Village halls hailed as 'essential meeting places' for rural Shropshire communities

Essential, brilliant and a focal point – some of the words used this week to sum up the vital role village halls play in Shropshire's rural community.

Morville Village Hall from the outside
Morville Village Hall from the outside

But there are concerns for their future in the wake of the impact of Covid-19 and the lockdowns that came with it.

A recent report by Rural England highlighted the contributions that village halls make to rural communities but it also raised concerns about the impact of the pandemic.

In the survey carried out by Rural England between April and June last year, 22 per cent of participants considered community centres or village halls to be vital or necessary to the community.

However, with the impact of the pandemic and social distancing, there are concerns about whether activities and groups of people will return to the venues, restarting the bookings income stream.

Now, Shropshire village hall committee members have had their say on the importance of village halls and the work that they do for their local community.

Morville Village Hall after the refurbishment

Morville Village Hall

Chris Caine, chairman of Morville Village Hall, said: "I've been chairman for about seven or eight years, we used to meet twice a year and now we meet four times a year."

He said that the village hall was "brilliant" for the community, including a number of groups such as embroidery, sewing, bridge club and Pilates, as well as providing a space for the Women's Institute (WI) and the parish council to meet.

Morville Village Hall was originally built in 1933 and is "unique" in that it serves a large community including residents in Morville, Aston Eyre, Acton Round and Monkhopton.

It recently underwent a £30,000 "re-vamp" after receiving two grants through the government and Village Hall Funds, which went towards the new oak floor and electrics.

Morville Village Hall during the refurbishment

Mr Caine said that the hall is an "essential meeting place" for people and a "centre of all the parishes," "because it enables people to meet and join a group, expand their hobbies."

"When I was a boy it was essential in the community and that hasn't changed," noting how village halls may be "even more essential for the future" as the country continues to witness pub closures.

"We need young people to get involved and start a group or join a group," Mr Caine added and would like to encourage those who have a skill, to consider sharing it, by forming their own society.

Little Wenlock Village Hall

Sue Parsons, Vice Chair of Little Wenlock Village Hall, said that the village hall is a "focal point" of the local community with the other two being The Huntsman of Little Wenlock pub and the church.

Although the village hall was closed to the public during the Covid-19 lockdowns, the village hall played a role during that period, as it was used by NHS staff as a training centre.

The inside of Little Wenlock Village Hall

The hall offers weekly classes including pilates, yoga, indoor bowls and is home to the Shropshire amateur radio club and hosts the WI and parish council meetings on a monthly basis.

Sue Parsons has been involved on the village hall committee for more than 40 years and said "my hope is that we can continue to have a useful village hall."

Westhope Village Hall

Betty Manley, secretary of Westhope Village Hall, has written a newsletter to appeal to the local community to help save the hall, with a renewed sense of community spirit after Covid-19.

"We are appealing for everyone to pull together or we will lose it forever," she said, noting how it has been a part of village life since 1924 and it would be "such a shame to let it go."

The hall, which will be celebrating its 100 year anniversary in 2024, is a place where people come to meet, with the hall offering activities including a Tots and Toddler group, Yoga and bingo sessions.

Betty said that in the past the hall has hosted a number of village events such as rummage sales, harvest supper, a curry and comedy night and a village dance to raise money for repair work.

Now, the hall is in further need of support and the committee are "open to any suggestions to raise money," and for anyone who wishes to come forward to help organise events.

Betty hopes that with the support from the local community and from friends of the hall, there is a possibility that they can host a big celebration for the anniversary in 2024.

"I think it's very important to the local community," Betty said, noting how it has given her a "new lease of life" and extended her thanks to the Hall family who have kept it running for so long.

Westhope Village Hall

Brian Wilson, author of the report and chairman of Rural England CIC, said: “While village halls have faced considerable disruption, thankfully, most reopened once the pandemic restrictions were eased.

"However, there is great concern as to whether many of the groups who met at halls and activities which were held at halls, will return to those venues and contribute to their bookings income stream.

“Village halls are a core part of rural community life. They are the places where rural residents come together, strengthening community bonds and pursue community projects.

"They are a key asset for helping to address isolation and the wellbeing of residents, and their future viability should not be taken for granted.

"It is essential that users are encouraged to return and halls are properly supported, to ensure that rural communities can thrive and are not left behind as the nation builds back following the pandemic.”

Inside Westhope Village Hall

Community Resource is a charity that provides a membership scheme to village halls across Shropshire, Telford & Wrekin, offering advice and support on grant funding, governance and recruiting volunteers, to name a few.

The charity is also part of the national body ACRE –Action with Communities in Rural England– which is a group of county-based local development charities that offer support to rural communities.

The CEO of Community Resource, Julia Baron, said: “Village halls are at the very heart of our rural communities and do a tremendous amount for the wellbeing of local people.

"They are a vital resource, often acting as a hub for local services and hosting activities and events that bring people together.

“Village halls are maintained and run by hard-working volunteers, who give up their free time to ensure the buildings survive and thrive.

"Community Resource is here to support those volunteers and help them to ensure that the legacies of these buildings can continue for years to come.”

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