Shropshire Star

Volunteers celebrate the 'heart of villages' in homage to halls keeping communities connected

Village halls are connecting generations, say volunteers celebrating the cornerstone of rural communities.

Coalport Village Hall committee members, Sam Deakin, Sheila Steele and Graham Banks

Last week the country celebrated Village Halls Week, a national campaign highlighting the importance of the shared facilities to rural communities.

Many opened their doors as vaccination or test centres during the pandemic, and, in recent months, some have been stepping up to help out as warm spaces to those feeling the pinch amid the cost-of-living crisis.

Others simply provide the opportunity for rural residents to connect with one another.

Research conducted by the Action with Communities in Rural England charity, which organises the annual campaign, found these vital community buildings are the only place for local people to socialise in 60 per cent of rural areas.

At Coalport Village Hall near Ironbridge, which opened back in 1953, volunteers said the hall gave different generations the chance to get to know each other.

Sam Deakin, Sheila Steele and Graham Banks

Committee member, Sam Deakin, 23, started on the committee 18 months ago, when then-members began to step down.

Sam said: "The hall was at risk of closing if a committee couldn't be found, so when I saw they needed members I thought I'd sign up.

"It's interesting to talk to the older generations about the history of Coalport. Village halls like this one, back in the day, were used by the community all the time for dances and as social spaces when people didn't have cars or go very far.

"It's a shame that they aren't being used like they were. They're a really nice way to meet different people and connect with different generations."

The new committee is using technology to bring Coalport back to its heyday, with a new website and social media channels hoping to bring in more of the younger generation.

Sam added: "This is a really wonderful space, and it's always great to see it being used. We're starting to get a lot more bookings and it's nice to see a younger demographic utilise the space."

Another facility, Loppington Village Hall near Wem, has a history which dates to 1842. The hall offers a wide variety of events and activities for local people, including quizzes and live music acts.

Loppington Village Hall near Wem, pictured: Trustee Irina Bassett

Committee member, Irina Bassett, 37, said the village hall provided her with a space to get to know her new community having moved to the area.

Irina said: "I moved here during the pandemic in 2020 from London. It took some time to get to know people and make friends so I thought 'what better place to make friends than to help out with the village hall?'

"Village halls are the only place where you can gather people in places like this, if there's not a pub you need an outlet. Somewhere to bring people together.

"They are the heart of villages, and always have been."

Shropshire Councillor Cecilia Motley paid thanks to the volunteers that keep the community hubs alive.

Councillor Motley said: "Village halls are essential pillars of our communities – particularly in rural areas – as welcoming places for visitors and residents to socialise and enjoy a multitude of different activities.

“Whether it’s voting, exercising, dancing, singing, networking, baking, or just simply enjoying, thank you to all our village halls and the wonderful volunteers who run the village hall committees and organise so many fantastic events throughout the year, making them much-loved facilities in Shropshire.”