ACTion with Communities in Cumbria (ACT) – the rural and community development charity for the county – has been working with the team behind the Cumbria Village Halls Network to support them in reaching over 100 members. The Network is hosted on Facebook and provides a forum where the volunteer hall committees can come together, and learn from each other, share best practice and keep up to date.
With the fast-moving events around managing COVID-19 this has proved to be invaluable to those managing village halls across Cumbria. ACT is encouraging all village halls in the county to join and take advantage of the benefits of being part of this virtual community.
Village halls play a huge part in bringing communities together and tackling social isolation. In rural areas particularly, with diminishing services and social facilities, they act as an important local hub and provide a place for residents to meet. In lockdown, halls have been closed and the committees that run them have been busy dealing with the challenges this creates. The Facebook group means they can also meet virtually with others doing the same for halls across Cumbria.
Anne Douglas, Secretary of Crosthwaite Village Hall said: “I have found the network extremely helpful. In light of lockdown restrictions, I asked what other committees were doing about holding their AGMs. I quickly received a number of excellent well-informed replies. Committees often spend a long time researching and discussing plans and projects. The forum cuts through much of this as it enables sharing of relevant information quickly.”
Another key topic of discussion for the Network and focus for ACT has been helping halls applying for the Retail Hospitality and Leisure Grant from their local council – funding for small businesses affected by COVID-19.
Brian Bailey, Chairman of Culterham Village Hall in Mawbray and a member of the Network said: “ACT have been instrumental in us achieving funding to enable us to offset the loss of income from being closed for such a long time, and allowing us to feel safe that one of our last community services will survive.”
Hellen Aitken of ACT praised the work that the Network has been doing; “It’s been great to see the benefits that have come from village halls volunteers joining the Network, providing a forum for them to come together and support each other. I would encourage any committees who are not currently engaged to join up by searching for ‘Cumbria Village Halls Network’ on Facebook. With over 300 village halls in Cumbria, there are still many more who can benefit from joining.
“Throughout our charity’s 70+ year history we’ve supported village halls and continue to provide one to one advice to hall committees, helping them with what can be challenging and complex issues. The online Cumbria Village Halls Network compliments this by providing a quick and easy way for halls to contact and support each other too.
“As COVID-19 lockdown restrictions are eased, village hall committees are all facing questions about possible re-opening and ACT is here to help. We’ll provide practical advice and information including national guidance from Action with Communities in Rural England (ACRE), in line with formal Government guidance, as it is released. This will also be the main topic of our next free online Community Buildings Event on Saturday 27th June.”
Local MPs also support the initiative: Dr Neil Hudson, MP for Penrith and The Border said: “Our Village halls offer a vital service for Cumbria’s villages and towns and are a pivotal part of our communities. I look forward to the day that these halls can safely and practically re-open and renew their work in supporting their local communities. The Cumbria Villages Halls Network is a fantastic initiative in connecting hall committees virtually at this time to help them prepare and support each other.”
Tim Farron, MP for Westmorland and Lonsdale said: “I’m proud of the work done by volunteers who manage village halls across the county and welcome this initiative to support them through the Cumbria Village Halls Network. I look forward to the day that halls can safely re-open and restart their work in supporting their local communities.”
The Network group can be found on Facebook as ‘Cumbria Village Halls Network’ and is open to committee members of village halls and community centres located in Cumbria. The address is www.facebook.com/groups/CumbriaVHN/
For details or to book onto ACT’s online Community Buildings Event on 27th June, visit: www.cumbriaaction.org.uk/News-Events/Events