Here's another good idea!
Transcript: Season 3 / Episode 7
Johnny Thomson 00:00
Entries are coming in already for our Village Halls Inspiration Awards, and today we’re going to find out a bit more about one of them. 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. This year, as many of you will know already, we’re running an awards programme with Allied Westminster where we’re offering prizes of £1,000, £1,500 and £2,500 for your village church or community hall. Linda Hughes from Worminghall Village Hall in Buckinghamshire, was quick off the mark after entries opened on our website recently, and she’s kindly joined me today to tell me all about a fantastic community business they’ve developed which is just the kind of inspirational idea we’re looking for to be honest. Thanks for coming on Linda, and welcome to the show.
Linda Hughes 01:02
Great, thank you for asking me Johnny, I really am looking forward to this conversation.
Johnny Thomson 01:06
My pleasure. Now, before we get started, I just want to say that Linda coming on the show doesn’t necessarily mean that one of the prizes on offer here has already been won, if you know what I mean. That will be up to our judges in November, but Linda let me just say, I really do appreciate you taking the time to talk to me today because yours is what I would say is a really good example of one to share.
Linda Hughes 01:36
Great. Yeah. Shall I talk about, let me talk about the hall. Worminghall Village Hall was built around 1872. So it’s started life as a school and was connected to the church in the village. And the school closed in I think about in the 1940s or 50s, I haven’t got an exact date. But it’s been a village hall and it’s been a charity since the 70s. And there’s always been run by people within the village. And yeah, it’s been it’s a great space and it’s had all different events that have been held there. So it’s a Victorian looking building, has high windows and a great ceiling that could do with being open out. A garden that was not really used until lately. It’s a good community space, and it and it’s attractive.
Johnny Thomson 02:32
Fantastic, and what’s your connection with the hall there Linda?
Linda Hughes 02:35
I’m one of the trustees of the charity, and I’m also the secretary of the Management Committee, which sounds a bit posh, doesn’t it? But really, what do I do? I organised the management meetings, the AGM and make sure that we’re legally in order, do the charitable returns. So it’s a voluntary roll, but we you know, having procedures in place now has really helped us to know what we should be doing at which point during the year, and how to do it. So we’re a bit organised now.
Johnny Thomson 03:12
And what do you do for a living when you’re not when you’re not helping out with the hall there?
Linda Hughes 03:16
I’m a business consultant with a bit of a people slant to it. I used to be an HR director. So now I spend most of my days talking to organisations about their growth, their culture and their transformation. So in some ways it has come through into the village hall, because it’s been transformed. That’s what I enjoy.
Johnny Thomson 03:32
Yeah, that’s the nice thing, isn’t it? When when you can kind of bring your day-to-day skills and what you do to your local community, I guess?
Linda Hughes 03:46
Yeah. And one of the other things I do is I make these kind of collage pictures. I’m a bit of an Etsy fan. And I was kind of looking through there and found an artist who is a graphic designer. And she created for us, because we recently refurbished the hall. And she did this A1 picture for us, which says Worminghall. And we gave her all the kind of the orientation of the village, quite a few people have got chickens and someone’s got goats, it’s near an old airfield and all the names of the roads are within this picture. So that’s a really nice graphic design element and artistic element that we wanted to introduce into the village as well.
Johnny Thomson 04:31
Fantastic. Yeah, you mention there a bit of an upgrading and a transformation. Things are going pretty well aren’t they? And what other things, all kinds of modern gadgets and things, keyless entry and stuff?
Linda Hughes 04:46
I’ll kind of take you through what we have done. Our hall was blue and yellow, and it had some blue check curtains. So just visualise that. It’s now…
Johnny Thomson 04:57
I’m seeing a well known Swedish furniture store, when you say that!
Linda Hughes 05:00
It was a bit like that. It’s now a kind of a nice grey-toned building. We still have the same flooring. So the whole of the hall was repainted, there was a wall between the kitchen and the hall, behind it was a massive big window, which you just couldn’t, the light was just not coming into the hall. So that’s made it a lot more open and visible. Some people might think, oh kitchens should have a door that, you know, you go into the kitchen and that’s it. But it’s made it a lot more open, when we’re coming up, come on and talk about our cafe later on, it’s just made that much more open feel within the hall now and the curtains are gone, and the big windows, a lot of light shines through. So the upgrade to the hall inside, we’ve got outside furniture now and so people can utilise it a lot more. And we’ve also we have some funding through the S106, the local authority. So that is now being used for a building project. And whilst the hall is quite old and some of the facilities are not quite up to scratch, we felt that to make the hall as inclusive as we possibly could, we needed to put the disabled toilets in and make the hall a lot more accessible for people with some disabilities, or you know, the challenges. There’s about five or six different floor levels. And so all of those things just needed to be brought into, I suppose an upgraded version of what it really should be. So keeping the aesthetics of the hall, but putting the right things in place that made it for modern kind of living. Plus, we’ve now have a door entry system, so there’s no keys, nobody has to be responsible for them or lose them or who’s got them. We have engaged with Hallmaster, so we have the booking system. And that’s just brilliant. So anybody can look at the calendar on the website and book and know what terms and conditions are, the cost, availability, when it’s open and what’s going on. So that’s been a big embellishment really, I would say. And then also linked to the Hallmaster now we’ve, we’ve put in the automated heating system. So it connects to a booking, because we do know that we’ve forgotten to put the heating on a couple of times in the winter. And there’s a bowls club there and they were not impressed with us. Not at all.
Johnny Thomson 05:28
Yeah, yeah, no, we’ve spoken about that kind of technology before and it is tremendous. It makes such a difference. It’s just the whole automation piece and giving you confidence that you’re not really just wasting money and spending it on heating a building that doesn’t need it.
Linda Hughes 07:54
Yeah. And it also brings that simplicity of running the building. Whereas when you’re looking for volunteers, and if they think I’ve got to go down there and unlock the door, then I’ve got go back again and make sure it’s locked and make sure the heating is off. There’s all these things that just become a bit tiresome. So you take that pressure away, and then they can do things that they can add value to the hall instead.
Johnny Thomson 08:20
Great. And as you mentioned, you mentioned the cafe, you’ve developed a community business.
Linda Hughes 08:25
Johnny Thomson 08:25
That’s really helping to support the whole financially as well. And I guess that’s a lot of what your entry is actually all about, isn’t it Linda? So tell me about the Velo Cafe. When did it when did it all come about?
Linda Hughes 08:40
Um, this is a lockdown baby! Yeah, yeah.
Johnny Thomson 08:43
So many of them.
Linda Hughes 08:45
Exactly. It started, we started thinking about it during the last lockdown, the last period when it was locked down and opened in the end of the summer. So it began a couple of years now. So there used to be a club on a Thursday for, I suppose it was also called timeout. And cyclists used to come that one group of cyclists used to come, but it was more like a coffee and chat for older people in the village. And that closed during COVID and the people kind of dispersed and couldn’t really continue. So we started the one up on a Saturday morning. So it opens at 10 and closes at 12. And we’ve now recruited somewhere between, I think about 18 to 20 volunteers and we work on a rotational basis, every six to eight weeks. So they’re the volunteers. We’ve also recruited two youngsters from within the village who work there every Saturday. So they come in, they get the tables and chairs out, they set everything up. And they’re the constant because when you do it every six to eight weeks, you might think oh what do I do? I’ve forgotten where something is or where, what’s happening. So they’re the constant, and they are great. So we serve coffee, tea, we have a rota of people that make cakes in the village. My baking skills have enhanced considerably due to the number of cakes that I can now make. But I think the favourites always are Victoria sponge, lemon drizzle cake. And also my other favourite that I make is Nadia Hussain from bakeoff, her flapjack is amazing. And we’re also purchasing sausage rolls, and they are great wheeze with the cyclists. So we’re also registered as as a cafe with the local authority. So we have about five star food hygiene rating. And I’m really pleased to say that they were so impressed with what we were doing. And they’ve taken our guide, and are now using that to share with other village halls. So it’s a great way of generating an income.
Johnny Thomson 11:00
And the location sounds like it’s key, because you’re really picking up on those frequent passers-by, yeah?
Linda Hughes 11:08
Yeah, so there is a bit of a cycle route, there is definitely a cycle route around. And the good thing is that we’ve got the garden so that cyclists can come in, put their bikes up against a wall, go into the hall and can either sit outside or inside and their bike’s safe. So it’s just this small things that make a difference. We’ve got a repair kit, we’ve had to… somebody forgot their key once for the lock their bikes together, so we had to go and get chainsaw to get that off. It’s all these community little things that make a difference.
Johnny Thomson 11:42
you know, it’s Great customer service!
Linda Hughes 11:45
Gosh, yeah I know. Yeah, somebody else. What did somebody’s fallen off their bike, we’ve had the first aid kit out. And then somebody’s got lost, his phone ran out of battery. How do I get back to meeting my relatives? So there’s all sorts of things that happen.
Johnny Thomson 12:02
There’s a sustainability angle as well isn’t there, because it’s locally sourced products you’re using, yeah?
Linda Hughes 12:08
Yeah, the sausage rolls are from a local butchers, most people I think will be purchasing their eggs from a couple of people in the village when they make their cakes. And, so yeah, yeah, it is. It is really encouraged to be like that.
Johnny Thomson 12:26
I’m staggered by the amount of volunteers. And I mean, you know, creating employment opportunities. I mean, that’s wonderful.
Linda Hughes 12:35
And they and you know, you can see how… Don’t want to say kids because they’re 15, 16 now, but they’ve grown, you know, they are a little bit looking at their phones. But you know, put your phones down, guys, come on Saturday morning, now, go and talk to people. And you know, they interact, we do free top apps with drinks, they’re out and about talking to people, they know the locals that come in, and what they like to drink, so they’re ready for them. You can see through the window of the hall when someone’s coming up the road. So they capture it. And it’s really about building that piece for the future. There’s others that are looking to come on board.
Johnny Thomson 13:13
It’s always important to have that first thing on your CV, isn’t it?
Linda Hughes 13:16
Yeah, yeah. I’m really, really proud of it. Becausethe other week we had over 80 cyclists come through into ours.
Johnny Thomson 13:28
Yeah, I mean, that’s, a lot of high street stores would like that kind of footfall.
Linda Hughes 13:37
Where we offer, you know, free top ups of drinks, people didn’t get one that day. And we just went out said, look I’m really sorry, we just couldn’t keep up with you. No problem, we’ll be back. So that’s just great that people feel they want to come back to the cafe as well. But I think you go home from one of those events and you sit there and your head’s buzzing because you’re so excited about what happened. But it’s sustainable for the future? It’s what village halls need is something that just brings different communities into the hall and can see what it can what it can be used for. And then you know, we’ve got numerous parties, children’s parties that go on in the afternoon, and we’ve got different clubs that run during the week.
Johnny Thomson 14:24
Any kind of vital lessons you’ve learned along the way? I’m just thinking anyone else who’s maybe thinking about launching a community business you know?
Linda Hughes 14:31
I think, get your ideas clearly kind of in your mind. Know what your brand is for your cafe and our brand for our cafe in particular is large portions, we’ve got the blue and the yellow retail location cups, which are quite big and stick to it so that you you build that reputation and everybody can follow that kind of brand all the way through in what they’re doing. And it’s about giving that piece back to the community and know that you’ve got a good throughput of people coming in. And, you know, just got to be a bit regimented, but the nice thing was the volunteers that that came in, it was a couple of people, there was a few people that I kind of hoodwinked at the pub, while I’m just chattering away about the cafe. And then it was a little bit like people were, I’m missing out if I’m not in the club, the volunteers. So we’ve only had two people that have stepped down. And those were for kind of personal reasons, looking after ageing parents. So it’s about keeping that momentum of volunteers. It’s a bit, you know, a bit of a, I won’t say it’s a leaking bucket, but just keeping that momentum going. We’ve got a WhatsApp group, so I communicate if we’ve got some great feedback from anybody or people want to swap their shifts. So that works. It’s not regimented, you know, and I said, I just put a plan together for the year and if people want to change the dates that they can’t do something and people swap it. That works quite well. So it’s being up front, being transparent, being organised and smiling.
Johnny Thomson 14:55
Yeah. Always, always a smile helps definitely.
Linda Hughes 16:22
Yeah, it just, it just works and make it it’s no big deal. You know, the nicer you are with the people that are volunteering, the much more receptive they are as well.
Johnny Thomson 16:33
Yeah. Fantastic. And I guess at the end of it all, the important thing is bringing those extra funds to the village hall, because as a result, it’s supporting the local community, isn’t it, which is what community businesses are supposed to be all about, at the end of the day?
Linda Hughes 16:49
Because we don’t, there’s no, we’re a charity, and there’s no other income apart from what we generate for the hall. So there’s no kind of set funds coming into the hall. And those are things that we will continue to talk to the Parish Council about, of making it, you know it is a focal point to the village. It never had that funding before, that might be something for the future. So it just shows what you can do, and change. And just because it was always done that way, you know, you can do things differently in the future.
Johnny Thomson 17:26
Absolutely. Brilliant. Anything else Linda?
Linda Hughes 17:30
I think the the other thing about making the hall inclusive. You know, it’s just not for people with disabilities, it’s those hidden disabilities as well. And making that environment as welcoming as possible, the inside and the outside environment. And we engage with the community before we can set some of the elements up about the hall to us. So what is it that you feel is important for the hall and for the community, and there are lots of ideas, some of them that we’ve, you know, quite a few we’ve been able to tick off already. And others, you know, it’s due to the lack of funding that was available, and now we’re putting some of those things in place. That’s really a great thing to be able to say that you’ve been able to do that. And so we we’ve had some funding from the last Jubilee fund, so yeah, it’s, it’s hard sometimes when you’re doing funding that that’s quite a tough approach to take, because you sometimes feel like it’s the same people that contribute. So getting some other funding from elsewhere makes it feel a lot more palatable.
Johnny Thomson 18:55
Great. Well, good luck. That’s all that’s all I can say.
Linda Hughes 19:01
Yes, well get on your bike, and we’ll see you at the cafe on a Saturday morning.
Johnny Thomson 19:04
Well, I was just thinking next time I’m around Oxford way I might just find my way there and sample some of the homemade delicacies. When you were mentioning the different cakes and things like that, I think the stomach was starting to rumble. Do you do a chocolate cake Linda?
Linda Hughes 19:21
There’s always chocolate brownie there.
Johnny Thomson 19:22
OK, I’ll see you tomorrow then! Yeah, but seriously, I mean it’s a great idea you’ve had there and thanks again for for sharing you know the details with us in your in your awards entry, and of course, on the on the podcast today.
Linda Hughes 19:40
Thank you very much for asking me to join you and it’s been really enjoyable just sharing what we’ve been up to.
Johnny Thomson 19:47
Yeah. Yeah. It’s been pleasure having having a chat and as I say, good luck, good luck with your entry. You never know we maybe chatting again later in the year.
Linda Hughes 19:55
I hope so.
Johnny Thomson 19:58
And that’s all everyone for for this episode. Don’t forget entries are open for our Village Halls Inspiration Award on our website at thevillagehallspodcast.com. Your entry doesn’t have to be about a community business like Linda’s, it could be about anything or even anyone who may inspire others to do something worthwhile for your local community. Tell us your story and you may end up with some extra funds for your village hall. Many thanks to our headline sponsor and specialist insurance provider Allied Westminster for supporting our awards and making our podcast possible. You can discover more at villageguard.com And thanks to online booking system provider Hallmaster who also sponsor our podcast and can be found at hallmaster.co.uk. 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 our website where you’ll also find links to our social media pages. Thanks again for listening in, and until the next time, goodbye for now.