Does your hall need a helping hand?

Show notes (summary)

We all need someone we can turn to for a bit of advice and support every now and then, and village halls are no exception. Our guest for this episode is Janet Clark, one of a network of village halls advisors across the country, who explains the kind of support that’s available to those running community buildings and chats about some of the big challenges village halls are currently facing.

Transcript: Season 2 / Episode 12

Johnny Thomson 00:01
We all need someone we can turn to for a bit of advice and support every now and then and village halls are no exception. Hi, everyone, I’m Johnny Thomson and welcome to The Village Halls Podcast sponsored by Allied Westminster, the UK’s largest specialist provider of village hall insurance and the home of VillageGuard. Running a village hall is never easy, and having someone local that trustees can turn to for a bit of guidance or assistance can be a big help. Throughout the country, there are many local development agencies and charities that employ village halls advisors and I’m delighted to be joined by one today. Janet Clark is Senior Rural Officer and Community Facilities Advisor for YMCA Lincolnshire, and today we’re going to be talking about how she works with halls in her area and also some of the issues and challenges that village halls are currently facing. Hi, Janet, thank you very much for coming on the show.

Janet Clark 01:00
Good morning, Johnny. Nice to be here.

Johnny Thomson 01:03
Yeah, thank you so much. And before we begin, tell me a little bit about YMCA, Lincolnshire, Janet and how you came to work there?

Janet Clark 01:13
Okay, well, I have worked within the voluntary and community sector for over 20 years and 20 years of that time has actually been at what was formerly Community Lincs and is now part of YMCA Lincolnshire. We merged with YMCA Lincolnshire in October 2019, so not long before the dreaded COVID struck. And the reason for that merger was to provide some future sustainability for the work of Community Lincs. So we are now part of the YMCA charity, Community Lincs doesn’t exist., but we make up the communities team and are still based in Sleaford, where we’ve always been, and continue the valuable work that we’ve been delivering. And amongst that work is the village hall advisory service. I’ve only been the village hall advisor since April 2021, when I took over from Samantha Smith, who many halls in Lincolnshire will know of. Samantha provided such a lot of support and advice and had tremendous knowledge over a period of about 13 years. So it was big shoes to fill, when I took over that role, although I’d sat opposite Sam for a long time. So I was aware of the work and I had some of the sort of transferable skills, for example, funding to bring to that role. So yeah, I have been here since 2002. In August, it will be my 20th year with the organisation.

Johnny Thomson 03:08
Fantastic. And YMCA Lincolnshire as part of the ACRE Network in in England, right?

Janet Clark 03:13
It is.

Johnny Thomson 03:13
With ACRE being Action with Communities in Rural England. So basically, you’re not the only village hall advisor around are you?

Janet Clark 03:23
Not at all, no. So YMCA Lincolnshire took over that membership when Community Lincs finished and yeah, ACRE provide a lot of information and advice, and obviously are there to advocate very strongly on behalf of rural communities. And one of their sort of main projects is the village hall advisory network. So there are one of me in every county, and as many people will know, ACRE have provided a lot of really useful information for halls during the pandemic that we as the local advisor have disseminated out to our halls across the county.

Johnny Thomson 04:07
And it’s worth mentioning as well that there are equivalent roes in parts of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland as well. So it’s really great that village, church and community halls have someone that they can turn to for support, isn’t it Janet? Yeah, there’s so much variety, isn’t there?

Janet Clark 04:19
Absolutely, yes, I mean running a village hall as a charity is a massive undertaking. We all know what it’s like trying to maintain our own homes, let alone maintaining a building and ensuring that building is fit for purpose, is well used and is sustainable, and complies with charity law, can be really, really difficult. And the halls across Lincolnshire are all very, very different. We’ve got very small tiny halls that have been there since probably the early 20th century up to brand new spanking, brand new one halls that have new facilities and accessed funding not that long ago. Got one, for example, that is a listed building, and grade two listed, and it actually has a house adjoined either side of it. So that is really unusual. Absolutely. And the challenges can be quite different from hall to hall.

Johnny Thomson 05:23
Yeah. So what does your role involve Janet? What’s the, what’s the typical day look like and no doubt you’re going to tell me straight away that there’s no such thing as a typical day? Sounds like a very rewarding role Janet?

Janet Clark 05:31
There isn’t really a typical day. And I’m not just the village hall advisor, I have other projects that I deliver on behalf of YMCA Lincolnshire, but I would say probably currently halls takes up a lot, most of my time. So my role is to support the management trustees of a village hall. So that can be anything from governance concerns, or you know charity law concerns, right down to how to how often do I have to have my fire extinguisher checked? The range is massive, it’s anything to do with a hall and obviously funding as well comes into that. So I get lots and lots of enquiries on a regular basis from halls, asking, you know, those type of questions really, and as I say, the range is vast. And of course, I can’t be an expert on everything. But I have the wonderful backup of the ACRE Network, all those other advisors and all the information sheets that ACRE provide for me to use to support my village halls across across Lincolnshire. So I do visit halls as well, I’ve got meetings set up. I was at a meeting last week with a hall that really needs to look at how it can become sustainable, move into the 21st century, but it’s got a lot of hurdles to cross. It’s very small, so what it’s able to put on is limited. It doesn’t have an accessible carpark. The building needs a lot of work. So, there’s lots of advice and support to give to someone like that. And it can be that or it can just be, you know someone asked me for an information sheet on safeguarding, for example. Could I send an updated information sheet on safeguarding, so that can be something very light touch up to, you know, maybe having to visit halls on two or three or four occasions to provide the ongoing support that they might need? Oh it is. I mean we’re also there as representatives, so we represent the halls across across the county, at you know funding advisors, meetings, meetings with other agencies, county council, wellbeing team. For example, at the moment, I’ve had several halls contact me asking about the role that they could fulfil with the Ukrainian refugees. So we’re looking at working with the voluntary sector to provide contact details for village halls, should that be something that Ukrainian refugees want? I mean, there could be a valuable role there as, as a management committee said to me, you know we could host Ukrainian refugees that are living in the local community that maybe want to get together. They could get together in our hall, they could cook a traditional meal, we could maybe put on additional information and services for them. So halls very much are a focal point in rural communities and have the opportunity to fulfil a lot of roles really.

Johnny Thomson 08:56
Yeah, really vital to small village communities. And as you see, always there to step up to the plate a different issues and different situations emerge. If you look back in history, that’s the way it’s always been.

Janet Clark 09:08
We report back to Defra as well through ACRE about the work that we’re doing. So it keeps halls very much on the agenda and Defra provide some funding to enable us to carry out the work that we do, because there isn’t any other funding for village hall advisors at the moment, other than the small amount that we get from the Defra funding through ACRE.

Johnny Thomson 09:30
Yeah. Now I understand, you’ve… I mean you mentioned there that you’ve just been recently visited a hall and you’ve also recently been attending local network meetings involving village halls. So I imagine that must have revealed quite a few interesting issues. What are the kinds of hot topics channels that you find are facing village halls right now?

Janet Clark 09:51
The lack of volunteers, so people that will join management committees is probably the biggest one. The concern that the age profile of management committees are people that perhaps are reaching retirement age or have reached retirement age, have been on the committee for a long time and are thinking that they would, they really want to be able to pass on some of that responsibility to others, and how they can do that. So that’s certainly one of the things sort of that the committees are looking at attracting volunteers that are, feel that it’s something that interests them, and that they could do. And the other one is really providing a venue that’s attractive to local people, so that when you put on events, people want to come. So that can really vary. Some halls seem to do very well and have you know, a lot of regular bookings and whenever they put on fundraising activities, they’re well supported. Others really struggle. So there isn’t, there is never a magic solution to that. But I think, you know, volunteers and local community, supporting the halls are the biggest two factors for halls at the moment, with funding, you know, accessing funding, particularly large amounts coming in a very close third.

Johnny Thomson 11:23
It’s interesting that, what you say about getting people to sign up as trustees and so on. I mean, it’s a problem that employers even are facing across the country right now around recruitment, and so on. It’s having that continuity as you’ve said. Where do you see that the trustees of the future may come from?

Janet Clark 11:44
Well, they’ve got to come really from the sort of the next generation really, you know people in work. And it’s how you encourage people to do that. I think often, or sometimes halls can get them find themselves in a situation where they’re close to closure, because they can’t find the trustees. And then maybe it’s a bit of a panic mode to try and get people involved. Whereas maybe, one hall said to me, oh we’ve done a bit of a recruitment campaign and what we’ve done is we’ve just opened the hall up and had some evening sessions and invited people to come and see what we as a management committee do and to give a positive overview of you know, this is why I’ve been a trustee, you know, it’s enabled me to obviously, do something for my local community, I’ve made new friends, I know more about the village. And look at it from that aspect, that the positivity, there’s one hall a very good example where they were literally down to two members, and they did something, they did something like that they didn’t panic and send out a sort of, you know the halls going to shut if you don’t come on board. They did a sort of evening and put on a few drinks and nibbles, got people in that way and managed to get some people to volunteer, just initially to volunteer on to the Management Committee. And one gentleman who was at the cluster said, I joined he said, I used to live in the community and I moved away. And when I came back, I thought, well, this is a fantastic building, it’s served a lot. You know, I remember going to lots of parties and all sorts of activities, and it will be shown to lose it. So he said, I joined just as a committee member. He said within a few months, I was treasurer, but he hadn’t joined with that intention. And I think it can, it can be very daunting for people. And I fully understand why people think, gosh, you know, it could be a lot of work, do I really want to take on the secretariat role? Do I really want to be a treasurer? So it can be really difficult and I think you know, where halls can work together as a management committee and say well we’re all here to support one another, then maybe that becomes more attractive. But we’re all busy, aren’t we, Johnny? You know, we lead busy lives. And I think, you know, our lifestyles are very, very different from what they were 2030 years ago. You know, when you’ve got young families and you’re maybe having to transport children to school, or you get involved in the activities that they’re involved with and they’re not it’s at schools in the village, they’re further away. So people’s social time is much less than it used to be.

Johnny Thomson 14:30
Yeah, and there are other almost competing factors aren’t there that people turn their attention to and I guess it’s interesting what you said about halls reaching out to the community to recruit and to find trustees. And what I’ve noticed many of the successful halls tend to reach out in a similar way to discover what the needs of the local community are as well. And I guess that in many ways could solve the same problem because if, if you can attract younger people, for example, if you can offer services and facilities that meet meet their needs, then I guess that potentially would provide the next generation of people to run the halls as well.

Janet Clark 15:13
Engagement is really, really important. And I think it can be very difficult for hall committees, because they’re so busy on what they’re doing. They don’t always shout loud enough about what they’re doing and their achievements. So yeah, again, at one of the cluster meetings, a hall said to us, well what we did this time we put on an event and we actually said on all the information that they sort of did to promote it, this event has been put on by the Management Committee of such and such a hall, we raise funds through this way to put on this event and what we’re hoping to do with the money raised from the event that we’re putting on is… And they also made sure that during the event they kept people abreast of that as well and thanked everybody for coming and said you know, we have now raised and this is what we’re going to do. So that keeps people involved, because I think, you know as someone that just attends something you just turn up don’t you? You don’t think about what’s gone on behind the scenes to put that on, or you know, who’s been involved. All the hard work, and, yeah I think it’s where communities or where village halls can do that maybe that helps, too. And like you said, finding out the needs is really important anyway, it’s a biggie in terms of, you know if you’re going to be fundraising, you need to have evidence of what the need is in the local community. So you know, you can, you can dot a lot of i’s and cross a lot of t’s if you do that regular sort of engagement type activity, either through, you know questionnaires or events and listening to what people are saying to you. But you always need the advisors, you know, halls, people will often say what they’d like to see, but then as halls have said to me, but when you turn around and say, Well, are you willing to volunteer to help to put that on? Quite often? It’s, oh, no, I can’t do that. So they’re the challenges, aren’t they?

Johnny Thomson 17:15
Yeah, absolutely. And the funding, which is the third point that you mentioned as well, is well, it’s the one that’s always there, isn’t it? And I guess, this is an area that you and your network of fellow village hall advisors really can offer a lot of support with as well?

Janet Clark 17:31
We do and we’re not the only organisation that can offer the funding expertise. I say to halls, grab all the expertise and support that you can because obviously we have the CVS, council for voluntary service network in Lincolnshire, so we’ve Lincolnshire CVS, and we have the VCS’s, which cover West Lindsay, Lincoln City and North Kesteven. And they put on funding ready programmes. And during our round a cluster meetings, we spoke about that and gave all the contacts for people to go on, and perhaps look at doing a funding ready programme, which is what it says, it will support you to be funding ready to apply for funding. Because that’s often the thing, it’s knowing what you need to have in place and putting the right words on an application. We provide that support to, but there is an actual programme that people can do. So it’s about us in the voluntary sector, working together to support the management committees of halls, which is what we’re definitely trying to do. And funding, there is funding out there, what there’s a lack of is large amounts of money in one pot. So it’s much more challenging for holes, if they’re wanting to apply for 1000s of pounds. It’s not so easy. And Lottery funding is obviously very competitive. And I think, you know, when Lottery funding started back in the late 1990s, we were all thinking we could be millionaires, so everybody’s sort of bought a lottery ticket. And people continued and now not so many people buy them so there isn’t so much money and with you know the financial situation that we’re facing in this country at the moment, it could be that they’re even less lottery tickets purchased, which means there’s even less money. And although there are other funders out there, lottery has always been quite a bread and butter for holes particularly where there’s large refurbishment projects or even new halls have been funded from lottery money. There’s very little of that available now.

Johnny Thomson 19:45
So I guess the key is to evolve isn’t it, that’s in essence what’s needed and being able to turn to people like you to pick up on ideas. You know, this idea of networking as you mentioned, you know, you bringing halls together and or meeting together at the same time is a great way, isn’t it of getting that communication, because it can be a very lonely place running a village hall in isolation.

Janet Clark 20:07
Yeah, I mean, we facilitate that. And actually, the best advice and support always comes from other halls doing exactly the same as you. They’re the ones that know what it’s like on a day to day basis. You know, I’m paid to do a job and yes, I have a lot of resources at my fingertips. But I don’t have that day to day knowledge of, you know, running a hall. So it’s great when you put on these networking events, and people are asking each other, you know for ideas on what they can do. I mean, I know from my last cluster meeting, which was in Huttoft last Thursday night, one hall is now coming to visit Huttoft Hall to talk to them about how they access some certain certain funding. So that’s good, isn’t it? That’s the type of thing that oh, we’ve made an appointment, we’re coming across just to speak to the hall separately, because we like what they’ve done here. So, you know, if you can do that, that, that is excellent really. Yeah, you find people chatting and talking about what they’ve done, you know, how maybe they’ve recruited as I’ve said, that’s come out of some of the meetings, what people have done, and we’ve had big discussions about what can hoalls do to be sort of attractive to people moving forward? You know, have they got… yes there are still some of the traditional things that halls are known for, you know, the parties, the family celebrations, weddings, you know, funerals, all those sort of things, halls are still really well used. And some of the traditional sort of activities, quizzes, bingo, things like that still happen in halls. But what else can they provide? You know, can they be a hub for information? Can they offer support for people that are lonely. Loneliness is one of the biggest sort of single concerns in our society at the moment. And that’s not just loneliness in older people who are maybe living on their own. We know that a lot of young people also experience loneliness. Now, what can halls do to work with the agencies to perhaps provide a facility where some services or activities can be put on to support that? So yeah, it’s linking things like that up really.

Johnny Thomson 22:31
Wonderful. Janet, thank you so much for your time today. It’s been really interesting fining out what you do and what others in the network do as well. And also what things are a like out there, out and about in rural communities right now. It’s difficult, but we’ve got to stay positive, haven’t we as well?

Janet Clark 22:54
Oh absolutely. And I think, I’ve just got to add, I mean, a lot of halls have said in some ways the pandemic provided them with income, because most of them received funding, Government COVID grants, and you know one of them third, I can’t believe you know we got this money, but actually, it was so well needed because we’ve got a lot of work we need to do maintenance wise on our hall and it’s provided us with some sustainability. We can use this money wisely to improve the facilities and we can concentrate our efforts rather than having to find the funding, on you know, running an effective hall, putting on activities and services and promoting, you know, what our hall is able to offer.

Johnny Thomson 23:41
And if, if anyone out there, Janet wants to get in touch with their local village hall advisor, if they have one, and you said that pretty much England certainly is pretty much covered, each county, where should they start?

Janet Clark 23:54
If they want to find who their village hall advisor is for their county, the best place to start is on the ACRE website, where you can find your local village hall advisors contact details.

Johnny Thomson 24:07
Okay, so I’ll make sure that there’s a link to that specific page with this episode, to direct people there. And in Scotland and other parts of the UK, the local authority is often a great place to start I understand, and there’s things like the Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations, SCVO for example. So I’ll provide some links for those as well. But thanks again, Janet. It’s been it’s been great having you on and by the way, there’s the something you may want to tell your village halls about, by the way. It’s our Wonderful Villages Awards, and there’s five awards all together including things like Project of the Year, a Young Person’s Award with each winning £1,000 for their local village church or community hall. So, if you could spread the word around on that one?

Janet Clark 25:02
Have you got a link for that?

Johnny Thomson 25:04
Yeah, there’s more information about the awards on on our website at And actually what we’re going to be doing Janet over the next few weeks is sending out some information to village halls advisors across the country.

Janet Clark 25:22
Oh lovely. I’ve got a newsletter. When’s when are the awards taking place Johnny?

Johnny Thomson 25:26
The awards are live now, but they’re running right the way through to the end of October. So there’s still…

Janet Clark 25:33
I can get stuff on our blog and out through the newsletter.

Johnny Thomson 25:37
Yeah, there’s still plenty time with that. So yeah, we’ll be contacting the various village halls advisors with, you know, a flyer and things like that that can can be passed around on that.

Janet Clark 25:49
That would be brilliant.

Johnny Thomson 25:50
So it would be great to have your support on that.

Janet Clark 25:52
Yeah, no problem at all.

Johnny Thomson 25:53
And that’s all for this episode. Many thanks to our headline sponsor and specialist insurance provider, Allied Westminster, for making our podcast possible and who services you can discover more about at And to online booking system provider 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 community services they provide. We’ll be back again soon with another episode. So if you haven’t already, visit to subscribe, sign up for updates, link through to our social media pages and to find out more. And until next time, goodbye for now.