All the best! It's our season one highlights

Show notes (summary)

Since we launched our podcast in January 2021, we’ve had all kinds of guests on the show who have surprised us, enlightened us and inspired us. So, for our last episode of the year, we thought we’d look back at some of the highlights of Season One, reliving a few special moments. It’s almost Christmas, so put your feet up, grab a cuppa and relax while listening in to some of our best bits. All the very best everyone and thank you for being part of our listening community. See you in 2022!

Transcript: Season 1 / Episode 24

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. Now when we launched our podcast in January of this year, I must admit I wasn’t really expecting to hear about a charismatic Japanese prisoner of war leading a village hall revolt or someone dressed-up as a sugar cube falling off a stage. But every couple of weeks or so, our guests have either surprised us, enlightened us or inspired us in one way or another. So, for this our final episode of the year, I thought we might take a look back at some of the highlights of season one of The Village Halls Podcast, reliving a few of those special moments while taking the opportunity to thank our terrific guests of course, who’ve come on the show and shared their helpful knowledge and their fascinating stories. So let’s start at the very beginning, with a wonderful guest who is very well known in the world of community buildings, Lisa Beaton, and who really helped get our podcast rolling with some fascinating insight into the history of village halls…

Lisa Beaton 01:13
And then it was the 19th century when Victorian philanthropists began to realise the need for a meeting place and there were some magnificent halls built in the 19th century. At the same time, there was the creation of reading rooms and small chapel rooms. They tended to be very small facilities. So there was the beginnings of a sort of movement towards village halls towards the end of the 19th century. But it was really the First World War that was the impetus for the building of village halls. Lots of reasons for that. One was the awareness that many villages had lost a whole generation of young men and their desire to provide a memorial in the form of a building, a war memorial hall. There was the drive to improve social and educational provision in rural areas, the development of the WIs were part of that and they had nowhere to meet. There were returning servicemen who needed to get together. I mean we now know about Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, that was a serious issue that was sort of understood in its own way. And then there was naturally the availability of old Army and RAF hospital huts, and many village halls were originally that kind of hut. And what happened was that in the early 1920s, the newly formed National Council for Social Service set up initially a Village Clubs Association, which quickly became a village halls department and that was helped by grants from the Carnegie UK Trust and the Development Commission, which put forward a loan fund. And from then on, there was finance available to help with the building of village halls. So, the 20s and 30s was the heyday. And in the mid 1930s, that’s when the powers were provided to local authorities to start providing grants for the building of community recreational facilities. So for me, obviously, in the Second World War, there was a pause in the building of village halls, and right through until 1955, there were not the building materials available.

Johnny Thomson 03:41
Yeah. Wow, I mean, you mentioned the Second World War there and I guess, even though as you say the kind of building was paused, I guess the village halls themselves must have paid a significant role. And I’m showing my age here and thinking back to the good old Dad’s Army, and I remember that, you know, the National Guard as it was that was a church hall or a village hall that it was actually set in. And I guess that’s just an example, isn’t it of the kind of facility that the village halls have provided at moments of real national need?

Lisa Beaton 04:07
Absolutely. I mean, they were used for jam making by the WI, you know, sort of knitting garments for soldiers, but importantly, obviously, as a source of entertainment when people really needed entertainment, and some played a different part in the war effort. There’s a record in a book by Gordon Welchman about the Enigma files, of village halls in the Letchworth area of Hertfordshire being used as electrical sub assembly factories.

Johnny Thomson 04:39
Wow. Yeah. So you can almost say that the village halls contributed to the winning of the war as well.

Lisa Beaton 04:51

Johnny Thomson 04:53
Of course, history is not just about the distant past, many village halls have been making history in the present too and one remarkable contribution in these challenging times has been with the COVID vaccination programme. Let’s hear a snippet from Episode 3 back in February, when Teresa Killeen told us about how Ticehurst Village Hall and an incredible group of volunteers did a magnificent job of helping a local pharmacist give life-protecting jabs to thousands of elderly and vulnerable people in their community…

Teresa Killeen 05:23
Well, it must have been about December when Hardik Desai, who is our fantastic young pharmacist in the village, started to think about whether… well he’d been contacted by NHS, and the Pharmacy Group, and they had asked if he would like to put forward a bid to vaccinate. He realised his shop, his pharmacy premises were too small and I happened to be in there one day, and he was saying, if, if I could get a contract to do this would community friends help me. So I said, yes, I’m sure I could get volunteers no problem. But then we then realised that actually, no matter how we thought about it, his shop was not going to work. We looked at the church, that wasn’t going to be suitable either. But then we have the perfect building, we’ve got an amazing village hall, with two very large rooms, a room that we can lock. And we can actually put a one way system through it. And that was very important for NHS England. So we could have an entrance, two rooms with vaccination, and then come through to another very large room where they could sit post vaccination and go out the back door, so there was no cross contamination and we could maintain social distancing throughout. So we had a look around, he thought it was a good idea, we contacted the guy who was the Chair of the Beatrice Drew Trust, so that’s the trust that runs a village hall. And Peter came along, also thought it was great idea because of course, at this moment in time, and for quite a long time, he hasn’t had any income into the hall because of Covid. So it sort of was a almost a no brainer and a win for everybody. Because it’s it meant that Peter could keep the hall up and running and he had people in their daily. I mean, I have been amazed at the number of volunteers. Ticehurst Community Friends would on average, have had about 30 to 35 active volunteers, taking people to hospital appointments and dentists and the like before Covid. I now have 162 volunteers. And every time I say the number, the following day, I have to add a few more. I mean, it’s just absolutely phenomenal the response. And people keep constantly saying, are you sure you don’t want me to do something else? Can I do something else? You know and the fact we’re only doing it three days or two days, actually, I think the volunteers are quite frustrated, because they’d like to be doing more. But maybe in time, we will. If we’re doing first and second vaccinations at the same time, we will be very busy.

Johnny Thomson 08:07
Wonderful. Thank you. Thank you so much, Teresa, not only for talking to me today, but for being part of what is undoubtedly, an historic moment. And that I know that may sound a little over the top to some, but the fact is there’s never been a vaccination programme like this ever undertaken before. And so no doubt it will be something that will be talked about for many, many years to come.

Teresa Killeen 08:30
Yes, think my grandchildren, it will be part of their history.

Johnny Thomson 08:34
Remarkable stuff. And just one example, of course of the incredible work village halls have been doing and still are, of course, to support the UK’s vaccination programme. Now food, as well as COVID of course has been a bit of a recurring theme on our show throughout this year. And it was lovely to hear from Hermione Lamond back in March about how she’d managed to keep the tiny village of Elgol on the Isle of Skye going with vital supplies throughout lockdown. Not only did her plan keep her village hall based shop going, but the locals like the idea so much it’s carried on, even after the lifting of restrictions…

Hermione Lamond 09:18
I did honestly think that come July, August time, you know, when all our restrictions sort of lifted a bit last year, that things would tail off. And people would go back to their old ways and do what they were doing before, but it’s just continued. And we’ve got a steady number of orders every single week, right the way through and it’s just so good to get the support from our local community like that to to stand up and support their shop. And that sense has it’s just it’s overwhelming actually. It’s just been so good. And and in supporting me they’re also supporting the hall, because I have to pay rent to the hall. So the hall’s continued to have a bit of income. So it all goes round and round, it’s good.

Johnny Thomson 10:05
Yeah. And it flows further afield, doesn’t it? Because I guess it’s also helping those suppliers to you, wherever they are, they’re keeping going as well. So it’s it’s a win, win, win, isn’t it?

Hermione Lamond 10:17
Oh, it is. Yeah, it’s just worked so well. And I know I’m not the only one who’s doing this. I think it’s, there’s lots of this going on across the country. And I think it’s, it’s gonna be a very positive thing for local shopping, but not I’m not talking about the big High Street thing that’s obviously in a major turmoil. But the local actually local produce and keeping your family’s fed? This is this is a good way to do it.

Johnny Thomson 10:42
Brilliant. Well, wonderful. Thank you. Thanks for telling us your story Hermione. I think, you know, there’s an important message in there, and it’s just around simply finding a way to carry on, isn’t it?

Hermione Lamond 10:51
Yeah, yeah. As I say there was that sort of initial, oh, my goodness, where are we gonna go from here? And, and then a very simple solution was staring me in the face. And off we went. And it’s just it’s been one of the best things ever.

Johnny Thomson 11:05
Yeah. And I mean, there’s no more basic need than food as well, of course, and they’ve been able to keep on supply in the local community. And…

Hermione Lamond 11:12
We have we have lots of treats in there.

Johnny Thomson 11:14
Yeah, I was gonna say what could be more important, and I hope there’s some good whiskey being added to a few of those boxes every now and then as well, too. Yeah?

Hermione Lamond 11:22
Yeah, definitely cake.

Johnny Thomson 11:24
Definitely cake. Yeah, we’re not. We’ll sidestep the whiskey. Yeah?

Hermione Lamond 11:29
Yeah, definitely cake.

Johnny Thomson 11:31
A delightful episode that one and well worth listening to in full. As was Episode 22 of series one, which I would like to thank Nadia Lindsay for. Nadia came on and told us all about ‘Incredible Edible’ a village planting initiative with all kinds of community benefits. It’s something I’m sure many village halls could try out themselves, so give that one a listen too if you haven’t already. Now talking of food, perhaps one of our strangest episodes of the year was when I was joined by stress and well-being expert Dave Algeo, who warned us all about the dangers of becoming overwhelmed. Dave uses an interesting vegetable analogy to get his key messages across. Let’s have a listen in to some of what he said…

Dave Algeo 12:19
Yeah. Yeah. And I think that’s the thing, that’s where overload, dealing with the underlying overload, we tend not to go off at the small stuff, the sprout size stuff if we’re on a good day, and we’ve got nothing else, you know, we haven’t got a lot on our plate, we tend to be quite calm, composed, and well able to handle that. It’s when we’re carrying lots of cabbages. So as you say, avoidance is not the answer, it’s about confronting the cabbages! What what are the, you know you can grab a pen and paper, jot them down, what are the demands I’ve got, give yourself credit for carrying a lot of them and then pick the smelliest one, the one you least want to deal with, and slice and dice and chunk it into sprout sized chunks. Because your brain under stress works better with sprouts, it can sweat sprouts, it doesn’t want to deal with cabbages. So by chunking it down what I mean is probably what many of you do, which is you kind of say, right well what do I need to do? What are the actions and the tasks? You might create the to do list, something practical that can make you go right, I need to do that first and that second, or I need to ask such and such for a bit of help. But by confronting the cabbage and breaking it down, we make it more manageable for us and we can then start to feel more in control. And like we’re coping. And actually probably look at the pile of cabbages and go, actually that one’s not my problem, why am I taking that cabbage on, that’s somebody else’s? Because how many of us are very good at taking on other people’s problems or challenges? You know, leave it with me, I’ll sort that out. When actually it’s their cabbage to sort out.

Johnny Thomson 13:38
Well, there you go, I told you it was a strange one, but trust me when it’s all put into context and when you hear everything Dave has to say in Episode 19, it does make a lot of sense and can actually be really helpful! On the subject of health and well-being, perhaps one of my favourite episodes of the year was when I was joined by Sian Highnam for Episode 7 of our podcast. Sian has worked tirelessly to get a cut-flower garden up and running at Fontmell Magna in North Dorset and the garden has helped create a partnership between the village hall and the doctor’s surgery there, all to do with something called social prescribing, which to be honest I hadn’t heard of until I spoke to Sian and which I’m now a big big fan of…

Sian Highnam 14:27
Yes. I’m no doctor I’m a savant. But social prescribing is, it’s just something I think which is just so inspirational. And then, if you don’t mind I’ve taken the liberty of actually going on the NHS site and I have actually got their definition here, because I think it needs to be explained completely accurately. So the NHS site actually describes social prescribing as a way for local agencies, to refer people to a link worker, who can then give those people their time and focusing on what matters to them. And they can then take a holistic approach to someone’s health and well-being. So, it can work for a whole range of people, maybe people with one or more long term conditions, maybe someone who needs support with mental health, and maybe someone who’s lonely or isolated. So for example, our wonderful local practice, they gave us some statistics that mean over 40% of patients might attend the surgery two or three times a week, with nothing physically wrong. And they may be the prime people that would fall into this category, who would really benefit from a holistic approach to doing something different, rather than just taking a pill? Yeah, so very powerful, actually.

Johnny Thomson 15:38
Yeah. So this is like a lifestyle sort of thing. Your making yourself feel better, not just as you say, popping a pill and hoping that whatever you’ve got goes away. But yeah, doing something that’s lifestyle, or that brings you into contact with other people and so on. And just as a consequence of that improves your health and improves your wellbeing overall. And I guess what better place to do that then outdoors in the in the fresh air, and doing something with nature as well. And I guess that’s you having a garden connected to the village hall, it’s also connected to the surgery, it’s just the perfect combination isn’t it?

Sian Highnam 16:14
It absolutely is and the cut flower, I think a cut flower garden, in essence is even more related to that whole drive. Because in a cut flower garden, you get a packet of seeds, so the seeds have been distributed to 25 growers. You have nothing. You know it’s in the soil, you nurture them, you watch them grow. You plant out together socially, will then have the blooms that we cut together again, socially, and we can share those flowers with other people. So I just think by the nature of a cut flower garden, nurturing, growing blooming, that’s what one would hope to achieve with social prescribing itself really. Certainly any village halls I would suggest that they contact their health partnerships and get in touch with their social prescribing lead and it may very well be it doesn’t have to be a garden. It could be a befriending morning that they have, where the surgery suggests that patients go to a village hall, you know, once a week for coffee, tea and coffee, that kind of thing. So it could be something as simple as a befriending service, it could be a new club, you know, inviting people to come to certain clubs, walking clubs are very popular with social prescribers, music, clubs, pilates dancing. So it could very well be that they’ve got things going on already in their village halls, exercise classes, etc. That could be directly relevant to a social prescriber.

Johnny Thomson 17:37
If you’d like to know more about social prescribing and how village halls can play a role in supporting community health and well-being, please give the full episode a listen. Now, sharing ideas between different halls has become a big goal here at the Village Halls Podcast. It’s all part of building what we call our listening community. So, I was delighted to hear once again from Fiona Sinnott, who had been a guest on the show in September and who emailed me recently to say that after telling us in Episode 17 about a fund raising calendar they’d produced at Bennington Village Hall in Hertfordshire, she’d been contacted by another hall over 500 miles away who wanted some advice on doing the same. Just the kind of thing we want to hear! And of course sharing and hearing about good practice is something that’s always useful to village halls. So, I was really pleased to welcome Shirley Maginley from the NSPCC onto our show in June, who covered the issue of safeguarding…

Shirley Maginley 18:43
If your role involves working with children and young people, then most certainly you will be eligible for a DBS check and it’s good practice. It’s relatively cheap, about £23 really. But anyone can apply for a basic level check and it will only reveal a certain amount of information, but if your role requires a higher level check, you will need to make sure that you check this out to make sure you got the proper level of check that you need. And it’ll be your responsibility to ensure that you have this level check. So absolutely, most likely, if someone comes to a village hall, and they’re running an activity for children, it probably wouldn’t be the first time, it’s probably something they do maybe frequently, or from every now and then but they will have experienced in it and it’s always good idea to make sure that they know what their responsibilities are to have these checks, to know what safe practice entails, to ensure that they work safely with children and to know as well, if any concerns that they become aware of, or told, that they know who to speak to, just to have a chat about it, and to refer it upwards.

Johnny Thomson 19:52
Because of course, and I mean this is everyone’s nightmare situation isn’t it, but what what should you do if you discover that someone who could pose a risk is actually working with children?

Shirley Maginley 20:04
Yes. And sometimes, you know, we don’t I mean, I should say most of people who work with children, the far majority want to do their best to ensure that children are safe, and they are responsible. What we do know is there are individuals who will seek out ways to harm children in some sort of way. So if anyone becomes, you know, aware of an individual who they think may have harmed a child, or behaved in a way that may not be suitable for them to be working with children, they should certainly raise that. You know, that concern. Hopefully village halls will have policies, safeguarding policies and procedures in place and a named person to go to, to discuss these concerns. And anyone using, any group using a village hall should be aware of this. They should be aware of what the safeguarding policy is for that village hall or community hall. So if you do have concerns about anyone in it, again, you don’t have to have all the facts because, you know, it would not be possible sometimes to have that. But if you have a nagging concern or something doesn’t sit quietly with you, you have, please do share your concern with someone who can take it forward.

Johnny Thomson 21:21
As well as a big thank you to Shirley I’d also like to mention Will Molland of who highlighted the little-known issue of under-insurance back in August, Amy Chambers of Leicestershire and Rutland RCC who covered loneliness and isolation in Episode 10, Bernard Hammock of Hallmaster who spoke about digital transformation and George Courtice of course, who explained how 75 village halls in Northumberland have all been working together as part of a wider consortium. Many thanks to all of you for taking the time to share your knowledge and insight. I’m very happy to say that as well as all the important serious stuff, we’ve also had a few laughs on the show this year. A standout moment from me was when world renowned health and safety author and expert Teresa Budworth, who also does a bit of amateur dramatics in her spare time, joined me on the show to offer some safety advice to halls and ended up telling me this little story…

Teresa Budworth 22:25
Yeah. This was in my previous drama group actually, it was a few years ago. I mean one of the things about village halls and their stages is often they’re quite small. So what drama groups and performance groups tend to do is to build out the front of the apron using blocks. So we were in a village hall, which was not a home one, and it had a curved apron in front of it. So when we put our blocks in front of it, they left wedge shaped gaps. So it was a comedy sketch show. And at the time, I was dressed as a sugar cube, which meant I was wearing a large white box with just a head poking out the top and my legs poking out the bottom. And that the premise of the sketch was it all went horribly wrong and I had to kind of back off stage looking very embarrassed, except that I accidentally stepped into one of the wedge shaped holes. And basically, I disappeared down the hole and the sugar cube stayed on stage. So slightly painful, but I think it was very funny for the audience.

Johnny Thomson 23:29
Hats off to Teresa to admitting to that one. It just shows we can all get it a bit wrong sometimes! And Teresa’s wasn’t the only story we heard in 2021. It was wonderful to hear from so many people connected to their village halls, telling us about their history and some of the fascinating characters who’d played a part in bringing their communities together. Let’s hear a short snippet from Alan Roe, who painted a dramatic picture of an all-out revolution and the emergence of a charismatic new leader for the hall in his village of Bubbenhall back in the 1980s…

Alan Roe 24:07
We had at the time a sitting tenant there and it was deemed that the conditions of the hall was such that it was not suitable for anyone to live there. So, the committee at that time had to scramble quite hard to find new accommodation for the tenant. And then, on that basis, were permitted through a mini-improvement programme, to keep the hall open for social purposes for a few years from 1977 through to 1983 or 84. But it was still in a pretty poor condition.

Johnny Thomson 24:37
And then what happened next?

Alan Roe 24:39
Well, what happened next was that a committee that had manfully looked after the hall for that length of time, met up with other people at a New Year’s Eve party, in fact, in December 1985, and it was sort of decided very informally at two o’clock in the morning on the basis of a certain number of drinks that we needed, we needed some new faces and there was a very distinguished character turned up on the scene at that time, a Major Alan Gibson who was at the party, and he constituted sort of informally and during the party, a new Committee, which met more formally on 3rd January 1986, of which I became the Treasurer of the village hall and Major Gibson became the Chairperson and we were asked under his formidable leadership to not only create a new committee, but commit ourselves to building a brand new village hall We all agreed to do that because we were setting in a freezing a building on 3rd January 1986. and we thought it was best to agree with him rather than disagreeing, getting the meeting over with as quickly as we possibly can.

Johnny Thomson 25:42
So the Major performed a bit of a coup as far as the committee was concerned and then became the leader. Now, I understand he was quite a character, Alan, yeah?

Alan Roe 25:50
Yes, Alan Gibson was a very distinguished man. He, as a young man had joined the army. He trained to what he thought was going to be warfare in Scandinavia. So he learned to ski and that sort of thing. But then very quickly got posted to Burma and unfortunately, after just a few months, was imprisoned by the Japanese and was in one of the Burma railway camps, which as you know were pretty dreadful places. He suffered a loss of most of his senior colleagues in that camp and was there for some two to three or four years, I’m not quite sure how long. He went down from being a 12 stone, formidable rugby player to being a 6 stone person who was just about surviving. The camp was relieved eventually by the Black Watch and on the day this happened, Alan told me that he thought he’d died because he heard bagpipes. He couldn’t believe bagpipes in Burma, but it was indeed the Black Watch and he was charged by them as the surviving most senior officer to accept the surrender of the Japanese camp commander, symbolised by the handing over of a samurai sword, which he retained. So he returned to the UK, took up a job, which eventually became Production Director of one of the UK’s leading pottery companies and did that for many years and moved to Bubbenhall in retirement, which was good for us, because he became then the leading force moving from the old Reading Room to a new village for which we managed to build an open the end of 1986.

Johnny Thomson 27:17
To be honest, I could have chatted with Alan all day. And other great story-tellers we’ve had on the show this year include Steve Barnes from Downe Village Hall, Jane Crofts from Wellow Church Schoolroom, Peter Power from Emery Down and the eloquent Sue Lewis from Aberporth Village Hall. Good luck with the ongoing rebuilding project Sue and best wishes to all of you out there like Sue, Peter, Jane and Steve who do so much to support your local village, church and community halls. You’re all simply amazing! And last, but by no means least let me thank Joe Rodgers who enlightened us all about the many village halls that were once Tithe Barns and Pam Rhodes of course, of Songs of Praise fame, who in Episode 14 talked about her media career and her recent series of novels based around a fictitious (and at times quite scandalous) community hall. If you’re stuck for what to give your favourite village hall friend for Christmas look up Hope Hall on Amazon, or any other good book store! Oh and big big thanks to Simon Bland, who spoke about the challenges of Covid in Episode 2. Simon is not only chair of his local village hall, but does a lot to help many different rural communities and has been a fantastic supporter and advocate of our show behind the scenes this year. Many many thanks Simon. 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 And so that’s it for Season One and 2021 for The Village Halls Podcast. I really hope you’ve enjoyed our shows this year and leaving the very best until last of course, my final big THANK YOU is to YOU. Thanks for tuning in and being part of our listening community. You’ve already put our podcast in the top 10% listened to in the world, so what can I say? Other than cheers and have a fantastic Christmas everyone. Let’s hope it all goes well and a Happy New Year to you all. Thanks again for 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 a brand new series in the new year, so if you haven’t already, please visit to subscribe, sign up for updates, link though to our social media pages and to find out more. Until the next time, goodbye for now.