Our review: community buildings consultation
Consultation closed: Tuesday, 1 March 2022
Consultation opened: Tuesday, 16 November 2021
Working with Bedfordshire Rural Communities Charity, we reviewed community buildings, village halls and other community facilities, such as Scout and Guide halls, to gain a comprehensive and accurate picture of facilities across the area.
We did this using a survey, in July 2021.
View or download the Central Bedfordshire Village Halls and Community Buildings Survey results 2021 (PDF).
What our review found
Here's a summary of findings from the review. This includes the key issues we identified.
Number and coverage of halls
There are 149 community halls (of which we are aware) across Central Bedfordshire. This equates to one hall per 1,932 residents and covers nearly every civil parish with a population of over 150.
Governance, management and ownership
Most halls are owned freehold by an unincorporated charitable trust (63%). This format is not a legal entity and holding or custodian trustees are required to hold the asset on behalf of the charity. Halls are run by some form of managing committee (52%).
64% of halls have registered title to the hall and the land it sits on.
While committees generally feel they are well run, many face significant challenges in recruiting trustees/committee members and volunteers. The average age of a trustee being between 61 and 70.
Hall size facilities and condition
24% of traditional halls were built after the First World War, many being memorial halls for the fallen. Since 2000, some 19 new halls have been built, probably assisted by Section 106 funding.
The typical size for the traditional hall is 300 square metres. Whereas the recently constructed hall can be twice that size and be designed to satisfy modern needs for a flexible space. A typical hall consists of a main hall, meeting room, kitchen, storage, parking and a stage.
Only 46 halls have Wi-Fi and only eight have adapted facilities for those with special needs.
Usage levels and viability
The median usage level for main halls would appear to be around 21 to 22 hours per week, although larger halls with a number of spaces may have weekly lettings of up to 60 hours. Halls with low levels of lettings may struggle for financial viability, while those with high levels may find it difficult to accommodate increases in demand brought by population growth. Many halls have the capacity to take on the provision of additional services and activities. Many have spare letting capacity and are not fully used. Halls with more than two rooms have capacity to gain extra income.
Improving and investing in your hall
Over 65% of hall operators thought their hall was in good condition both internally and externally. Less than 10% had urgent need for refurbishment.
Hall activities cover a very diverse range, but may still have capacity to take on additional services, such as community health services. However, these halls will need some adaptation.
Bearing in mind the age of buildings, trustees strive to continually maintain their hall. 49% of halls are considering major renovations, 42% upgrades to fixtures and fittings and 34% improvements to energy efficiency. Some improvements may be funded by Section 106.
Trustees need to ensure the building is not underinsured; this is achieved by annually updating rebuild costs in their insurance policy.
Only 10 halls thought they were exposed to some form of environmental risk. Mainly the flood risk in Bedfordshire.
Hall experiences during COVID-19
Most committees considered their hall to be COVID-19 secure (91%) and therefore within government guidelines for permitting user activities. At the time of completing the review survey, 78% of halls were closed with the remaining 22% providing exempt or essential activities.
89% of hall operators thought they had sufficient measures in place to re-open, once lockdown restrictions had been lifted.
Hall operators took advantage of the various Business Support Grants we offered (56%) and, for many, this was their only source of income.
Most thought they were financially viable for at least three months (94%) but with only 56% being viable if closed for longer.
The main challenges for committees during COVID-19 is complying with government legislation or guidance, recruiting trustees and fund raising.
For many rural communities the community and village hall may be the only hirable community space left in a village. Other venues which are no longer viable having had to close.
The role of the hall as a community hub is seen as critical to helping re-establish community networks post COVID-19. Halls are essential to help communities out of the pandemic as local venues and places where local groups can meet and help to rebuild social networks.
It will also be a challenge as many existing hall users may no longer exist. Halls will need to attract new groups and provide facilities for alternative uses as replacements for these lost groups.
Halls do have spare capacity and therefore should review potential user groups. This includes using venues for devolved service provision to a more local level, halls could help to satisfy this demand – after some adaptation.
The majority of halls have been closed for the last year, with nil letting income. While many have taken advantage of our Business Support Grants, church halls have only been eligible for the Discretionary Support Grants, because they are not required to pay Business Rates and therefore don’t appear on the rating valuation listing. Some halls have undertaken improvements with these grants, but many have kept the funds to one side. Halls will be financially weaker as a result of COVID-19. Some halls that had planned improvements have deferred the work, pending some return to normal income levels.
Some hall user groups will no longer exist post COVID-19 and hall incomes may well take several years to recover to a sustainable level. Clearly, hall operators will need to be supported with planning their finances and being signposted to other funding sources.
Funding for new buildings and improvement of existing halls
There is a need for new community hubs and buildings to match areas of population growth arising from new developments. Existing halls can be supported with Section 106 funding to improve and adapt existing facilities to accommodate additional growth and demand.
New halls should be designed with sufficient size to accommodate increased demand and with more flexible space for varied activities.
Trustee succession and volunteer recruitment
Halls have had an ongoing problem with attracting trustees for many years. COVID-19 has exacerbated this retired, elderly demographic, as many trustees were forced to self-isolate.
Further, the lack of potential trustees leads to a shortage of potential chairs, vice chairs, secretaries and other officers. Succession planning is a potential problem. Committees need to attract younger trustees and could usefully engage with the volunteer centre at community and voluntary services to attract more volunteers. We can also assist with promoting volunteer opportunities widely and perhaps use social value in procurement to secure volunteer skills and time.
Wi-Fi connectivity and home working provision
Less than half of all halls have Wi-Fi provision. Rural connectivity and digital exclusion is a recognised national issue and if halls are to play their part in helping to re-establish communities, this issue needs to be considered.
With the increasing trend for home or more local working, halls could provide touch down or hot-desking facilities, if layout permits. Good connectivity is part of this service provision.