Threat over support for communities

VITAL village hall services could be lost if further support is not found, a community group has warned.

Community Action Northumberland (CAN) is backing a campaign to highlight the valuable role of the Rural Community Action Network in supporting volunteers.

The groups provide a valuable support service for people who manage community buildings, with fully qualified advisers offering practical help, specialist training and advice in accessing funding.

However, their work is threatened by budget cuts at a time when there is increasing demand for services.

And a call has gone out to the Government, councils and other decision makers to help maintain the network.

CAN community initiatives officer Louise Currie said: “Each community and village hall in Northumberland provides a vital venue so that a range of services and local activities can take place.

“Demand for the skills, experience and knowledge that we and our colleagues in the Rural Community Action Network can provide is increasing.

“By contrast, easily accessible community development support services are reducing.

“Often the facilities and activities are not provided by local authorities so it is left to volunteers to make sure they are available.

“We are calling on the government, local authorities and other policy-makers to work together nationally and locally to decide how their reduced resources can be invested to maintain delivery of our services so that volunteers who manage these vital facilities get the support and help they need.”

As part of the campaign, a Community Assets: Keep Their Future Vibrant publication has been produced, outlining the various uses of village halls.

They include health and wellbeing services, pre-school and nursery classes, access to sport, retail services and arts and cultural activity.

In Northumberland they are used for theatre performances and film shows, exercise and fitness classes and training and education.

The report also shows that volunteers give more than 18 hours a week to manage community halls and raise funds, but more than a third of committees find it difficult to recruit helpers.

A fifth have problems meeting legal requirements.

More than a third exclude activities due to red tape and few halls receive council grants.

Ms Currie said: “Without somebody locally to support and advise volunteers, they might give up the valuable work they do and these community assets that people of all ages in rural areas depend upon for so many vital services will be lost.”