"How do we tell people they can't meet anymore" - village halls fear for future over funding
The current cost-of-living crisis means that now, more than ever, rural communities rely on their local village hall as a place to keep warm, access basic services and socialise without the expense of travelling elsewhere.
People who manage village halls around the region say they have been surprised at how well attended sessions are that have been set up specifically to tackle loneliness, isolation and financial issues.
It comes ahead of Village Halls Week, a nationwide campaign starting on Monday to celebrate the 2023 theme of warm, welcoming and inclusive places.
Six people turned up to the first one, the following week it was full and now around 50 to 60 people attend each week.
Scarborough Borough councillor, Roberta Swiers, is chair of the village hall committee as well as a Cayton parish councillor.
She said: “After that, I said, however we do it, we have to do it weekly.
“There was a lady that was suicidal. A lot of issues had piled up and we got her there and that came from the village hall.
“One lady was being treated for cancer and her husband died suddenly. She was devastated and we persuaded her to come for the first time. She sat and cried, it was terrible. But now she walks from the other end of the village. There’s another lady that lost her husband and they started chatting and it is good to see these relationships being formed - these two need each other. It is a lifeline.”
Research by Action with Communities in Rural England (ACRE), who organise the annual campaign, found that in 60 per cent of countryside areas, community buildings are the only place for local people to socialise.
Aside from hosting social and activities for residents, the community venues host vital services such as post offices, doctors’ surgeries, police drop-ins and convenience shops, while supporting an estimated 50,000 people whose livelihoods depend on use of these buildings.
However, while village halls open their doors to help those struggling, they are in turn having to meet their own costs and in March, Cayton will review the Thursday sessions.
Coun Swiers said: “We are robbing Peter to pay Paul with the fundraising. The bills have started to come in. We are still above water and keeping going and I don’t know how we are going to stop now. The worry is where do we find that next bit of money. I would hate to have to stop this - how do you explain to people that we can’t do it anymore?”