Devon Communities Together has been supporting village halls and other community buildings throughout Devon during the past few months and is now working with these vital rural hubs to help them safely navigate their way out of lockdown as Government guidance begins to make reopening possible.
Village Halls have been closed since the lockdown was imposed and were due to be considered for re-opening when the Government’s plan reaches stage three. However, on Monday 15 June the government changed the rules to permit holding indoor markets in community buildings, and it is expected that wider reopening of these important assets will be allowed from 6 July. Therefore, Devon Communities Together is circulating guidance on how to prepare for re-opening, based on the national guidance provided by Action with Communities in Rural England (ACRE), the national charity which champions and supports community-led projects and assets in the countryside.
The extensive guide, prepared by ACRE in conjunction with the network of county village hall advisors, helps halls through the regulations and guidance provided by government, local authorities, public health and professional bodies. Halls are encouraged to contact their user groups to work out how they could return whilst complying with social distancing requirements, good hygiene practices and knowing what to do if a user becomes ill. The guide provides checklists and model documents to help committees get their halls open safely.
Nora Corkery, acting CEO of Devon Communities Together (pictured), said: “DCT has provided extensive help to village halls ever since Covid-19 started to have an impact on communities. We have provided advice and guidance on a wide range of subjects and guided halls to apply for the Government’s Covid relief funding, through our helpline and our village halls advisor. We have extended our service beyond our membership and have tried to reach all of Devon’s village halls and similar community buildings.
“We look forward to the time when halls can re-open and welcome back their users. The requirements are demanding and we are pleased to be able to assist the volunteer committees that run such important community facilities.”
To access specialist support in reopening your village hall or other community building, please contact 01392 248919 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Additional information from ACRE’s national press release:
Deborah Clarke, ACRE’s Rural Evidence and Village Halls Manager said, “Over the past couple of months we have been contacted by numerous volunteers who manage village halls wanting to know how and when they can reopen and help their community recover from Covid19. That’s why we’ve been working with relevant government departments to make sense of the emerging regulations and produce this guidance which is tailored to village halls. I encourage all village halls committees to read this information as it will allow them to put in place measures needed to make their buildings safe for use before they are given the green light to open their doors once again”.
ACRE’s guidance looks at how village halls can prepare risk assessments, ensure social distancing once open and introduce effective cleaning regimes. There are some practical resources too including checklists, notices for display in halls and sample terms of hire.
There are over 10,000 village and community halls in rural England, and thousands of Community Centres, church halls and similar buildings serving urban areas, all of which are extremely important to their local communities. They host a wide variety of activities for the enjoyment of local residents, creating sociable spaces which play an important role in combating isolation and loneliness, especially with people living alone.
While some have been hosting essential services such as Food Banks, Community Shops and medicine distribution during lockdown, their usual role in time of disaster as an emergency centre has been unavoidably curtailed. Some with pre-schools have remained open for families of essential workers and since 1st June others have re-opened for pre-school.
Louise Beaton, ACRE’s Community Halls Consultant Adviser said “It’s a huge credit to the volunteers who manage village and community halls that they have been able to manage closure, keep an eye on security and maintenance and now think through the complexity of re-opening halls with multiple meeting spaces of different sizes, for a wide variety of different uses. We know that up and down England village halls support close to 300 different kinds of activities across England and for a busy hall, finding the time between bookings to clean to Covid-19 requirements will be a challenge.”
It may be difficult for some village halls to re-open for public use in July because of financial concerns. Many halls rely on bars, cafes, fetes and dances, wedding receptions and private parties to generate income and subsidise community use of the building. It is not yet clear from government whether these more crowded activities will be allowed until later in the year.”
Many halls have been eligible for the £10,000 Retail, Hospitality and Leisure Grant, which has covered fixed costs during closure. However, there are some which are ineligible. For these halls, and those with higher fixed costs or a financial dependency on uses which continue to be prohibited, ACRE that additional funding will be made available to help with longer term recovery. It will only be during Autumn that the full costs to these halls will become apparent, when heating and the extra costs of cleaning, providing hand sanitiser etc mount up.