Good communication keeps communities connected

Show notes (summary)

Keeping up with what’s going on around us is really important and we often need someone who is keen to pass on useful local news and information. Doug Allen, a trustee of Topcliffe and Asenby Village Hall, talks about the different ways he keeps his community informed about anything from ‘royal scarecrows’ to ‘despicable criminal activity’…

Transcript: Season 2 / Episode 10

Johnny Thomson 00:00
Good communication keeps communities connected. And in small communities in particular, this often depends on someone local who is willing to take the task on. Hi, everyone, I’m Johnny Thomson and welcome to The Village Halls Podcast sponsored by Allied Westminster, the UK’s larger specialist provider of village hall insurance and the home of VillageGuard. Keeping up with what’s going on around us is really important. And in small rural communities, we often need someone who is keen to pass on useful news and information. One such local newshound is Doug Allen, who since 2014, has been a trustee of Topcliffe and Asenby Village Hall in North Yorkshire. Doug, who is a former public relations officer, joins me today to talk about the importance of local communication. Hi, Doug. and welcome.

Doug Allan 00:57
Good morning, Johnny and thank you very much for inviting me to come on today.

Johnny Thomson 01:00
An absolute pleasure. Thanks for coming on. Now, let’s begin with a bit of background here. Tell me about what you used to do as a career before you were undoubtedly coerced, because that’s how it usually goes, doesn’t it Doug?

Doug Allan 01:15
Certainly does.

Johnny Thomson 01:17
Coerced onto your local village hall committee.

Doug Allan 01:19
Yes, well, I’m retired now. In fact, I’ve been retired for 12 years, and I did retire earlier I hasted to add. But I was a public relations officer in local government. I worked in communications for Middlesbrough Borough Council for many years and then went into private practice and worked for a small company based here in North Yorkshire, well at Guisborough. And that gave me quite a wide interest of things to do across the country, working with many local authorities at all levels, particularly doing communications audits and things of that type, but many other projects in public relations and marketing as well. Very interesting life really.

Johnny Thomson 02:03
And I imagine having that skill set was perhaps one of the main reasons behind you getting involved with Topcliffe and Asenby Village Hall initially was it?

Doug Allan 02:13
Probably. I was still doing a part time job. I looked after a group called F40, which is concerned about the funding in education. And I was secretary of that, so I was still doing a bit of work. So I’d kept my hand in. And then in about 2014, I was approached by a friend of mine, who is on the village hall committee, and she told me that they were about to start looking at a major improvement for the village hall. But they didn’t have the skills to raise money, or to deal with some of the technicalities associated with that. So her husband, who is technically minded, and me who is administratively minded, we’re co-opted or coerced, if you like, onto that committee. My job was to look after fundraising. And we did quite well. Over about 15 to 18 months, I managed to get about £140,000 together for them. And they did a major refurb at the village hall, building a big extension and giving it a new life for another 30 or 40 years before we’ll have to do it again, I guess.

Johnny Thomson 03:29
Fantastic. Doug explain to me a little bit about the geography there, because you’ve got Topcliffe and you’ve got Asenby. And so the village hall really covers two small villages doesn’t it, that are sort of separated, I understand in various ways as well?

Doug Allan 03:45
Yes, they are. It’s Topcliffe and Asenby Village Hall. But Topcliffe is a village of around about 300 and maybe 400 people now. And Asenby is a village of 300 people. We’re in different boroughs, we’re in different parliamentary constituencies, but we’re in the same county. And the only other thing that separates us is the River Swale. But we have a bridge in Topcliffe, which this year celebrates its 400th anniversary and that bridge has brought us together just like the village hall has. The two Parish Councils got together in 1945 and started discussing the idea of a community building that they could share. And it took until about 1961 before the village hall was built, and we’ve worked together for our communities ever since. And it’s worked very well.

Johnny Thomson 04:43
Brilliant. And rather like that bridge bringing communities together you’ve done your own thing in terms of bringing people around the community together, I guess. So tell me tell me about something called the Tattler, Doug, that you became involved with.

Doug Allan 05:01
Well the Tattler is a newsletter that’s in its 26th year. Four times each year, it’s a quarterly. It’s a newsletter that’s had various editors over the years and I inherited it in 2018. And I, so I write it all and I sell the advertising in the publication, which in turn pays for the printing. And it’s a joy to actually do it, I really enjoyed. And bearing in mind that these two villages are really quite small, I never have any difficulty in filling it with material.

Johnny Thomson 05:45
Give me a kind of taste Doug as to what sort of stuff you might feature in there?

Doug Allan 05:49
I do a little features about the history of the place about things that have happened over the years. because there’s, this is a Magna Carta village, it had links to the Magna Carta. Please don’t ask me what they are now, because I can’t think what they are. But we have signposts the edge of the village saying this is a Magna Carta village. And I’ve written about that. And I’ve written about other things to do with the history of the bridge, the history of the church, the history of the Topcliffe Fayre, which used to happen every year. It was a little bit like Appleby Fayre really, with the travellers, travelling community coming in and trading horses and all sorts of things. So there’s a lot of history to the village. And I put features like that in, but it’s all about the things that are happening as well. So the next edition, which will be out on the cusp of May, June, May and June, 31st May really, we’ll have the programme for our Platinum Jubilee celebrations. And reports on the Scarecrow competition, which was held last weekend, with pictures of all the royal themed scarecrows. So that was quite interesting. Threre’s always lots of news to put in. And I carry a Parish Council report and a village hall report and things of that sort.

Johnny Thomson 07:12
Yeah, and that’s it, as you say, there’s always something going on. And as long as you’ve got your finger on the pulse there, then you can, you can spread the news. And you said it’s quarterly, the Tattler, but as it as it turns out, after the pandemic struck, the locals needed a bit more frequent news and information, didn’t they?

Doug Allan 07:34
Well, I felt they did! So I took it upon myself to write an email and circulate it to the addresses that I had, at that time. About 150 people I had. And I said that I’d write an email each week, if people were happy to receive it, about all the things that were happening at the beginning of the pandemic. You’ve got to think that our social and community life virtually came to a halt, as it did everywhere of course. And so all communication on the street or in the village hall, or whatever, virtually stopped. And lots of people found themselves in difficulty. Where do I find information about where to get medicines? How do I get food? When can I shop or things of that sort? And what are the restrictions that the government are applying? Lots of people had difficulty understanding those, as we now know, lots of people did didn’t they?

Johnny Thomson 08:39
Yeah, and I guess in a local context as well. I mean, you might understand them on a national basis, but I guess looking back in a way, we were all confused. What does this mean for me, where I am and where I live?

Doug Allan 08:51
Indeed. And so I tried to put a layman’s view on those and write about them. And I think that was very helpful and people were grateful for that assistance at the time. But that was back in… the first email went out on the fourth of April, I think it was in 2020. And a few weeks ago, a month or so ago, I had the 100th edition. And I’m writing the 107th at the moment. So it’s moved on a little bit and I moved Coronavirus to the back of the email eventually, because my partner told me I had to.

Johnny Thomson 09:40
Everyone’s bored with that. Yeah, let’s move on.

Doug Allan 09:42
Yes getting bored and it’s diminishing in interest as people hoped they were going to be relieved entirely of this pandemic. It’s not the case. But so I still do carry a little bit of COVID information at the back of the email, and I carry statistics about what the prevalence of COVID is at the moment what the R rate is, things of that type. But the rest of the email has developed into an information email about what’s going on, events coming up, what people are doing. Last week’s mentioned, a funeral that is taking place in the village tomorrow, somebody who’s quite a character in the village. All sorts of different bits and pieces. I’m quite surprised actually how comprehensive the email has become, and how much is happening. And most importantly, it staggers me how I get to know about these things, but things just sort of come my way. And people send me information that I can use. And of course, I’ve got to use social media and Facebook in particular, to pick up things that are going on.

Johnny Thomson 10:54
It must take quite a bit of work Doug really?

Doug Allan 10:55
Well. Yes, it does. But I’ve got myself into the habit of just writing a little bit now and then, as the week progresses. Mainly as I see things, I put them into the email. And I find that way, I don’t have a really hard job on Saturday trying to get it ready for nine o’clock on Sunday when it goes out. But it all comes together and I’m quite happy about the way it works. And whether it’ll go on forever or not, I don’t know, maybe until I think people are getting bored with it again.

Johnny Thomson 11:28
Now, I’m just looking at a recent edition of what you call The Sunday Email here Doug and there’s all kinds of things, you know, as you mentioned, there’s the funeral of somebody, somebody local.There’s stuff about a missing person. I can see there’s something about some despicable criminal activity that’s been going on locally and the scarecrows that you mentioned, as well, a bit of scarecrow spotting. Tell me a bit more about these scarecrows Doug, this sounds interesting.

Doug Allan 11:57
Well this wasn’t a village hall activity as it happens, but a friend of mine Jenny Bumby, is the chairman of The Friends of Topcliffe. School and she worked with three or four neighbouring villages to organise a scarecrow trail. And the scarecrows had to be created with a royal theme. and they were all positioned throughout the bank holiday weekend just gone. People went aound and voted on which they thought was the best by putting money in a box. And we’re waiting for the results of that now. I think we’ll get them today or tomorrow.

Johnny Thomson 12:39
A bit of fundraising there.

Doug Allan 12:40
And that was quite good. That was our first one and I think it’ll probably be repeated. But I don’t know whether they decided that yet.

Johnny Thomson 12:51
So the Tattler in the in The Sunday Email, obviously do a lot to help the local community Doug and you clearly have a passion for communication anyway. What lies behind this? I mean, it’s really valuable, isn’t it and I guess maybe this is just your way of making a contribution and making a difference, is it?

Doug Allan 13:11
Well I’d like to think it make some contribution to village life. I do it independently. It’s me. I like living in the village and I like to know what’s going on. It’s awful when you hear about an event on and you didn’t know about it. So I hope that other people like to at least have a forewarning that something’s coming up. What’s on at the cinema in Thirsk and things of that nature. For me, I think it’s a bit of the privilege living in a village and being part of a small community. But it does rely on people doing things to make life work and to make community life successful. I like to think I’m a part of that. I’m not so committed that I’d want to be a Parish Councillor, but I don’t mind being on the village hall committee and I don’t mind doing my bit of publicity work with the Tattler in the Email. I think they nicely tie things together.

Johnny Thomson 14:09
Exactly and it links back to the skills and the kind of passion for communication that you’ve had clearly throughout most of your life with the career that you’ve followed as well.

Doug Allan 14:19
Communication is pretty critical for most things, isn’t it? If you don’t have it, what’s the point?

Johnny Thomson 14:26
Well, obviously you know, I share that, that passion that you have, as well, anyway. So I know exactly where you’re coming from. And as I mentioned at the beginning, good local communication is really, really important. And it’s great you know that you’ve taken this task on there.

Doug Allan 14:41
Well somebody appreciates it because I had several nominations to an award scheme that Hambleton Borough Council run, and I was awarded a Hambledon Hero badge.

Johnny Thomson 14:55
Brilliant. I love it!

Doug Allan 14:57
And on the 100th edition I was at a sout and sweet lunch in the village hall. And I was surprised by a group of people who made an announcement and presented with me with four reams of paper, and some other gifts to mark my 100th edition and to say thank you. The 100 reams of paper, sorry the four reams of paper is to do with the fact that each week I print off 12 copies of the email, and I walk around the village delivering them to people who don’t have a computer, or a smartphone.

Johnny Thomson 15:31
Yeah, and that’s another thing as well isn’t it, some people are in some ways isolated or maybe lonely and things like that and it’s a great way of helping those people as well.

Doug Allan 15:41
I think they in particular will welcome it. And I do get stopped and I get a jar of jam or a pickle off people. Thanks for doing that. Can I pay you? No you can’t pay me, but well, here’s a jar of pickle, thank you.

Johnny Thomson 15:56
Fantastic, extra little incentives there, wonderful. I love it. And, of course, talking ofheroes, the one thing we haven’t mentioned is that you’ve been nominated for our Unsung Heroes Award this year, so congratulations with that. It’s early days of course with the with the nominations. But congratulations Doug on being put forward with that.

Doug Allan 16:20
Thank you very much for that. It might need a little bit of adjustment by the time we get to the awards in October, but we’ll certainly be well, if we’re on 107 now, probably be on about 130 by then I would think.

Johnny Thomson 16:36
Yeah, well, it is it’s a fantastic contribution. And it’s just the kind of, you know, you’re just the kind of example that we’re looking for, for these Awards. You know, people who go about some sterling work behind the scenes to really help the local community and perhaps it’s done, you know, very much in a way that is unsung, you know, not many of us know about it, but it’s great to get the opportunity to, to highlight the work you’re doing.

Doug Allan 17:02
Well nobody’s looking for recognition of that sort. But it’s nice that some somebody would want to do that.

Johnny Thomson 17:09
It’s not why we do it Doug otherwise we would have stopped a long time ago.

Doug Allan 17:13

Johnny Thomson 17:15
But listen, thanks so much for coming on and explaining, you know a little bit about what you do there.

Doug Allan 17:22
Yeah. Well, it’s been a pleasure talking to you. And if anybody wants to get in touch to see what I do, I’d be more than happy to talk to them.

Johnny Thomson 17:30
Yeah, because you’ve got a you’ve got a website as well haven’t you Doug?

Doug Allan 17:34
Well, I have a website that has information about The Sunday email on and that’s just and anybody can look at that and see an email and it’s archived there. It explains why I set it up and how it goes. And they can look at the Tattlers if they wish, but they’d have to go to the Topcliffe Parish website to do that.

Johnny Thomson 18:00
Well I always put some links with each episode as well. So I’ll make sure those various ones are on there, but Doug it’s been great chatting with you today.

Doug Allan 18:10
Well I hope it’s been useful to people.

Johnny Thomson 18:12
Well as I say, you know, your passion for communication is obviously something that I share and just well done keeping everyone around you there in your neck of the woods informed. Brilliant work.

Doug Allan 18:22
Okay, thank you very much.

Johnny Thomson 18:24
Yeah, thanks again took for for coming on. And don’t forget our Wonderful Villages Awards, everyone. There’s five Awards all together, including the Unsung Hero or Heroes Award that the Doug’s been nominated for. Each winning Award will result in £1,000 for your local village, church or community hall. So make sure you enter and if you can spread the word. And that’s all folks for this episode. Thanks as always to our headline sponsor and specialist insurance provider Allied Westminster for making our podcast possible, and whose services you can discover more about at And to online booking system provide Hallmaster who also sponsor our podcast and can be found at You’ve been listening to The Village Halls Podcast, a unique listening community for Britain’s village, church and community halls and anyone interested in the vital services they provide. We’ll be back again soon with another episode. So if you haven’t already, visit thevillagehalls to subscribe, sign up for updates, link through to our social media pages and find out more. Until the next time. Goodbye for now.