England’s 10,000 village halls rely on more than 12 million hours of volunteering each year to deliver their vital role at the heart of rural communities, a new survey* has revealed.

The survey, by leading rural specialists ACRE (Action with Communities in Rural England), showed volunteers who run classes and events put in 2.5 million hours annually. That’s on top of the estimated 9.6 million hours clocked up by management committees.

But more than half of the halls who responded said they were struggling to find new recruits to help manage the buildings – with people professing that they were too busy, too old or simply not interested.

ACRE and RCAN (the Rural Community Action Network) of Rural Community Councils who run an information and advice service for village halls, carried out the survey to identify what support halls need and to illustrate the social value they add to rural life.

At Devon Communities Together, a member of the RCAN, the service is managed by David Kinross who works with village halls and rural community buildings across the county.

many people are now retiring much later in life, putting a squeeze on the numbers of available volunteers

ACRE Village Halls Manager Deborah Clarke

Key findings of the ACRE 2014 village halls survey include:

• Hall volunteers make a total commitment worth almost £85m annually, at a notional rate of £7 an hour.

• The average age of a village hall committee member is 58 – the age range stretches from 18 to 98.

• Each village hall hosts an average of nine life events, such as weddings, christening parties or wakes each year – a grand total of 90,000 gatherings.

• More than 15,000 events to celebrate the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee were held at village halls in 2012.

• Village hall users and volunteers munch their way through a total of 47,500 packets of biscuits each week – washed down by 743,000 cups of tea. That’s nearly 2.5 million packets of biscuits and 38.6 million cups of tea each year – or 9.6 million litres (2.1 million gallons).

• An estimated £11m has been invested in work on village hall buildings in the past four years.

• The most popular uses for village halls are preschool and nursery groups; fitness classes; dance classes; clubs and groups for older people including luncheon clubs, retirement clubs, the University of the Third Age; and organisations for young people – including Scouts and Guides, youth clubs, and Girls’ and Boys’ Brigades.

• The survey showed the growth in popularity of fitness classes, particularly Pilates and Zumba, and dance activities from ballet to salsa.

• Around 1,000 village halls, or 10pc, host a community enterprise such as post office, community shop, coffee shop, library, cinema or farmers’ market. However, almost a quarter of all halls don’t derive any financial benefit from this activity.

• More than 90,000 individuals, small businesses and professionals use England’s village halls to earn their living, or part of it, during the year.

• Some of the more unusual activities at halls include Appalachian clog dancing, calligraphy, a big breakfast, a ‘Friendly Friday’ drop-in evening, curling and stick dressing.

• Nearly a quarter of halls were built before World War I, while an estimated 600 were built to commemorate World War I or individuals who perished during that conflict.

* ACRE undertook a survey of village halls across England. The survey returned 1,300 responses, (13%) that were used to derive the statistics for this report. For more information about the village halls service, visit www.acre.org.uk

It’s vital that people step up and volunteer - anyone who wants to help run their village hall will no doubt be welcomed with open arms. You can get in touch with us to find out who to approach in your community.

David Kinross, Senior Projects Officer, Devon Communities Together

On September 25 CCD will discuss issues affecting community life and the importance of community buildings at our annual conference. To join us please book now here or for information and advice please call David Kinross at the Community Council of Devon on 01392 248919.