Our 2023 Inspiration Awards winners

Transcript: Season 4 / Episode 1

Johnny Thomson 00:01
So, who were the winners of our 2023 Village Halls Inspiration Awards? It’s time to find out. 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 firstly, a quick apology for not releasing an episode for a while. With quite a few things going on in the background, it’s become a little challenging producing as many podcasts as we have in the past. But don’t worry, we’re still here. And rest assured, we’ll be back with a few more in 2024. This episode is all about us rounding up our Village Halls Inspiration Awards from last year. And to help me with that is someone who’s becoming well, quite a regular co-presenter on the show, Gavin Mitchell, MD of our headline sponsors, Allied Westminster. Hi, Gavin, how are you?

Gavin Mitchell 01:03
Hi Johnny, I’m great thank you. Good to spe ak to you again. I was going to say Johnny, I’d also like to join in the apology, because between us I think, what with various family illness, family issues and illnesses and such like, things have got a little bit derailed and delayed, but hey… here we are now!

Johnny Thomson 01:22
Exactly. And yeah, and obviously, thanks, you know, to some of the listeners for their concerns as well.You know, a few of them know that my elderly mother has been suffering a bit with her health, in recent months, and so on. She’s good now. She being well looked after, and everything’s evidence good on that front. So just a chance to say thank you to everybody out there who’s, you know, who’s who’s been supportive through some difficult times recently, as you see. Now, with all of that covered, let’s get straight to what most people out there will be wanting to know. And that’s which village halls came out top in our Inspiration Awards. And I think, I think it’s fair to say Gavin, isn’t it, that it was a pretty tough task choosing our three winners, due not only to the number of entries we’ve received, but also the sheer quality of them all.

Gavin Mitchell 02:18
Yes, yes, I know Johnny, a bit like your I was burning the midnight oil pouring through the entries. And I had to keep going over and over them again because it was not as simple as deciding which was better than the other. But because the standard of entries were so good in their own way, it was really difficult to differentiate them. But yeah, it was a difficult and time consuming task, but hopefully worthwhile.

Johnny Thomson 02:42
Yeah, yeah. The fact that our judging panel kept picking up one or two nasty viruses during the process didn’t help either, did it?

Gavin Mitchell 02:50
It didn’t help and it really required a lot of focus and we didn’t need the distractions. But there we are, we’re here now.

Johnny Thomson 02:56
Exactly. That’s another story as they say. But we did eventually whittle everyone down to three. And you’re all now we’re about to hear, in reverse order, who were our third, second and first place halls, winning £1,000, £1,500 and an amazing £2,500. And that’s a total prize for the £5,000 donated, as you’ll hear, to some wonderful community buildings and initiatives by your company, Allied Westminster Gavin.

Gavin Mitchell 03:06
Yes, indeed Johnny, thank you. And yeah, some well deserved winners for whom I’m sure that awards will be put to very good use. It was very hard to choose the final winners as there were so many good entries, as I said. However, hopefully all village halls can be winners at the end of the day because of the inspiration. The clue is in the name of the entire competition. And I hope the winners will indeed inspire other halls across the country to do great things locally.

Johnny Thomson 03:58
So huge thank you again for that and for supporting our podcast as well, of course.

Gavin Mitchell 04:05
Pleasure Johnny, pleasure.

Johnny Thomson 04:06
And now our third place winner was Great Whittington Village Hall in Northumberland, as nominated by Philip Hinchcliffe. Now this hall has achieved incredible things over the past few years, not not only through a lottery funded restoration programme, but also by focusing on environmental aspects and creating a bit of a case study as well to help other community buildings in the area. Now, our plan from here is to invite each of our winners onto our podcast show to talk in more detail about their achievements during the course of this year. So we’re not going to say too much about each winning entry, but what stood out for you about Great Whittington Hall Gavin?

Gavin Mitchell 04:55
Okay, well, I think this project exemplifies exceptional community transformation by turning a neglected historical building into a vibrant, eco-friendly village hall. I think the key highlights include the integration of sustainable technologies, like solar panels and a heat pump, significantly in enhancing the energy efficiency and reducing costs, something that I think a lot of village halls will be very keen to learn about. The project force to increased community engagement, which is good, with a notable rise in activities and events at the hall. And I think this enriched the local culture and the social life. And I think that successful navigation of planning and financial challenges, alongside the collaborative efforts to share knowledge and respond to the community needs, notably during emergencies, as we will find out in due course, I think they mark this is an inspiring model of innovation, sustainability and community resilience.

Johnny Thomson 05:56
Fantastic. Very well, very well put Gavin, thank you very much for that. And second place, coincidentally, went to another hall in Northumberland and I think it’s probably a good opportunity for me to make it clear that that was totally independent, that I was totally independent of second and third place decisions. I don’t want anyone thinking that my accent had anything to do with who won through their Gavin.

Gavin Mitchell 06:23
I’m sure, I’m sure you were geographically neutral Johnny being the professional that you are.

Johnny Thomson 06:32
But I mean this really was another deserving entry and it came from Chris Stevenson at Ellingham Village Hall. And Chris explained to us in his entry, how the hall had managed to overcome well, all kinds of challenges to create a space that’s now fit for what I would call 21st century community support. And you were particularly impressed, I remember Gavin by committee’s resilience, and their vision as well, yeah?

Gavin Mitchell 07:02
Yeah, absolutely. I think the Ellingham Village Hall project stands as a testament to community resilience. As you say, innovation and determination. I think rightfully earning its place as a second prize winner in the Village Halls Inspiration Awards. I think central to its success was a community driven initiative where a collective decision to rebuild ensured the project met local needs. Very creative funding strategies, as again as people will learn in due course when the podcast comes out, included crowd-funding and sponsorships, exemplified by the committee’s clear dedication, despite financial and Pandemic related challenges. I think strong leadership and community collaboration led to an inclusive energy efficient hall at the end of the day. Now this project not only revitalised the space, but also strengthened community bonds. I think showcasing the hall’s transformation into what is now a very vibrant hub for diverse activities, reflecting really a legacy of community spirit and cooperation. A great model for all and I think people really want to tune in and learn as much as they can from this hall it was a great, great winner, I think second prize winner.

Johnny Thomson 08:22
Yeah. And just a really nice bunch there as well. I mean, Chris as we discovered from conversations after after the selection was made, you know, what a what a fantastic guy. Same goes for all the halls really. And everyone will discover that as a result of the conversations that we’ll have with the podcasts, as you say coming up through the rest of the year. Now, our overall winner, the one you’ve all been waiting for, and here is the announcement… Well done, and congratulations to North Morton Village Hall in Oxfordshire for gaining top spot in our 2023 Village Halls Inspiration Awards and rather like our other winners, North Morton Village Hall has transformed itself recently, taking a sustainable approach to development and improvement. However, what struck us most here was the way that they consulted with the local community, it was it was more or less a case of the village having to be asked: ‘Do you want to have a hall or not?’ And if yes, how can we all get behind it? And that kind of drive, you know, was fantastic wasn’t it Gavin, it was incredibly inspirational… the way they took that approach of seeking, you know, the the opinions, the views and also just gauging the enthusiasm of the local village again for having a fully functioning hall.

Gavin Mitchell 10:01
Yes, I think North Morton Village Hall, the project emerged as a real definitive winner, a fantastic template and a showcase for other village halls, which is really what this is all about. I think it’s distinguished by its an effective use of digital tools, as you said, and for community engagement and a significant impact of these efforts and revitalising a crucial local asset as village halls are. Now by deploying digital forms, which I hope everyone can tune in and learn about, even if they don’t know much about digital forms. The project team modernised community interaction, effectively identifying the needs and rallying support. The overwhelming volunteer response and diverse skills offered underscored a remarkable community spirit. I think the strategic renovations and safety upgrades alongside the mobilisation of volunteers, which was very significant, have not only enhanced the hall’s functionality, but also eased operational pressures setting up a sustainable path forward. So I think this project is a paragon of how technology coupled with community collaboration can rejuvenate community spaces, making it a model for others, across the UK, as I said. And I really do hope this one in particular really inspires people. And I think everyone can become a winner with their village hall by learning more about this winning entry. That’s exactly it. Yep, inspiring them. As I say, everyone can be a winner if they take some, some ideas, some lessons, some, you know inspiration away from this entire exercise.

Johnny Thomson 11:32
Yeah, I’m really looking forward to us telling that story, and the others Gavin, because as you say, I mean the thinking behind this is to inspire isn’t it and to help halls learn from each other, really, in terms of you know, how to go about things and how to get some success out there? Yeah. So, so, I mean, there have it for now. Great Whittington Village Hall, Ellingham Village Hall, and North Morton Village Hall are our Inspiration, Awards winners. Well done to all three and we very much hope that the additional funds you’ve won really help you to continue to provide great support to your communities.

Gavin Mitchell 12:30
Absolutely Johnny and I think the way we’ve evolved this whole awards process over the years, if you remember we used to do all the photographs and such like, and now we’ve moved towards the Inspiration Awards, which I think are great in the sense, as I keep saying they give something back to the village halls, they give something back that the village halls can learn from and use. It just helps the entire community of village halls across the length and breadth of the country. So yeah, I’m looking forward to keeping this going Johnny and you know, it’s, I think it’s gone down very well, certainly with a number of entries we’ve had and yeah, let’s keep it going.

Johnny Thomson 13:09
Yeah, yeah. I mean, you know, I think we should say that you and I have been chatting behind the scenes, and we’ve seen the Awards, you know, and how would really like to see our podcast evolve from here around the awards really. You know, as well as talking to our winners this year, you know, we’ll definitely be running the Awards again, in the hope of finding, you know, more great inspirational village halls out there whose stories we can tell the year after. And I just think it’s a great way of kind of, you know, discovering what, what’s happening out there, and broadcasting that and letting everyone know, and at the same time, you know, rewarding committees and people out there as well, for all the all fantastic words and work. And judging by the entries we received last year, you know, it’s not going to be difficult for us to find more great stories. In fact, if you entered this year, and you didn’t find yourself in the top three, please don’t despair. Enter again! There’s a strong chance that you could you could put your enry and again, and find yourself winning through next time because it was it was a massively difficult decision wasn’t a Gavin.

Gavin Mitchell 14:21
It was very difficult. And when we have to narrow it down to such a small number of winners, you know, it’s a shame. But you know, we have to take the best of the best. But as you say, a lot of the entries were fantastic and go for it again, go for it again. Put them in the mix. Let’s see what we can do.

Johnny Thomson 14:38
Yeah, so keep your ears peeled for more information everyone for our 2024 Village Halls Inspiration Awards in the coming months, as well as, of course, a few episodes, as we’ve said, dedicated to our 2023 winners. Otherwise, that’s pretty much it for now. Thank you so much for coming on Gavin. I have a feeling we’re going to be hearing from you a little more this year as we meet our 2023 winners.

Gavin Mitchell 15:07
It’s been my pleasure Johnny, great to speak to you again and I’m looking forward to speaking to you again. Yeah, thank you Johnny.

Johnny Thomson 15:14
And just to a final well done everyone involved in running, you know all the village, church and community halls out there up and down the country and many thanks as always, to our headline sponsor and specialist insurance provider, Allied Westminster for making our podcast possible and whose services you can discover about more about at villageguard.com. And 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, the unique listening community for Britain’s village, church and community halls, and anyone interested in the vital community services they provide. Please visit thevillagehallspodcast.com to subscribe, sign up for updates and links through to our social media pages, and to find out more. And until next time, goodbye for now.