So who won our photo competition?

Show notes (summary)

It’s time to announce the village hall and photographer that won first prize in our Allied Westminster sponsored 2021 ‘Wonderful Villages’ photo competition.

The winning image captures everything about community spirit and togetherness and the incredible service that village, church and community halls provide. This episode features the winning hall and photographer and also explains what’s happening with 2nd, 3rd, 4th and 5th places. Listen in and discover our winner. There is also a video version of this episode you can access on the Photo Competition page of our website.

Transcript: Season 1 / Episode 23

Johnny Thomson 00:00
Hello everyone 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. And so, after months of you all sending in all kinds of terrific pictures for our Wonderful Villages Photo Competition, and I mean that when I say terrific, the standard of the photos in our online gallery is just staggering to be honest with you. But the time has come for us to announce our overall winner and also to tell you a little bit more about where we’re up to with everything. So firstly, just to let you know that the winners of our second, third, fourth, and fifth prizes will be announced in the New Year. And the reason for that is simply to give us a bit more time to reach our final decisions. It’s not an easy task to be honest whittling around 400 fantastic photos down to just five and then putting them into order. So please bear with us a little while longer on that front. And if you’re not the overall winner, don’t be disappointed just yet, because you never know we may be in touch over the coming weeks with some fantastic news. But what about the overall winner? Well, this photo actually really stood out for us for all kinds of reasons. And so I’m sure you’re already wondering, where can you see the photo itself? Well, you can do one of two things, either head to the photo competition page on our website at Or, if you aren’t already, pause and listen in to this episode on our YouTube channel instead. And you’ll see the image right there. Just head to YouTube and search for The Village Halls Podcast. And when you find us, don’t forget to subscribe to our channel as well, especially if you want to see the other winning entries when we announce them early next year. Okay, so with all of that out of the way, let me know introduce you to my first guest today, fellow photo competition judge Gavin Mitchell, who is MD of our headline sponsors Allied Westminster. Hi, Gavin.

Gavin Mitchell 02:06
Hi, Johnny, good to speak to you again.

Johnny Thomson 02:08
Great to have you back on the show.

Gavin Mitchell 02:10
How are you?

Johnny Thomson 02:11
I’m good mate, how are you?

Gavin Mitchell 02:13
I’m very well indeed. Very well, indeed.

Johnny Thomson 02:16
So go on Gavin, let me stop talking for a bit and remind us all about what this competition was all about.

Gavin Mitchell 02:22
Okay, then Johnny, this is the theme, not too different from previous years, is all about Britain’s wonderful villages and we were interested in any photo taken in the UK that captures a sense of village life and community spirit. And the first prize is £1,000 for the nominated village hall by the photographer and £500 for the photographer that takes the winning photograph. So I think it’s been a bit… as you said, John, it’s been very, very difficult. I’ve been pouring through all of the photographs, and you know they’re fantastic photographs. But as I think we’ll discuss this particular photograph, the winning photograph, stood out in many, many ways I think is an outstanding winner. But that being said, they were all fantastic photographs and huge thanks to everyone who participated. Great photographs.

Johnny Thomson 03:19
Yeah, fantastic. And yeah, let’s press ahead now with the official announcement. The overall winner, in case you haven’t already had a quick peek is Rafford Village Hall, which is located in the north east of Scotland, not far from Inverness. And I’m delighted that Gavin and I have been joined by Ruth Whitfield, who sent in their image and is one of the hall’s committee members and also Will Russell who took the photo itself. A very warm welcome to both. How does it feel being our winner?

Ruth Whitfield 03:57
Well, words can’t express how it feels to be honest. I was absolutely over the moon, knowing how many amazing photographs had been taken and been sent in. I’m, lost for words, I think.

Johnny Thomson 04:14
Fantastic. And you as well Will?

Will Russell 04:16
Well yeah, I was very stunned when Ruth called me up. It was amazing for me because I hadn’t really thought of it certainly had gone out of my mind because so many months had passed by. And the morning of Ruth calling me I just thought, I’ll just kind of check out some of these photographs on this website. I just had this sort of moment where I thought I would and it was the first time I’d really sort of had it entered into my head and that afternoon, believe it or not, that was when Ruth called me and let me know that we were the winner and I was like I was I was shocked.

Johnny Thomson 04:47
You must have picked up on the vibes?

Will Russell 04:49
I think so.

Johnny Thomson 04:50
Yeah, maybe that’s what brought the storm as well. I just want to say as well, thank you both so much for making the extra effort, because I know you know with Storm Arwen wreaking havoc there last weekend, it’s taking a great effort to get you both online for the chat today as well. So thank you very much both of you for making the effort to join us.

Will Russell 05:09
You’re welcome, thank you.

Ruth Whitfield 05:11
You’re welcome.

Johnny Thomson 05:11
Now, Ruth, tell me a little bit about Rafford itself, including the hall there of course, and in particular how the photo came to be taken.

Ruth Whitfield 05:20
Okay. Well, Rafford is on the beautiful Moray Firth coast. We’re 35 miles east of Inverness, and about 80 miles west of Aberdeen. Rafford’s a small village of about 250 households and we’re quite spread out, a two mile radius. And the hall was originally built as a church in the late 1800s. And when the church closed, the building itself was gifted to the community in 1950. So, the community has taken it over now for 71 years. And we don’t have a pub and we don’t have a school and we don’t have a shop. So apart from the church, the hall’s pretty much the centre of village life. And this photograph was taken after 15 months of severe restrictions that we all know about. Our popular village Cafe had to close and all the hall events were stopped. So when they began to ease in June last year, we decided to hold an outside pop up Cafe and a craft fair, on the field, which is adjacent to the hall and used to be used by, you know, Rafford’s football team and sports days. And now it’s used for village fayres and general dog walking and that kind of thing. It’s a big, it’s a big field and we’re very lucky to have it. So we were donated some money by our local development trust, who had been given money to help with the pandemic. And so we decided that we’d hold a free event for all our local community where people could donate cash and food for the local food bank. And they very generously did that. And so I looked at last year’s winning photograph, which I thought was fantastic. But obviously, we couldn’t replicate that. So I wanted our photograph to include as many people as possible. So this was a perfect opportunity to portray the heart of our community.

Johnny Thomson 07:44

Ruth Whitfield 07:45
And our weekly, Be Creative group years ago, made about a miles with a bunting. And I think every village hall, it should be law really, that every village hall should have bunting. So, we created this big heart on the field made of bunting and we asked everybody at the end of the cafe if they would come and stand inside the heart. And Will was able to then take the drone photograph. But can I just go back one day? So that was the Saturday. On the Friday, the original person, a neighbour who said that he would take the drone photograph was called away to work. And the last… I work in event management, so always having to, you know, think on my feet at the last minute. So very long story short, I called Will, who I know and I also know that he’s a very, very busy person. He photos, takes photographs for weddings, as well as many other things. And it was the middle of the summer. And so it was a really long shot as to whether Will would be able to do it.

Will Russell 09:11
Yeah, it was it was a shock to me because it was a Friday night and you know, it’s generally you know, my wife is a wedding celebrant, so we work as a team. She’s a wedding celebrant and I photograph a lot of her weddings. So Saturday’s generally sort of a prime day for us for weddings, and also Sundays, and this particular Saturday, I didn’t have any sort of work on, didn’t have a wedding on. And yeah, when I got the call from Ruth, you know, I wasn’t even sure you know. I tend not to answer my call my phone sort of, you know, in the evening, certainly on Friday, Saturday, Sunday, just because, you know, I switch off and try to switch off from the week because I know I’ve got a busy weekend. So in this particular case, picked up the phone and Ruth asked and I’ve got a habit of actually saying yes to really knowing before I actually really know what I’m saying yes to. So, in this particular case, I was very delighted to be able to help. I was also a resident of Rafford for about 15 months, we were living in Rafford for a bit. So we know the whole very well we visited many times to have, you know Saturday cafes and things like that. So when Ruth called it was sort of, I didn’t have anything on so it was sort of a no brainer, but I didn’t really expect, you know, you know, this sort of outcome I was just there to be of service to Ruth and the community and very, very delighted that it panned out how it did.

Johnny Thomson 10:37
Brilliant. Can I just kind of just help everyone out there as well, if anybody’s wondering which which part of Scotland Will is actually from, it’s quite obvious that he’s from Perth in Scotland. Is that right Will, yeah?

Will Russell 10:52
It’s sort of right, I’m from Perth, Western Australia. I’ve lived in Scotland for 20 years. Grandmother is Scottish, so that’s how I’m able to be here.

Johnny Thomson 11:02
And Ruth’s from the Manchester area of Scotland as well in case you’re wondering… And in truth Gavin is the only true Scotsman on the show today.

Ruth Whitfield 11:06
Yes, that’s right.

Gavin Mitchell 11:11
Well you know, it could have been anywhere in the UK the photograph, but I’m just so pleased with the photograph. And I have to say, listening to you Ruth, you know, the story behind it actually just reinforces I think the decision, because you know, it’s all about the community. And it’s such a clear rural community photograph. But the nice thing is the community is in the photograph as well. And it’s funny you said about the church. I was going to ask you that, because when I when I dropped in on Google Maps, I thought, oh, look there’s the village church in the background. And when I went on to the, you know, the street view on Google Maps, I realised that was actually the village hall. So it’s great to have the village hall in the photograph, and nice that you told us that story about the church becoming the village hall in 1950. So what a lovely, lovely photograph and a great story. And Will, terrific, thank you for taking the photo.

Johnny Thomson 12:14
Yeah, I agree, Gavin. I mean, Ruth you answered so many questions, actually when you were talking about the photo, because you mentioned about football, and I’m thinking, oh, there’s a football pitch there, you know. And I was wondering if that building, which looks a bit like a church was the village hall itself. And you mentioned dog walking, and there’s a few dogs there amongst the heart as well as, as well as people, if you have a really close look at the photo itself. I guess it must have taken quite a bit of organising, as well, as to get everybody to stand there?

Ruth Whitfield 12:46
Yeah, exactly. A few days beforehand Robin the farmer had mowed the field. And the day before, we have a trustee team of wonderful volunteers who erected the marquees and tents and everything. And I think everybody would understand that, no matter how short an event is, and this was only two hours, it takes a huge amount of organisation and people power to make things run smoothly. So we’re lucky enough to have such a great group of willing helpers we can call upon. So on the day, of course, everybody’s there. And they’re really enjoying themselves and they’re saying hello to neighbours and friends and meeting new people and that kind of thing. And I wanted everybody to go to the heart, for Will to take the photograph about a quarter of an hour from the end. But of course everybody’s really enjoying themselves sitting down having a chat. Well, I’ve got a good friend called Alistair who’s got a very booming voice and I handed him a megaphone and said Alistair get everybody over there will you. So he said, all right. So he does it in such a wonderful way. And I think I heard you overheard him say ‘if you don’t go you will be charged a fiver’ and that moved them quite quickly towards the heart.

Johnny Thomson 14:11
Brilliant. Brilliant stuff.

Ruth Whitfield 14:13
Yeah and also, there’s one other thing that if people have a look at the photograph, they’ll see in the top left hand corner, there are three beings called Angus, Archie and Colby, who are three fluffy alpacas who also live in Rafford. And they were a great draw. And Tracy, who has the alpaca farm, contact me the day before and said ‘would you like the alpacas to come?’ and I said yes, please, that’d be fantastic. So they came too and I asked her just minutes beforehand, whether it’d be possible to have them in the middle of the heart, but she said no, they’d just get spooked and we don’t want that to happen. And so they’re in the top left hand corner.

Johnny Thomson 15:03
Fantastic. Isn’t that one of one of the wonderful things about the wide-angle shots, you know, from a drone. It’s a bit like Where’s Wally, you know, it takes you several times to look at it to actually see everything that’s in there. Fantastic stuff.

Gavin Mitchell 15:18
Indeed. I think also, the photograph Ruth as you were saying it was a pop up cafe and you know, everyone being outside. It’s such a sign of these difficult times as well. And it’s so good that, you know, the community all got together. It’s been a difficult year and a half. So we were thinking, and I was particularly interested in what do you think winning the competition is going to mean for the village hall and the local community? Have you any ideas what you want to do with the prize money? Are you going to tuck it in a little chest? What are your thoughts?

Ruth Whitfield 15:52
Well, because we’ve had, all last year we couldn’t, we obviously had to close the hall, and the funds just dwindled. Although, you know, we have enough, but it without doubt, it gives a huge boost to everybody in the community and their friends and their neighbours, and people that they know and everybody around about. I mean, it’s that, everyone who’s connected to the hall feels part of this success. So it’s not like one person winning the lottery. It’s like everybody wins, which is great. And I’ve often tried to define the word community. And for me, it’s actually a feeling of being part of a place and people who live there and all the generations, and that lovely warm feeling of being connected. Even if you don’t know everyone there, that we’ve got some something in common. So, you know, we’ll be absolutely delighted, but as to how we’ll celebrate and use the money, that will, we’ll have to put that out to the community. And we still have to celebrate our 70th birthday, because we were unable to do that last year. So obviously, the first thing would be to frame our winning photograph. And in the Spring, we’ll be starting hopefully, starting the village cafes again. So, we’ll most definitely have to bake a special cake. But as far as the rest of the money goes, we will put it out to the community and get them to decide, I think Gavin. A ceilidh? Absolutely. Most definitely. We haven’t been able to have a or hold our St Andrews ceilidh that we normally do at the end of November, because of the you know, conditions at the moment. So maybe an outside one, maybe an outside one.

Gavin Mitchell 17:36
Well being being a Scottish village and a Scottish village hall, a ceilidh clearly should be an order, surely? Weather permitting.

Ruth Whitfield 18:04

Johnny Thomson 18:06
Fantastic. Now, I don’t need to ask Will, what he’s going to do with money, because he’s just going to buy more gear aren’t you Will? A new lens or something?

Will Russell 18:18
In the photography world there’s always plenty of more money to spend on equipment. I haven’t… I’ve ran it by my wife. I think she’s got some ideas for her Christmas presents, which have just sort of expanded a bit.

Johnny Thomson 18:29

Will Russell 18:30
Yeah, no, I haven’t really thought you know, I mean, it could go on anything really but yeah, I’m just, I’m more so delighted for the hall and the fact that they can you know, they can have they can have some sort of a celebration with what they’ve won as well. But yeah, I’m over the moon that… and also, let me just say that I really want to thank and acknowledge Ruth for all, you know, she she put so much hard work into, you know, coordinating organising this. I sort of feel like I’ve sort of rocked up and managed to win the jackpot, but even based upon everything that’s obviously gone on behind the scenes. So, I mean, obviously, it’s a joint project but you know, it’s like, wow, it’s…

Ruth Whitfield 19:18
Thank you Will, thank you.

Johnny Thomson 19:21
Well listen, congratulations. It’s such a wonderful photograph. And I just want to echo what you’veall said really. You know, there’s, for me, there’s just a very clear message in that photograph of what village communities can achieve by coming together and by sticking together. And really just as you said Ruth, what community actually means. It’s such a positive image about you all just loving and caring for each other. And especially after what you and all of us really as well have been so it’s a photo I think we can all celebrate. So, well done. I hope everyone involved there at Rafford feels that they are the winners here as well, like you said, because you all deserve it.

Ruth Whitfield 20:11
Thank you. Thank you so much. It means such a lot. It really does. It’s it’s a bit, and having had a look at all the photographs that were amazing, that we won is just fantastic.

Will Russell 20:25
Absolutely. Echo that. Echo that.

Johnny Thomson 20:28
Well done.

Will Russell 20:29
And thank you so much to Gavin for, you know, putting this together and continuing on this legacy for supporting communities, community halls.

Gavin Mitchell 20:39
Thank you.

Will Russell 20:40
Yeah, it’s it’s a, it’s going to have a huge impact on communities to keep this running. I really appreciate that.

Gavin Mitchell 20:47
Indeed, it’s been a very difficult year for rural communities. I think village halls across the country, as you know large and small, it’s been very challenging for them. And, you know, I live in a rural community, and oh dear it’s, it’s tough, but you know, the nice thing about many rural communities is this fantastic community spirit. And, you know, they persevere, they get through, they work together. And I think this photo sums it up, beautifully.

Johnny Thomson 21:15
Exactly. And that’s what we try and do with the podcast as well is to try and make people feel that someone out there is, you know, recognising all of that effort, and everything that goes into the lcal community. So, you know, just again, let me just say, well done, not just with a photograph, but with everything that you do for your local community. And that’s to everybody out there who submitted photographs as well with that message. Brilliant. Keep listening in everyone. Not only will we be announcing the other winners of our photo competition in the New Year, as I said, but in a couple of weeks time, we’ll also be bringing season one of our podcast to an end by rounding up some of the episodes we’ve put out there in 2021. So keep your ears open for that one. Thanks again to every single one of you who ended our photo competition and please stay part of our listening community. I just want to make a quick mention for Bernard hammock from Hallmaster, by the way, as well, who’s been helping Gavin and I with the judging. Yeah, we’ve really appreciated him given the high standards of photos that you’ve all sent in.

Gavin Mitchell 22:22
Thank you Bernard.

Johnny Thomson 22:23
Yeah, he’s been like a sounding board for us. So that’s been great. And 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 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 in two weeks time with our final episode of 2021. If you haven’t already, please visit to subscribe, sign up for updates link through to our social media pages and to find out more. But until next time, goodbye for now.