A celebration of village halls in Northumberland

Inside St Mary's Village Hall, Stannington
Inside St Mary's Village Hall, Stannington

Northumberland’s village halls are gearing up to mark the first national Village Halls Week, celebrating the vital role they play in sustaining rural communities.

The week-long celebration, starting on Monday and organised by ACRE Network, England’s largest network of rural community support organisations, is to say a collective thank-you to all volunteers who work tirelessly to keep community buildings and village halls open for the benefit of local residents.

St Mary's Village Hall, Stannington

St Mary's Village Hall, Stannington

A wide range of events are being held across Northumberland to celebrate the week supported by Community Action Northumberland (CAN), ranging from coffee mornings, an energy-saving roadshow and a job fair helping local people get back into work.

There are 10,000 village halls and other community buildings in England’s rural communities, of which 240 can be found across Northumberland.

Village halls and other community buildings play a key role in reducing isolation in rural communities through providing a meeting place for local residents.

However, it’s not all coffee mornings and knitting classes or proggy-mat making as some might expect. Some of the more unusual activities offered include Zumba classes, tai-chi, star-gazing nights and baby-massage classes.

Louise Currie, community initiatives officer, Community Action Northumberland

Louise Currie, community initiatives officer, Community Action Northumberland

Village halls, church halls and other community buildings remain a vital resource at the heart of many rural communities, acting as a hub for multiple local services and hosting community enterprises.

Some of the diverse examples in Northumberland include Seahouses Hub, which has a thriving community cinema, showing all the latest films in addition to free internet access and a lending library.

Rothbury Jubilee Institute also has a monthly cinema – and film showings are popular in even the smallest of halls.

There are halls with Post Offices, including at Kirkwhelpington and Whalton.

Capheaton Village Hall has a thriving café, popular with cyclists. Harbottle’s hall hosts an outreach GP surgery and Bellingham Town Hall has a library on the ground floor. Some host sports facilities such as Lesbury Village Hall and Longhoughton Sports and Community Centre.

An estimated 600 halls were built nationally to commemorate the First World War, or those individuals who perished during that conflict, such as those at Boulmer and Corsenside.

Some of Northumberland’s oldest halls date back to the 19th century, and many were originally reading rooms – established to educate the workers, and some are mechanics institutes or memorial halls.

This year will see the opening of the newest, St Mary’s Village Hall in Stannington, following the refurbishment of the former St Mary’s Hospital Chapel. The new facility will act as a hub for those living in this new rural community, having been gifted by Bellway Homes on an 80-year lease.

Inside the hall, the original parquet flooring can be seen in all its glory, alongside a sketch of Winston Churchill found during demolition work that took place on other parts of the site.

The venue is unique in being one of a very few new village halls and, as such, a dedicated board of trustees has been working tirelessly for the past few months to get everything in place for an official opening in 2018.

Given the stunning setting and size of the venue, there are even plans to open up the hall to local weddings.

Mitford Village Hall started life as a telephone exchange which became empty. Some enterprising residents decided this was a good place for a community television viewing venue.

The building was leased and money raised from the local community to buy a television and install it in this building, whereby it became known far and wide as the Televiewer’s Hut, with the first showing being the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II.

Over the years, the hall has changed considerably, with extensions and refurbishments over time, the most recent being a new air source heat pump.

The toilets have been refurbished to a high standard, thanks to grants from the local county councillor, Glen Sanderson.

CAN provides a community buildings service offering support and advice for trustees managing community buildings, led by Louise Currie, community initiatives officer.

Louise praised the #village hallsweek initiative: “We’re delighted to celebrate the tireless work carried out by the amazing volunteers running community buildings in our county.

“Without their dedication, skills and expertise, these vital facilities would be lost to the communities they serve.

“We are proudly supporting #villagehallsweek so we can celebrate the network of halls we have locally, champion the services they offer to their communities and say a big thank-you to the volunteers at the heart of it all.”

It is hoped this week of celebration will also inspire others to support their own hall, or even volunteer to help it.

To see a full list of events being run in #villagehallsweek and support available for village halls, visit CAN’s website: www.ca-north.org.uk/news/villagehallsweek
Events include: Cambo Village Hall, bake sale to raise funds to help mend the church clock, on Saturday, January 27, 10.30am–noon; Kirkwhelpington Village Hall, two events on Saturday, January 27. From 10.30am–noon, regular ‘Last Saturday’ coffee morning. In the evening at 7.30pm, is a Burns Night supper. Contact Jill Bungay 01830 540173; Longhirst Village Hall, celebrating the 10th anniversary of the re-opening of the refurbished hall with a village supper on Saturday, February 3, at 7pm.