The vital role played by Dorset's village halls and community buildings
PUBLISHED: 10:59 18 April 2017 | UPDATED: 10:59 18 April 2017
Anita Hansen, a community advisor for Dorset Community Action, reveals the vital role played by Dorset's village halls and community buildings, and why you should do your bit
In Dorset there are around 160 village halls and many more community sports and recreation centres, social clubs, and church halls. And their importance to the health of our communities is growing.
Community buildings are a place for leisure, recreation, learning, and socialising - tackling issues from reducing social isolation to improving health and well-being. This is particularly important for those who are least able to travel to more distant centres of activity.
Since 2013, as council budgets have significantly reduced, there have been a number of successful asset transfers from council ownership to community management. In 2013 local library management transferred to groups of volunteers, and in 2016 the youth centres experienced a similar process. Local communities are well placed to fill the gaps left by the reduction in locally delivered public services, and community buildings provide the perfect venue to meet those needs locally.
In Dorset, our village halls, community and youth centres, community libraries and church halls are managed by teams of local volunteers. They run facilities providing local opportunities for social activity as well as vital local services including pop-up post offices, GP surgery and health drop-ins, and food banks etc. Despite their essential role, Dorset’s community buildings are experiencing diminishing investment and support, and increased difficulty in finding new volunteers to help run them, at a time of increasing demand.
Moreover, many of these community facilities are no longer fit for purpose for the requirements of today’s diverse and evolving rural communities. They need to raise funds for renovation and increase sustainability for future generations. Dorset Community Action (DCA) has a role in supporting these groups, and Charlton Marshall Village Hall provides a great example of a forward thinking group of local people who are transforming their local community building.
The Cedar Hall in Charlton Marshall, North Dorset is a 70 year old timber building with a felt roof, inefficient heating and limited kitchen and toilet facilities, a familiar story. It is in constant use for a range of activities from short matt bowls and dog agility to Brownies and Cubs.
The volunteer trustees and management committee had a vision for a new hall providing larger, adaptable spaces for more varied activities and services. To achieve their vision, the group needed to raise funds and came to DCA for advice.
To fully understand their community’s needs we suggested they hold an open day and send out a household survey. In total 580 people responded and confirmed a lack of access to services and social isolation. The open day also identified around 106 people willing to volunteer to support the project, with 13 interested in joining the management committee and 10 wanting to run an activity.
Through DCA, Charlton Marshall Volunteers were able to access a funding database to source grant funding opportunities, and attend the DCA Funding Fair to talk face to face with funders. Group members were then helped to develop their bid writing skills and update their knowledge on Trustees roles and responsibilities.
In addition to the money raised by their own fundraising activities they have now been able to secure £38,000 from grant funders toward the project and got through two of the three stage application process for Big Lottery Reaching Communities funding. Quite an achievement!
Charlton Marshall has shown what an energetic and committed group of volunteers can do, with a little support form an organisation like DCA. With increasing cuts to public services the role our community buildings have in supporting 21st century rural Dorset is crucial. So next time you visit your community venue please consider what help you can offer to ensure your community building remains the heartbeat of your local community.
Anita is a community advisor for Dorset Community Action providing information, advice and guidance to voluntary and community groups, charities and social enterprises. She loves hearing about the varied activities and projects that Dorset’s VCSE (voluntary, community and social enterprise) sector undertakes to support their communities and does her best to help them achieve their goals.
Get in touch
Dorset Community Action, The Coach House, Acland Road, Dorchester, DT1 1EF, call 01305 250921 or visit dorsetcommunityaction.org.uk. If you are interested in volunteering to support your local community call 01305 269214 or you can visit volunteeringdorset.org.uk.