busy, too old, or too glued to Facebook. Which is ironic really, seeing as in the small rural areas the village hall is the source of most of the things that keep the locals busy and proffer up perfect Instagram photo-sharing opportunities. Pilates, dance classes, Tai Chi, technology classes, beer festivals, wine tastings, dog training classes, gardening clubs. They’ve got it all. What they’re lacking are the bodies to keep them functioning. And the funds.

According to a national survey, it takes over 12 million hours of volunteering each year to run England’s 10,000 village halls. The facilities are also expected to be more upscale than the draughty halls of yesteryear. Yes, heating for starters seems to be somewhat of a priority nowadays. Also, big windows and plenty of them that fill the halls with the glorious rays of the British sun – all 3 days a year of it. Wi-fi accessibility is also no doubt a mandatory fixture. Then there’s the social media sites that need to be created and maintained. And so on and so forth. It all takes money and manpower.

Helping support the village halls is ACRE (Action with Communities in Rural England); a national body that seeks to be the voice of rural communities. They have made England’s 10,000 village halls a pet cause and are currently in the process of co-coordinating what they hope will become an annual event - #VillageHallsWeek. Scheduled to run January 22-25, 2018, the event will celebrate the contribution village halls have made to rural communities and, moreover, will recognize the volunteers who have kept the village halls functioning.

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