Last week was Village Halls Week, an annual and national celebration of rural and community spaces and the people who dedicate time and passion to keep them going. Village halls can often provide the only place to meet within a rural community, providing vital and diverse support to improve the quality of life, especially for those unable to travel far.
Some halls face difficulties recruiting volunteers, and some struggle with making financial ends meet. That's why the work of organisations like Action with Communities in Rural England to support village halls is welcome, along with grant support from sources such as the National Lottery Community Fund to help village halls renew themselves for the benefit of future generations.
I saw a first-hand example of renewal recently when I was invited to re-open Shotteswell Village Hall where extensive works have just been carried out to solve a long-standing problem that afflicts a number of village halls: heating the space. In this age of carbon consciousness it is often difficult to find a solution that balances financial needs and environmental considerations whilst achieving the ultimate aim to keep visitors warm and comfortable. I was delighted, therefore, that a new air source heat pump heating system had been installed at Shotteswell Village Hall in time for its re-opening at the end of January. Along with recent insulation works the hall provided a welcome sanctuary for the many villagers and visitors who came to celebrate their village hall's return to service.
We also celebrated those who worked hard to achieve this feat of engineering - the trustees and the management committee – who provided me with a tour of the village hall and its impressive new heating system before inviting me to cut the ribbon. They also introduced me to some special guests in the form of the oldest and youngest residents of the village, a reminder that village halls, and Shotteswell in particular, have an encouraging talent of bringing together all aspects of our society across generational divides into a shared space where local communities can thrive in partnership. This is why I believe it is important for us all to support our local village halls, and why the volunteers who keep them going deserve our thanks and admiration.