52 Things - Number 37: Conduct a survey

Overview and Background:

In rural areas, although there may be fewer houses and residents, it is often just as difficult to know the needs of the people who live there as it is in cities. A fantastic means of gathering feedback and evidence from your community is through a survey or questionnaire.

The approach: 

Bilbrough Village Hall, situated in the rural Selby District of North Yorkshire, discovered just this when their committee made the decision to carry out this task. As secretary to the committee, John Lunham explains:

“Although we are a small and proactive committee, it was clear that the demographic around us was changing, with more young families moving into the area. We are also mindful of new housing developments, and as custodians of the village hall we felt it was our responsibility to ensure we had the input of the rest of the Bilbrough residents in how they want their hall to be.”

The survey included questions around the size of the hall, its facilities, customer satisfaction and usage levels, and also asked for activities that people would like to see at the hall. There was ample room left for comments. The question was would it be circulated in hard copy or electronic form.

Bilbrough decided that the personal touch would be more effective than an online survey, and hand-delivered 120 questionnaires to houses around the village, splitting the workload between the six members of the committee. It was not as large a task as might be assumed, and with this method of hand delivery and collecting completed surveys in person, there was the possibility of a higher participation rate.

This proved to be the right thinking, and the committee received roughly 50% of the questionnaires back, which enabled them to do a thorough and highly-useful analysis of the results.

The outcome: 

“33 out of 58 respondents think the hall is fantastic, 23 think it is excellent, and 2 think it is good, so we are delighted,” said John. “We had a better uptake than expected, though not as many as we would perhaps like. We are now in the process of analysing the results in order to determine our next steps, and are considering extending the hall and building another room. This would need to be grant-funded and we would be seeking help in our application from other organisations.”

The most popular activities that people would like to see at the hall were table tennis and cinema screenings, so Bilbrough hope to look into this in future.

“The survey is well worthwhile, as it helps the committee to know we are thinking along the right lines and gives us a clearer direction. We are likely to do this exercise again, perhaps every 5 years, as it is the most obvious way of capturing people’s thoughts.”

Importantly, community surveys can also be used as evidence in funding and grant applications, as Bilbrough are well aware. Now that they have their findings, there is a great chance this can be used in any future endeavours to secure funding for an extension. It is the hard, primary evidence that funders are actively looking for in all reviewed applications.

What next: 

John recommends the idea of a questionnaire but notes it is unique to everyone, and the information it seeks to capture is similarly down to that which the village hall or community building wishes to know. “Just do it. I don’t think we would have had a better response if we had done the survey online, and personal contact has been an unqualified success for Bilbrough.”

The survey has been a huge confidence boost for the committee: “Without exception, everyone thinks the village hall is an asset to the community, and it just shows how important they are. We are fortunate that we have a small but very dedicated committee who enjoy what we do, and we know every village hall is not as lucky. However, what is clear is that we’ve got to keep them going.”