Keeping up with the digital world

Show notes (summary)

There’s been a huge digital revolution over the past 20 to 30 years and while many are comfortable with that, others can find it confusing and even terrifying. Digital advocate Bernard Hammick of Hallmaster, joins us to talk about how village halls have been adapting to the digital world and what kind of benefits this can bring.

Transcript: Season 1 / Episode 8

Johnny Thomson 00:00
Hello and welcome to The Village Halls Podcast sponsored by Allied Westminster, the UK is largest specialised provider of village hall insurance and the home of VillageGuard. Now, as we all know, there’s been a huge digital revolution over the past 20 to 30 years. Everyday activities such as shopping, banking, studying and home entertainment now take place as much on our computers, tablets and smartphones as they do in the real world. Some people, especially those born into the digital age, are entirely comfortable with this.But others can find it confusing and even terrifying at times. Most of us have had to adapt and village halls of course, are no different. Zoom, for example, has become the go-to meeting and socialising space recently, while we’ve all been locked away. And just a few weeks ago, for episode five of our podcast, I spoke with someone who’s digitally transformed the way their small village shop operates to provide a kind of click, collect and delivery service to their remote rural community. For this episode, I’m joined by Bernard Hammick, who I think it’s fair to say, is a big advocate of all things digital. Hi, Bernard, how are you?

Bernard Hammick 01:11
Hi, Johnny. I’m fine thanks and thanks for having me on.

Johnny Thomson 01:14
Bernard’s company, Hallmaster, who also kindly sponsor our podcast, is well known among village halls for the digital services they provide. However, Bernard is not here to talk so much about that, but to discuss the the digital shift that village halls have been adapting to, and the kind of issues many have had to face. So before we begin Bernard, tell me about your involvement with village halls and why you choose to work with them.

Bernard Hammick 01:41
Yeah, sure. So we live down in Dorset. So we’re in a very rural community. And as you know, wherever you go across the country, there are village halls, and we’ve been involved with the local community where we live. So we’re very familiar with how things go, and how volunteers sort of step up to the plate to make sure everything’s running smoothly within the community. So one thing we have found is we’ve tried to have an understanding of the often thankless tasks that these people do to keep the communities running.

Johnny Thomson 02:12
Now digital. We’ve seen a big shift in the past 12 months with a pandemic, haven’t we?

Bernard Hammick 02:18
Yes, yes, we have indeed, yeah, basically it’s, again, with local communities with the lockdown, it’s all been mainly about communication. And you mentioned Zoom already. It’s really incredible how that’s been taken on. So people have been going digital as they haven’t had any other choice recently, you know, whether they’ve been doing their shopping online or exercising online. For example, since the pandemic started, the UK online sales grew 74% between March 2020 and January 2021.

Johnny Thomson 02:49
But not not everyone’s find in this accelerated shift to digital or that easy, are they?

Bernard Hammick 02:55
No, no. And, and again, this is not necessarily the natural progression for a lot of people. It may be down to age, but actually, from what we’ve experienced is sort of more senior members of the communities are very good and very apt to being able to embrace the technology. Again, it is down to a personal thing as well with with some of the communities where they are perhaps a bit blinkered by nostalgia, and they’d rather stick to the traditional methods of communicating, which obviously still works too.

Johnny Thomson 03:27
For those that aren’t that comfortable with digital what what can they do to kind of access this world a little bit more? Or what can others who are maybe more aux fait with it all, do to help?

Bernard Hammick 03:40
Yeah, certainly, I think it getting getting involved with some of the younger members of the community, certainly when we’ve we’ve travelled around the country in the past, there’s a lot more people getting the youngsters involved and helping them out, whether it’s again over over Zoom chat, or actually physically going around and helping either grandparents or the more more senior members of the community who are struggling to get to grips with it.

Johnny Thomson 04:06
What about, I guess, oddly, and almost paradoxically, there’ll be a lot of online help in terms of getting people online? What kind of resources and things like that are out there now? Are they easy to access?

Bernard Hammick 04:21
Generally speaking, I think they are. Again, there seems to be a plethora of tutorials as you say you need to get online initially and get to the right information. And of course, there are other groups out there who are more than willing to help. Again, just contacting members of the local community and asking them to assist them has certainly been one route that people who have been struggling to get online have found. And also some of the digital companies with broadband being more available throughout the country now, certainly the actual digital companies themselves, the more sort of smaller local ones have been very helpful with with helping people get online. And again, upgrading their hardware as well with their laptops and their mobiles and iPads and so on.

Johnny Thomson 05:08
Yeah. Because with a pandemic, it’s kind of become almost an essential, hasn’t it? Whereas before you had a, you had a choice, I think over the past few months it’s quite clear that sometimes the only way that you can do things has been online. And if you haven’t been able to do that stuff, you’ve almost been excluded.

Bernard Hammick 05:27
Yes, that’s, that’s fair to say. And again, certainly what we found with the internet being readily available, or more available across the country nowadays, that it is, is definitely the new utility that is, is being used, such as water, electricity, and gas, it is an essential item that people use now to communicate, whether it’s shopping or speaking, or whatever.

Johnny Thomson 05:52
Now, we need to get on to the benefits as well I think, of this and you very kindly held back from talking about the digital services that you offer to village halls. So let me ask you about them now Bernard, and how do you help make things easier for people who run a village community or church hall?

Bernard Hammick 06:11
So, yeah, what we do is we provide a system where multiple administrators can communicate together, they can manage their bookings, for example, and invoices. So traditionally where bookings have been brought in over the phone and marked down on a scrap of paper, or, or a spreadsheet, what we do is, is allow people to bring all those things together into one place so that people aren’t missing out on bookings nowadays, again, people’s booking habits have changed tremendously over the last few years, where they expect to be able to make a booking or certainly be able to see availability. And, you know, the administrators can get notified about that and issue an invoice if necessary for that. So bookings aren’t being lost and also, more importantly, customers aren’t being missed out for being invoiced and making sure they collect the money for the actual time they’ve had at the at the hall itself.

Johnny Thomson 07:10
Yeah. So I guess there’s a multitude of benefits there isn’t there. I mean, the first one that springs to mind with me, as you’ve touched on, it’s the preferred way for some people. So whereas, you know, I might expect that I would just ring someone up and say, you know, is there a space free at the yoga class, others now automatically just expect to be able to find a booking calendar online, that they can check themselves and think, great, it’s free? Book it and I’m in. So you’re catering for that person as well, but it makes when somebody does it that way, it makes it a lot easier, doesn’t it than me, the awkward one?

Bernard Hammick 07:53
It does, that’s correct, because essentially, you know, the systems on 24 hours a day and again, people book at nine o’clock at night, and you know, we still hear stories of people being phoned at nine o’clock at night, wondering when the toddler group’s on in the morning, and who to contact but obviously, this does away with that, and also avoids things like double bookings. And we’ve heard some horrific stories of, you know, people turning up for a wedding and actually there’s, there’s some band playing at the same time. And it’s… Yeah, we don’t get that nowadays with with people being able to do their bookings through the system. So the thing is, the people who run the venues still stay in control of the bookings anyway. So it’s not actually doing away with the job of the booking clerk or treasurer, is just basically helping them to manage the system, or manage their running of the hall much more efficiently and effectively.

Johnny Thomson 08:49
Yeah, that’s the crux of it, isn’t it? I guess, village halls are time-poor, you know there’s only limited resource available amongst volunteers and so on. And so anything that that makes things automatic, without the need of any interaction from a person is very useful, isn’t it?

Bernard Hammick 09:12
Yes, absolutely. And, you know, let’s, let’s face it, a lot of the venues are run by volunteers, and sort of retired professionals, you know, and with the best will in the world, it’s very kind of them to volunteer to run these venues. But you know, they generally have other things to do and they don’t want to be embroiled with just running a few bookings on the village hall each week. So this again, will help them to release their time and use it more effectively really.

Johnny Thomson 09:40
Yeah, exactly. And of course, yours isn’t the only tool as well that’s out there. When you get immersed in this digital world, you realise that you can almost do anything and everything in an automated way. And it just makes your life a lot easier, and allows you to concentrate on the things that perhaps require greater attention and more human detail that’s all?

Bernard Hammick 10:02
Absolutely. I mean, you know, we still hear stories of people who are making enquiries to us and how their booking clerk has gone off on holiday with the, with the book with all the bookings in it. So nobody knows what’s going on. And obviously, things are trying to run the, the venue in a professional manner. And, and that’s, that’s not helping things like that clearly. So you’ll be able to do it digitally and sharing a platform together just means there’s continuity throughout and, and things don’t get missed. Okay, great.

Johnny Thomson 10:31
Now, if anyone’s interested in finding out more about our services Bernard, where should they go?

Bernard Hammick 10:35
Yes. So you can just go to our website, which is It gives you all information about what we can do, various other things which we integrate with, such as accounts packages, and those sorts of things. We do a 90 day free trial. And we offer support on telephone and email for that throughout the system, so you have access to the whole system if you want to. And again, we’re very keen and happy for people to phone up and speak to us about any questions they have. And then we basically offer an annual licence depending on which package you have from there. So the details are on the website for that, but they sort of start at £137 and work your way up from there per year. And that gives you unlimited administrators and bookings and we don’t take any commission on any bookings or invoices at all. So you know, the price you see is what you pay. We’re not into that.

Johnny Thomson 11:32
And you’re there to hold people’s hand through that initial period that you mentioned as well?

Bernard Hammick 11:37
Yes absolutely, so throughout the the setup period. Sometimes, you know, the words we use in the software might not be exactly the same as, as what other people use, obviously, it’s not bespoke software, but it covers, you know pretty much majority of bases. It’s been developed with in conjunction with other trustees and committee members over the years. So we’ve been going for about 11 years now. So yeah, it’s, it’s, it’s quite interesting how people use a system for other things, actually, including town councils using it to manage their allotments, and, and even a dog walking company, have used our system to manage their business. So that’s quite interesting.

Johnny Thomson 12:17
And I understand Bernard, you’ve got a few special offers as well for people listening in to the podcast. Is that right?

Bernard Hammick 12:22
Yes, that’s correct. So we’ve actually been channel partners with ACRE, which is Action with Communities in Rural England over the past seven or eight years now. And we’ve worked quite closely with them over the years. And we’re able to offer any members of ACRE, a £10 discount off the annual licence. And then, on top of that, if you if you’ve been kind enough to listen to this podcast today, we’re offering an extra discount. Just contact us before the end of June and mention The Village Halls Podcast and we’ll give you a code to take off your licence as well.

Johnny Thomson 12:59
Brilliant, fantastic. And we can we can put something on the on The Village Halls Podcast website, in the sponsor section about that as well Bernard.

Bernard Hammick 13:08
Yes, that’d be great. Yeah, that’s fine.

Johnny Thomson 13:09
Yeah. Well, great. Thanks. Thanks Bernard for your time today. I hope, you know, that’s been able to maybe allay some of the fears people may have around our increasingly digital world. And I think once people get over the initial hurdle and jump in, as we’ve, as we’ve said, the digital world can open up all kinds of benefits. I don’t believe for a minute we should give up on the real world here, by the way,

Bernard Hammick 13:33
I totally agree. And that’s, that’s one reason we offer telephone support. And it’s incredible the feedback we have from people how grateful they are that there’s somebody physical to speak to at the end of the line. And again, perhaps it’s down to the demographics of people running the venues. But people are very much reassured by that. So yeah, that’s something we’re very proud to be able to offer still.

Johnny Thomson 13:55
Yeah, we all still need to go for walks, do the garden, travel, socialise and all that stuff. But but it’s a case of recognising isn’t it that digital has its advantages, at times.

Bernard Hammick 14:06
Yes, exactly.

Johnny Thomson 14:08
And I think, you know, once you’ve got that in mind, then then you can reap the benefits of all things that are available.

Bernard Hammick 14:16
Yes, that’s absolutely, absolutely fair. And, again, with with the rollout of 4g, 5g and so on, you can actually still do all your bookings while out on a walk as well, if you wanted to.

Johnny Thomson 14:27
Yeah, that’s true. Very good. Okay, well, great. Bernard, I’ll post them I’ll probably post some links on the on the website to some resources that can support people who want to get online and, and so on. But other than that, I just like to say thanks for your time today and also for sponsoring our podcast of course as well. It’s a big help.

Bernard Hammick 14:49
No, very welcome. And it’s been a pleasure having a chat with you Johnny, and thank you for your time too

Johnny Thomson 14:54
Great thanks Bernard. And many thanks as always to our headline sponsor and specialist insurance provider Allied Westminster, whose services you can discover more about at And keep listening everyone. We’ve got a big announcement coming up very soon about an exciting competition we’ll be running with Allied Westminster with some big cash prizes. So stay tuned for that. Other than that 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 soon, so if you haven’t already, please visit to subscribe, sign up for updates, link through to our social media pages and find out more. Until the next time. Good bye for now.