Nearly 500 village halls have contributed to the unique record so far, detailing their response to the pandemic and hopes for the future.
The small staff team at Action with Communities in Rural England (ACRE) were unsure whether the volunteers who manage England’s village halls would engage with Village Halls Week 2021 because of lockdown, but the response has been overwhelming.
Over five days, the charity’s social media feeds were humming with chatter as hundreds attended online events about rural community buildings, and how they could recover from the pandemic and plan for the future.
But the most surprising outcome was the enthusiasm and interest with which hall management committees signed the online Domesday Book.
The Domesday Book is a colourful, and arguably historical record. So far, the volunteer custodians of nearly 500 village halls have taken time to explain their charity’s history, their response to the pandemic, and their hopes for reopening and supporting their community in the future.
Heath Village Barn – Heath & Reach Community Village Hall, Leighton Linslade submitted this entry, “Our Hall was once the agricultural store and stables for the farm that stood adjacent to it, now two private properties. It is approximately 150 years old and is a wonderful calm, quaint space for so many local activities, groups, clubs and private functions. It has been home to many for decades, such as the Heath Band and Leighton Buzzard Children’s Theatre. War time minute books are an interesting read and back through the decades it has hosted many a drunken Christmas party; Tales of blacked out windows throughout the war and the birthplace of a much needed Pre-school for village children that has helped families form life long friendships in the community.
“The Hall and it’s grounds are used annually for community events which bring the whole village together to celebrate, usually going on into the night with lots of laughter and many memories made. We have made many positive changes to the building over the years, a new kitchen and roof, decorating and new equipment, all made possible with regular fundraisers that provide the local community with some fun activities and memorable nights out! Our hope is to continue to improve and refurbish the building: outside stabling will be renovated and used for dry storage, new flooring and maybe even disabled access and toilets over the coming years. We have set up a Website and Facebook page for the Hall which have proved very popular ways to enquire and book the Hall. The Committee is made up of enthusiastic local volunteers who are all committed to continuing the good work and ensuring the building will be the heart of village life for many generations to come.”
Most halls remain closed due to the national restrictions. Many have applied for emergency grants but there has been concern about how much longer halls can go on without generating income from hiring out spaces.
The Domesday Book has the endorsement of Lord Gardiner of Kimble, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Rural Affairs. Lord Kimble’s foreword states: “Village halls have been a crucial part of rural life for the past century. They provide a space for activities and events that bring people together, create a sense of community, reduce loneliness and support local businesses. At a time when many village halls are closed because of coronavirus, it is especially important to recognise and celebrate the work they do”.
Phillip Vincent, Public Affairs and Communications Manager for ACRE, said “The idea was simple. We wanted to find a way of making our campaign week more interactive and engaging whilst capturing stories about the important contribution village halls make to England’s rural communities. We honestly didn’t know how many groups would sign the record but in the end, we received so many entries that it crashed the page we built, whilst the US-based app providers, Coda, ended up featuring us on their website!”
Many of England’s Village Halls date back to the 1920s. In a survey undertaken by ACRE last year, it was found that 60% of village halls provide the only meeting space in the local community. An estimated 50,000 individuals too are reliant on the use of village halls to make a living.
ACRE says the Village Halls Domesday Book will remain open for a while longer in the hope that even more halls will sign.
If you haven’t contributed so far, please visit the Domesday Book page on ACRE’s website.