The idea has sprung from an initiative by BBC Radio 4’s PM programme to set up an APPG on a subject suggested by its listeners. Reporter Becky Milligan met with Sir Peter Bottomley MP, a champion of APPGs, to discuss potential topics. The tentative list was whittled down to two – village halls or grammar and punctuation.
Now, Dorset Community Action (DCA) is calling on volunteers, hall users and community groups to lobby their MPs to support an APPG on village halls, which was suggested by the chairman of a small village hall committee.
Jane Rogers, a member of Thornford’s village hall committee, explains why she is keen on the idea: ‘Village halls are often the only community buildings which are available to everyone, and they’re used for so many activities. In Thornford our hall is used for our playgroup, short mat bowls, Zumba, WI and parish council meetings amongst other things. Some halls also have the potential for supporting small businesses. It’s increasingly difficult to keep village hall committees going, and an All Party Parliamentary Group for village halls would provide them with the support they need.’
Research carried out by ACRE, the umbrella body which Dorset Community Action and England’s other 37 rural community councils belong to, shows that village hall use has trebled over the past 20 years. Deborah Clarke, ACRE’s Rural Community Buildings Officer, says that village halls play a very important role in rural communities, serving as social centre, arts centre, sports centre and, in some cases, providing education, health or retail services, and they now need a champion. ‘An APPG for village halls is a brilliant idea as it would allow campaign groups, charities, and other non-governmental organisations to become involved in discussions and influence politicians.
‘Village hall volunteers are often struggling with red-tape, loss of funding and the demands of managing a building. Targeted and appropriate funding is needed for halls to enable them to continue this level of activity and maintain their buildings, particularly as the Government agenda on local commissioning for a range of services, including local health care, needs spaces such as halls.
‘An APPG could champion funding and other important issues for parish councils and village halls such as VAT, music licensing fees, incentives for energy efficiency and the use of renewable energy.’
Dorset Community Action has for many years offered support to village hall volunteers, says its Chief Executive Alex Picot. ‘Commitment is now needed from the Government, local authorities and other policy-makers to work together nationally and locally to enable us and the other rural community councils to continue offering this vital support.’
Dorset Community Action and ACRE are asking village hall volunteers to contact their local MP to ask them to lobby the PM programme to push village halls as an APPG topic. Contact Radio 4 PM at http://www.bbc.co.uk/radio4/features/pm/contact/