IN CELEBRATION OF OUR BEACON BUILDINGS THROUGHOUT SUFFOLK
Within a short walk from your front door, chances are, there’s an asset which is playing a pivotal cradle-to-grave role in community life.
It’s been the setting for clubs, hubs, parties, political polls, and so much more – and yet so often we overlook its powerful contribution, and the generous people who keep it serving us.
So, what is the ‘asset’ I’m talking of?
It’s the hundreds of village halls and community buildings which exist around Suffolk.
These form a proportion of the 10,000 village halls contributing to neighbourhood life throughout England, and the countless other ‘community buildings’ nationwide which could be in the form of scout huts, church halls, sports clubs or community centres .
Community Action Suffolk (and its predecessor organisation Suffolk ACRE) has been supporting village halls for more than 80 years, and today delivers guidance for around 480 community buildings and village halls in all.
The diversity of these venues is huge – and perhaps that’s to be expected when you consider that the initial driver for village halls dates back to the very specific demands of a post World War I era, and a country keen to bring people together once more.
As a result, look around Suffolk and you’ll see everything from corrugated shacks, to purpose-built modern facilities which feature licensed bars and function suites.
This month, we’ll host our hugely popular Annual Village Halls and Community Buildings Conference, and we’ll be joined by representatives from all of these venue extremes.
No matter what the building they contribute to in community life, they’ll share the same desire: to ensure it continues to be fit for the future, in every sense.
These ‘community contributors’ are special people indeed.
For the most part, they’re volunteers, and they’re passionate about finding ways and means to keep the buildings at the heart of Suffolk life.
They’ve shaped and contributed ideas which now mean we have halls acting as post offices, shops, wellbeing hubs, scout venues, and the social marker of christenings, marriages and wakes.
No wonder then, that there’s a lot on the plate of those who maintain and sustain these buildings. It isn’t enough for them to spot the potential audience for our halls. Instead they’re having to consider as many factors as would any business owner – tackling health and safety factors, licensing considerations, VAT, and providing employment for cleaners, caretakers and more.
As you can probably tell, I’m enormously proud and passionate about this area, and about the way in which we as a county keep so many of our community assets thriving, but I do wish the spotlight would shine on them more.
I was delighted to have the opportunity to applaud one particular shining example at our recent Suffolk Community Awards.
Shotley Village Hall emerged victorious in the Community Buildings category, not only for hosting scores of events (from a pop-up library to blood donor sessions, pantomimes and sports clubs) but for the fact its tireless committee had managed to raise £30,000 from grants to resurface the venue’s car park.
And where Shotley’s dynamic spirit is already being evidenced, I have a sense we’ll see many more such powerful stories emerging in the coming months – in part because of DEFRA’s recognition that such buildings need funding support.
Late last year it was announced that the government would be allocating £3 million for the improvement of village halls and similar assets in our towns and villages.
Already, I’m pleased to say, that we’ve seen a successful application here in Suffolk.
Barsham and Shipmeadow Village Hall was the first in the county to be granted a sum from this allocation, and is now putting £10,000 to good use on building a vital extension.
Stories like this one will be among those to be highlighted at our conference on 19th November, and will be celebrated again by us next January, when in National Village Halls Week, we do our bit to toast Suffolk’s successes.
Of course, it’s now just a few short weeks since we were able to show off another fine county example of community building proactivity, when Baroness Barran visited the region and saw the exceptional work of the trustees at Rushmere St Andrew Village Hall.
It was there that Baroness Barran was able to further reiterate her determination to see communities supported and applauded for all they do to reduce isolation, to foster generational friendships, and to create new opportunities – at whatever age or social position.
Let’s ensure our buildings have a legacy for many generations to come. Let’s help them continue to perform the lifeline role they have already served for so many decades.
The Annual Village Halls and Community Buildings Conference takes place on November 19th at Needham Market Community Centre between 9am and 3.30pm.
Speakers include representatives from National ACRE and Suffolk Fire & Rescue.
Tickets cost £45 and are available by going to