21st Century Community Halls - Rural Halls for the future

Connecting Communities in Berkshire has completed the first year of a 5-year project undertaking research into the condition of rural community halls in Berkshire and offering hall management committees support to improve and develop their facilities.  The 21st Century Halls project, seeks to understand the condition of these important community facilities, and the needs of the volunteers who run them, helping rural halls to become be more energy efficient, environmentally friendly, financially sustainable, and better connected with the communities they serve.  

Since the start of the project in October 2022, CCB has conducted 37 audits across Berkshire and aims to audit at least 80 halls in total.  The audit covers 5 themes which capture a wide range of information about the hall and its place in the community: The Organisation, Sustainability, Environment, The Fabric of the Building and Energy.  After an audit, CCB offers support to committees to create an action plan detailing how they intend to address issues identified and helps them enact the plan with one-to-one support and access to training.  

Although 37 is a relatively small sample size, the results of the audits so far are giving CCB useful insights into the challenges halls face and ways to overcome these.  For example, there is huge variation in levels of energy and thermal efficiency in rural halls. Around 70% halls have walls and ceilings which are not insulated to modern thermal standards – most of these are not insulated at all.   At the same time, 85% of halls have reported that they are concerned about rising energy costs, with some really struggling to pay their energy bills.  

Only 4 of the halls that have been audited ask for feedback from their hirers, or have done any consultation in the past 5 years, although several use Facebook comments and ad hoc interactions with local people to find out their views.  Many of these same halls are struggling to recruit new trustees and have gaps in their hiring schedules.  

Although most trustees are aware of environmental impact issues, only 10% have an environmental policy and most do not encourage hirers to recycle or discourage them from using single use plastics.  Around 50% of halls have a switch-of policy of some sort for lighting, and it is clear there is lots of scope for improved environmental impact and reduced energy use through behavior change, as well as though structure and system improvements.

There are themes emerging from the audits that are helping CCB develop new approaches and services. For example, over the next 2 years they are looking to support 12 rural halls to try new ways of bringing a wider range of local residents into the halls.  

Plans for a pilot project supported by the Energy Team at Wokingham Borough Council are also underway. The proposal aims to better understand how Energy Performance Certificate (EPC) reports could help halls understand their energy use, leading to structural and behavioural changes that can reduce energy use and environmental impact. EPC surveys at the start and at the end of the process will benchmark the impact of improvements, leading to a greater understanding of how best to improve these often unique buildings.

The 21st Century Community Halls project is funded by The National Lottery Community Fund and the Royal Countryside Fund. For more information about CCBs vision for 21st Century Halls please follow this link to the project page: 21st Century Community Halls | Connecting Communities in Berkshire (ccberks.org.uk)  Follow us on Twitter https://x.com/CCBerkshire or email maria.kelly@ccberks.org.uk


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