Meet our Young Persons Award winner

Show notes (summary)

How can you encourage young people to get involved at your Village hall? For this episode, Johnny is joined by Sue Lees and Netty Firman from the Stafforshire village of Grindon, who nominated 26 year-old Hannah Blissett for our Young Person’s Award last year. Hannah explains why she’s so passionate about her village hall and community. Could someone like Hannah help your hall?

Transcript: Season 1 / Episode 3

Johnny Thomson 00:01
Miserable oldies like me can sometimes give young people a bit of a hard time, but not today. Definitely not today! 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. Now, I cannot believe how fast this year has gone by. It seems like five minutes ago since we announced the winners of our Wonderful Villages Awards… it was actually just before Christmas. Anyway, today I’m delighted to be joined by Sue Lees, and Netty Firman from Grindon Village Hall in Staffordshire, who along with other committee members there nominated another one of my guests, Hannah Blissett, for our Young Persons Award. I’m also joined once again by Gavin Mitchell from show sponsors Allied Westminster, who was our lead judge for this particular award category. Hello, everyone. And thank you very much for coming on.

All 01:06
Hi Johnny!

Johnny Thomson 01:06
And at The Village Halls Podcast, we always like to be honest with our audience. And so I think we should probably all admit that this is not the first time that we’re trying to do this. Because last night, what happened was we all came on, we all met online< and I started by asking Sue and Netty question and there was complete silence at the other end. Hannah and I ended up having a lovely chat, but it wasn’t the same without you two. So we’re going to give it another try and hopefully there won’t be any technical hitches this time. But if I could start by talking to Sue and Netty about the village there of Grindon, as well as your fabulous village hall of course?

Sue Lees 02:00
Yeah, of course. So Grindon is in the Peak District, full of grit and limestone. We’re a tiny village, just about 400 residents. Very close knit community and it’s quite dispersed as well. So the village hall for us is really the hub. We don’t have a pub in the village anymore.

Netty Firman 02:22
Don’t have a shop.

Sue Lees 02:22
Don’t have a shop. So the only place we can gather is the village green in nice weather, especially with dogs, and the village hall.

Johnny Thomson 02:31
And Sue, you’ve lived there for quite a few years, haven’t you?

Sue Lees 02:35
Yeah, 20 plus, I was there virtually at the… I wasn’t involved in the committee, because I was working full time then. But yeah, when the hall first opened for events and things. Yeah, we were very fortunate, my husband and I to be involved.

Gavin Mitchell 02:51
Now Netty, you haven’t lived there as long as Sue have you?

Netty Firman 02:54
No, I we moved up into Grindon two and a half years ago, having lived in Warwickshire for 20 years. Had a big life change due to the pandemic, was going off travelling and then turned everything on its head and decided we would move up here having holidayed up here for a long time. It is the most beautiful village far and away, it is just very special.

Johnny Thomson 03:20
And Netty you made the mistake of just turning up at the village hall some time.

Netty Firman 03:25
Well, now actually, Sue… as soon as she knew I’d moved in, she approached me about joining the committee and I though Okay, without actually thinking of what I’m getting myself involved in and I haven’t looked back to be honest. I think I’ve been in the community about 18 months and it’s been brilliant. It’s so much fun. The committee, yeah we’re very, very joined up. Very supportive. We’re only small, there’s only nine of us on the committee. So we have to work very closely together to plan events, run events, do all the clearing up. We do everything as well as it’s sort of encouraging the wider community to come support the events because every event that we do is fundraising. So fundraising is very important isn’t it Sue?

Sue Lees 04:16
It is. I think it’s fair to say what we try to do is hold enough events to pay for the annual running cost, you know the heating, lighting, etc of the hall and and then we apply for grants and funding wherever we can for big projects. But with the support of the community we are we are currently and have been for a couple of years now managing to cover the running costs, which is brilliant.

Johnny Thomson 04:44
And you’re obviously that one on the committee Sue, that spots anyone new in the village and immediately reaches out…

Netty Firman 04:54
She’s like a terrier.

Sue Lees 04:58
I’m going to take exception to this, I do introduce myself and talk about the village and welcome people first, it isn’t the first thing I say.

Netty Firman 05:07
I’m joking.

Gavin Mitchell 05:07
It’s a very important role, very important.

Netty Firman 05:10
And Sue’s our secretary, so she’s very, very, in the middle and at the middle and front of everything. And I think you actually saw as well in Hannah that, you know, bringing different people on board with different skills and experiences, because some of us have retired some of us still working, and we all bring something very different to the table. And I think, Hannah, what she brings to the village hall and the community is just very special and unique.

Johnny Thomson 05:48
Well, let’s bring Hannah in. And both of you, Sue and Netty along with others at the hall, you nominated young Hannah here for our Young Persons Award, an award, which recognises the participation in someone who’s well younger than us. So, Hannah, welcome to the show. And how does it feel, knowing that people running your local village hall think you deserve an award like this?

Sue Lees 06:17
She’s gertting very emotional Johnny, she’s very emotional.

Hannah Blissett 06:17
Well, thank you, Johnny. I am very appreciative and grateful for all the opportunities that the committee has made and supported me with. And to have won is just… I always think of myself as a smaller cog in the larger part of the committee and I’m just so… sorry… I’m just so grateful and the committee is so, they’re all so hard working and I’ve witnessed that and been a part of it and tried to help with it, and have just tried to do my part really to make sure that people don’t feel forgotten about and people feel recognised. And that we are able to celebrate what Grindon is, and who makes it up, and that people in small communities remember everything that is bad, that is good. And so I’ve tried to do my part in creating wonderful memories of Grindon for people who are there for a long time or a short time, and that they know that Grindon is a place that they are welcome.

Gavin Mitchell 07:45
And Hannah, just to put the record straight for us, because I think you said you were 27 years old when we announced you as our winner. So now let’s tell everyone how old you really are.

Hannah Blissett 07:57
I am 26 years old.

Gavin Mitchell 08:00
There you go, how terrible it must be to be 26 and for someone to think you’re actually 27!

Netty Firman 08:07
I think though Hannah’s not, she’s a very, what’s the word?

Sue Lees 08:12

Netty Firman 08:12
Yeah, but she’s not selling herself here because she’s brought a flair and creativity and energy to the committee that young people do. And because of her background in photography, and she can do all the social media and the design stuff at a click on the computer.

Johnny Thomson 08:34
I was going to say, let’s save Hannah the embarrassment you know.You guys tell me, you know, some of the things that Hannah has done for you, some of the contribution that she’s made.

Sue Lees 08:46
I’ll start Johnny with my first memory was we went into the first lockdown, when the pandemic started. And everyone in the village, myself included, was feeling very isolated and quite, quite frightened. We’d lost all our interaction with each other, as well as the outside. And Hannah just came up with the idea of starting a book swap in our local bus shelter. So at least people, you know, knew and could have something to read and to occupy and at least see each other from a distance. And I know that that really became sort of a popular thing for lots of people to do. But we were certainly the first in our local area. And we know other villages very quickly copied that idea. And so she doesn’t just have the idea, you know, she then starts communicating that and getting out to the wider community. She starts doing posters that are appearing up in the village on the notice board. And so she just drove that drove that forward then and that’s still a success today.

Netty Firman 09:54
The thing that Hannah and I got involved together with last year was the village newsletter, which has been so warmly received by the community, particularly the elderly that aren’t online that don’t have computers. But Hannah sort of took it on and created the most fantastic template. She, she created lovely articles, does create lovely articles. She’s got great ideas. So we’ve got regular things like the gardening club, paws and claws was another one, down to earth, which is our local gardening enthusiast in the village, she writes a quirky column for us every, every month.

Johnny Thomson 10:38

Netty Firman 10:39
So that’s something that, it’s been really great to work together on. I think Hannah’s been really at the forefront of all of that.

Gavin Mitchell 10:50
What I’d like to know Hannah is, what do you do for a living?

Hannah Blissett 10:53
What I do for a living is I’m a support assistant in a high school, and I predominantly help children and young people in language lessons. So French, Spanish, je parle un peu de Francais, un poco Espanol.

Gavin Mitchell 11:11
Merci beaucoup!

Johnny Thomson 11:16
And so I mean, how do you find the time with an occupation like that, to do all of these things that Netty and Sue are talking about.

Sue Lees 11:24
She never stops Johnny, honestly. I will say, can we have a poster and half an hour later it’s there, because she is technically so competent, but her imagination allows it. You wouldn’t believe the speed she creates things with.

Netty Firman 11:42
And she can’t say no to us really?

Hannah Blissett 11:43
No essentially, I find the time because if you love something you make the time. And that’s essentially what I have done over the past year and a bit for the hall and you know, they’re a charitable organisation and no one, you know, if I’m not going to do it, then there’s not, it’s not going to happen. And I find the time by purely…

Netty Firman 12:13
I think you should tell the listeners about how the village photography project came about, because that’s really started during, before lockdown when Hannah was going out and about and taking photographs and sitting down and finding out resident’s stories and bringing all that together. And that’s still ongoing, really, isn’t it? But that ended up with the actual photography project for the village hall, which has been a great success, stage one, because we’ve got more to do haven’t we?

Hannah Blissett 12:48
Yes, yes. Well, stage, you know, the before the whole project started my… I was in 2016, when I was in university, I came back to Grindon and I was doing a project called ‘Strangers’ and I was thinking I can go to Grindon, I can knock on people’s doors that I do not know, and photograph them listen to their stories. And that’s exactly what happened. And I…

Sue Lees 13:14
And receive a welcome whilst you’re doing it, because that’s Grindon?

Hannah Blissett 13:16
Yes, yes, exactly. And that by the end of the conversation, we were no longer strangers and just from that point on, anytime I saw those people, they were a friendly face. And it also started the idea of wanting to exhibit photography of the residents in the village hall, and invite the residents to come and view the photographs, and celebrate the community. And then last year, that’s exactly what happened. And it all started from the committee wanting to decorate the hall in some way and giving me that responsibility. And so I resurrected the project. And, but the thing was that time has gone on, and that they weren’t strangers, they were my neighbours, they were my friends. And I approached various people went into their homes and their farms and photographed them. And now those pictures are on the walls of the village hall. And we did a voting event where residents were invited to come and vote for their favourite ones. And that’s how we decided which ones would decorate the walls. And it just feels so homely and welcoming now and it’s just put the final touch on the village hall, I think.

Johnny Thomson 14:46
It sounds like you’ve developed what I would call a real connection with the community. And I know sometimes, you know, people of our older generation get confused when we see younger people spending all of their time on the phone, on Facebook. I do get that. We all do it as well, you know what I mean? But I guess that’s the key, one of the key things here isn’t it? It sounds like you’ve developed a real living connection with people from what you’re saying about your neighbours and so on.

Sue Lees 15:22
Johnny, I think that’s the absolute crux of it that, you know, for a 26 year old to have the ability to communicate with people of all ages and from all walks of life. And, you know, for them to feel she’s their friend as well, she feels that. That for me, that’s the unique part that makes Hannah who Hannah is. Because she’s such a genuine real person, people see that. And this ability to communicate across, you know, I think that’s quite unique and it’s unique to Hannah.

Netty Firman 16:00
There’s a particular resident in the village who is infirm. And when Hannah and I have delivered the newsletter to him, he actually gets very emotional, because he may not have seen anyone for a few hours and it has made such a difference to him. He really enjoys receiving the newsletter. And obviously, it’s on paper, which, you know we debated should, you know, should we just send it all out by email, but the committee were adamant that we have to be inclusive. And it a cost to the village hall, but it’s a cost that we think is really important to soak up.

Johnny Thomson 16:41
Fantastic. Do you feel Hannah, that you’re unusual? I think I said at the beginning, you know, sometimes young people are given a hard time and that’s completely unjustified. You know, you care about the community as much as anyone else, don’t you?

Hannah Blissett 16:57
I do. I do think it’s unique, I wouldn’t say unusual. But I do think that it’s unique that I’m involved with this committee, but I don’t think that it should be a unique thing. I don’t think it should be unusual. I think that young people need to get involved with village halls and their committees, because it’s very important to carry on the legacy. The committees aren’t always very big. Sometimes like the Griondon one, it’s only nine people, it’s not a massive amount of people. And in order for the village halls, to continue their work, we need younger people to get involved to carry that on.

Johnny Thomson 17:45

Hannah Blissett 17:46
And I owe a lot of what I’ve done to the people on the committee for welcoming me and making me feel like there’s a place for me to be involved. And I’ve essentially used what I love in photography, and design, and music, and quizzes. And using that in a community based way.

Netty Firman 18:21
And also you’re a thesp, you had a part in the murder mystery, we had a murder mystery fundraising event.

Johnny Thomson 18:29
This is interesting, because it’s quite a serious issue here. Because I do know that there’s a lot of halls out there that feel, exactly as you’ve said Hannah that they’re concerned about being able to attract younger people, getting them involved and obviously passing that baton on at some point. So while we’ve got you, what would your advice to those halls be? What should they be doing to attract people like you?

Hannah Blissett 18:53
I think that most young people have a niche or something that they love or are passionate about. UP TO HERE… And that if you can find out what that is, and slowly encouraging young people to get involved with the village hall in that aspect, I think that’s the best way to do it. Just asking if someone likes photography, could you take pictures of the quiz night? And then you never know the next time that there’s a quiz night or an opportunity to do a calendar for example, you know that there’s someone there to build those networks potentially with other young people or other residents with. I think that’s the thing, it’s finding out what people’s passions are.

Sue Lees 19:41
What they enjoy.

Hannah Blissett 19:42
Yeah, and you know, atuning your behaviour if you like to…

Johnny Thomson 19:50
It’s about relating to each other almost, isn’t it? Because when I listen to this, I cast my mind back to when I was a youngster. And I found It difficult to relate to older people in many respects, yet here I am now at the other end of the equation and sometimes I find it difficult to relate to younger people. So what that almost tells you is that nothing really changes, we just change. But actually young people, and older people, aren’t really that much different. We all have passions, as you’ve described Hannah, and we all things that we can bring and contribute. It’s just a case of getting to know each other a little bit better, almost, isn’t it?

Netty Firman 20:33
And I think in rural community, this has been my experience having lived in urban areas, all of my life, people are a little bit, they want to trust you. And that takes time. They really, they’re a little bit shy. And they just need to take it steady and then you slowly have to build that trust. And I think that’s exactly what you’ve done Hannah isn’t it? And actually, I think it’s allowed you as a person to really flourish with all your your strengths, your creativity, that you’ve put heart and soul into all this work at the village hall and the village community.

Hannah Blissett 21:13
Yeah, it’s feeling like you’ve got a sense of belonging and that you are valued.

Johnny Thomson 21:20
And maybe sometimes that isn’t communicated well enough?

Hannah Blissett 21:26
Yeah, yeah. Yeah. And it’s just, you know, sorry, I’m crying…

Sue Lees 21:35
She’s getting very emotional.

Johnny Thomson 21:36
Pull yourself together Hannah!

Hannah Blissett 21:39
Sorry Johnny! Young people, we’re ever so emotional. It’s just, you know, situations like this and feeling appreciated and recognised, for things that I have done out of the love of it is just the most wonderful thing that the committee could have done really.

Johnny Thomson 22:07

Gavin Mitchell 22:08
Incredible, incredible. So it seems to me the message to village halls out there is that if you want to get young people involved, connect with them and start appreciating them in, in a positive way?

Netty Firman 22:19
Yeah, I think young people don’t necessarily get a good press all the time. But I think they’re fabulous. And I think we need to get them on board in all sorts of ways with all sorts of things. And they’ve got this, they’ve got the energy, they’ve got the creativity, they’re great at technology. And for us old school committee, Hannah has been involved in helping us set up our committee email, you know, little things like that are a big deal to older people. And so she’s done that as well. And she’s, you know, she’s set up a generic email that residents can send things to us, which we didn’t have any of that before she got involved, did we Sue?

Sue Lees 23:04

Netty Firman 23:04
It was all on paper. So we’ve, you know, with Hannah’s input and support, I think we’ve really embraced technology actually The big thing for us is, and that’s why we’re waiting first funding to become available, is the Wi Fi for the hall, which again I think will take us to a new level. Because Hannah and I’ve talked about a film club for the village hall, and other ideas. So this is just the start really.

Johnny Thomson 23:30
And the other good thing is if you’ve got someone like Hannah, you can then apply for a village halls award with The Village Halls Podcast and win £1,000 in prize money as well. With the money going to the hall and not to you, sorry Hannah!

Hannah Blissett 23:48
It’s OK, it’s all for the community Johnny?

Johnny Thomson 23:52
Yeah, exactly. What are your plans for that? What are you going to do with the prize money?

Sue Lees 24:01
Well, I think when we were successful, we asked Hannah what she thought we should use the money to, so I’ll let Hannah tell you what she said.

Hannah Blissett 24:13
So I suggested… at the minute, the village hall doesn’t have a usable notice board. So I was designing all these posters using my valuable time on my colour ink from my printer, producing these posters to advertise the events and they weren’t being shown to their full ability or making the village hall look as good as it could be. And so I suggested that some of the money go towards a notice board for the village hall. So advertisements and promotions can go in there and it makes… It will represent what goes on inside the village hall, because it’ll be next to it and it will be just as beautiful as the village hall is inside and the memories that take place there. So that was my sort of suggestion.

Sue Lees 25:19
So we’re taking that forward. And I’d like to take this opportunity to thank Allied Westminster for the money.

Gavin Mitchell 25:25
No problem.

Sue Lees 25:26
And for all of the judging panel who chose Hannah. I think we said at the start, the reason we nominated is because we wanted her to know how much we appreciated her. And her winning is, for me anyway personally, is just the icing on the cake. It was letting Hannah know what she means to us that was the catalyst for the nomination really?

Netty Firman 25:50
Yeah. And I’m going to let her head teacher know as well. I think the school that she works at needs to know how fab she is, but they already know that.

Johnny Thomson 26:00
Honestly, I think it’s fantastic. What I like most about this is just hearing you together, talking about the same thing in essence, and that’s lovely, because it basically just shows that it doesn’t matter how old you are, or what any of your differences may be, if you’ve got a you know, a combined purpose if you like, if you’ve got something that you believe in, then you’re going to work together to achieve that.

Sue Lees 26:33
Yeah, definitely.

Hannah Blissett 26:34
And at most of the village hall events that happen at one point in the night, you’ll usually find the three of us in a corner plotting, chatting, planning, what we’re going to do next.

Sue Lees 26:49
Who can we rope in!

Johnny Thomson 26:51
Yeah. Wonderful. Well listen, thanks to all of you for coming on. Congratulations Hannah with your Young Persons Award. Thanks for your nomination, Sue and Netty as well and everyone else in the committee there at the hall. And, you know, thanks to all of you just for being all round fantastic.

Netty Firman 27:16
Thanks for having us on your programme.

Sue Lees 27:20
Thank you Johnny.

Johnny Thomson 27:21
Well done, you know, to all of you for basically for what you do for your community. It’s tremendous.

All 27:26
Thank you. Thank you.

Johnny Thomson 27:28
And keep listening in folks, as well have an announcement about this year’s Awards coming up in the next few months. Hopefully we’ll also be talking to more of last year’s winners as the year moves on. Otherwise, that’s all we have time for this time. Gavin as always thanks for your headline sponsorship.

Gavin Mitchell 27:51
That’s my absolute pleasure Johnny.

Johnny Thomson 27:53
And specialist insurance provision from Allied Westminster and for making our podcast possible, of course.And you can find out more about Allied Westminster at, and also the 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. For more information, please visit, where you’ll also find links to our social media pages. Thanks again for listening in and until the next time, goodbye for now.