Volunteers in Suffolk are being encouraged to apply to a £700,000 Defra loan fund to improve rural community buildings – or even build new ones.
The Rural Community Buildings Loan Fund plays a crucial role in helping community groups renovate and refurbish buildings such as village halls, church halls and community centres.
It encourages communities to raise funds, knowing a loan could be available to help them meet their target and win funding from other sources.
The Fund is managed by ACRE (Action with Communities in Rural England), the national voice for England’s network of 38 rural community councils, on behalf of Defra.
Community Action Suffolk a member of the ACRE Network, provides a dedicated advice service for the volunteers who run village halls and similar community buildings.
Robert Horn Community Field Officer at Community Action Suffolk said: “The fund is a real boon for communities because it allows work to be done immediately, bringing instant benefits.
“The loan process is simple and we can use our in-depth knowledge of managing community buildings to help guide and support applicants.
“Village halls are the heart of rural communities but the majority of the 10,000 across England were built before 1970 and some are in need of a facelift or major renovation.
“We know how hard it is for communities to raise funds for projects and the availability of a flexible loan can make all the difference.”
The average loan taken out by village hall committees is around £15,000 – but larger loans are considered. Around 40 loans are live at any one time and ACRE makes around 10 to 14 new loans every year. The interest charged on the loan is returned to the Government, but capital is put back into the fund to support other community buildings.
ACRE’s Rural Community Buildings Officer Deborah Clarke said: “We are delighted to have been awarded the contract by Defra to manage the loan fund for another three years.
“We have helped hundreds of communities who tell us that without the fund, the refurbishment of their village hall would never have happened. We’re also keen to hear from groups who want construct a new building, through the Community Right to Build Powers or buy an existing building for community use, through the Community Right to Bid powers.”
Defra said: “The Rural Community Buildings Loan Fund plays an important role in supporting vital community buildings that sit at the heart of rural life. We would encourage communities to use the fund not only for the maintenance and improvement of current community buildings but also to help communities bring buildings into community use and ownership where there is a local need.”
For details of how to apply, please telephone Community Action Suffolk at on 01473 345400.