CASE STUDY: Kirkby Fleetham Village Hall Expansion Project

A closer look at how the team at Kirkby Fleetham Village Hall in Hambleton went about improving and expanding their community building.

How was the need identified – what problems were being experienced?

The Trustees clearly identified three key inadequacies of the building in terms of its service to the community: storage, catering facilities and accessibility for the disabled. The hall is used by the primary school for PE classes, so the associated equipment - such as vaulting boxes and benches – together with the hall’s own furniture, was stacked around the sides of the room. This generated an environment which was not only unsafe for use by children but also wholly unattractive to potential hirers. The issue was further exacerbated by a lack of access and toilet facility for the disabled and a kitchen that was small, poorly laid out, difficult to clean and unhygienic. Combined, these issues meant that the hall’s income was limited and was not likely to improve, calling into question the long-term sustainability of the building.

There had been varied suggestions for expanding the hall for many years, ranging from simply creating additional storage to demolishing and completely rebuilding the entire hall. However, no action had been taken. Indeed, the more comprehensive rebuilding options were eventually considered to be beyond the community’s means.

What was the initial plan?

By April 2013 the long-serving Chair of the committee and Trustee whose work over many years had been much appreciated, wanted to step down from her role and at the AGM two people were appointed as her successors as Joint Chairs. Plans were soon underway to discuss what might be done and to raise the necessary funds. With the help of Nicky at Northerllerton District Voluntary Services Association (NDVSA) and Kathryn at Rural Action Yorkshire (RAY), initial discussions which had been focused on a small expansion to the west of the main hall were side-lined in favour of a more ambitious plan to expand to the east.

The expansion plans also necessitated addressing certain issues of the hall’s governance. Successful funding applications would certainly put the hall in a position where it would need to carry out more formal financial management and reporting.

How did RAY and others help shape this?

The hall committee was a long-standing RAY member, and the newly appointed co-chairs attended RAY village hall networking events and other meetings to find out what was on offer. They found these events very useful, not just in terms of the information being presented, but also in the contacts they were able to make with other village halls in the region, some of which had experienced similar problems and challenges.

It was quickly realised that there was a need to have the correct governance structure, policies and procedures in place and Kathryn from RAY spoke knowledgeably to the hall committee about this. As there was a need to update existing policies and to add significantly to their number, RAY’s assistance in this regard was particularly useful. Additionally, as the hall would be applying for funding for the expansion plans from organisations which would want to see evidence that they were well run, and as this funding would mean they had to make more formal financial returns to the Charity Commission in future, this advice and guidance was vital too. The committee has made use of a wide range of the model documents and information sheets that are available free of charge to RAY members.

Nicky’s advice (from NDVSA) was also vital to the hall’s progress; “We cannot overstate how helpful her advice was”, said Jean Morley, Co-Chair of the village hall committee. NDVSA was the first organisation that the hall approached for support, and it was on Nicky’s advice that the Trustees’ plan (to build a storage area) was changed into a much more ambitious one. It was excellent advice for which the Trustees are very grateful.

How did the committee consult with the local community about the plans and what needs there were locally? How did RAY and others help with this?

The hall had already held a public consultation exercise in 2011. This centred on a public meeting in which input from local people helped to identify the main issues facing the hall. A subcommittee had also been formed which had begun work on identifying different options for change. The 2013 committee members took all this initial work on board when putting in place future plans. It helped to prioritise work and, very quickly, the decision was taken to use the hall’s own funds, accrued slowly over many years, to immediately change the “committee room” into a large kitchen, to use the old kitchen as a temporary storage area and to redecorate the main hall. Instantly, this cleared the main hall of all clutter and, newly decorated, made it a space that was much more attractive to potential hirers.

During this process, the committee found RAY a useful resource on a number of occasions. “It’s great to be able to pick up the phone and find someone on the other end who we can talk to and who can answer our questions, or help us find an answer ourselves. Being part of RAY also introduced us to volunteers from other village halls who were always happy to help by sharing their own experiences and solutions with us, either over the phone, via email or at one of RAY’s events”, said Sheila Minto, the other Co-Chair of the village hall committee.

PICTURE: Sheila and Jean, Co-Chairs of the Village Hall Committee, outside the new hall entrance with disabled access

How did they raise the funds required? How did RAY and others help with this?

Nicky at NDVSA was a great support to the hall with regard to fund-raising. She provided the committee with advice, and while she was available to help complete application forms, the Trustees with special responsibility for fund-raising were impatient to get on with the job. “Once [Nicky] had given us a list of grant agencies to approach and for how much, we were able to get on with the job ourselves. It is not rocket science!” said Jean.

Grant applications were made to a variety of potential funders. Larger regional and national funds were able to provide larger sums, but the committee found it very useful to approach smaller and more local funds as well – personal contact with fund trustees or officers was sometimes easier with smaller funds and was very constructive. Eventually around £55,000 was raised from grant applications, the bulk of which was from YorVenture. YorVenture initially provided £25,000, but when the work was close to completion and Angela, their Community Projects Manager accompanied five directors on a visit to the hall, they agreed to provide a further £5,000 for external works. At the other end of the spectrum, Bedale Villages Association gave a grant of £600 to help kit out the new kitchen.

The remaining £45,000 or so that was required to pay for the new extension was raised locally. “We wanted to raise significant amounts of money from the community itself because we felt it unreasonable to ask grant agencies for everything we needed. We were looking for as close to 50:50 as we could get. It has ended up being 55:45”.

Funds from the local community were raised in a range of ways: there were individual donations (both directly and through a “sponsor a brick” scheme); by the hall hosting several large events in partnership with other organisations in the community such as the church and The Feast committees; and by putting on lots and lots of small events organised by the hall committee themselves. In 2013 an Open Gardens event was organised and a twist on the village scarecrow exhibition featuring celebrities on bikes to mark the Yorkshire Grand Depart of the Tour de France was also a success. Events such as this raised between £1,000 and £3,000 each time.

In addition, all of the hall’s user groups were asked to organise their own fundraising activity as they would be major beneficiaries of the work being carried out. The Guides held a beetle drive, the personal fitness trainer held a free fitness session during the Open Garden event, the WI donated the proceeds from a raffle, the church held a coffee morning, and the school ran a young entrepreneur scheme which saw children turning a £5 investment into larger sums with a variety of ingenious business schemes.

In-kind support was also vital. The Parish Council provided the financial wherewithal for our planning application for the new extension and councillors continue to provide on-going support, show interest and offer encouragement. A local architect drew up a total of three sets of plans, free of charge.

Aside from the money raised, and the collaboration between various groups in the community, there have been some small but welcome changes. All user groups used to have their own tea, coffee, cups and teapot etc. When the kitchen was restocked with everything needed for full-scale catering for 100, all user groups were invited to use it, which has reduced wasted storage space. The village hall committee also funds a continuous supply of coffee, teabags and milk for all users to enjoy.

How long did the process take from identifying the need to work starting? And then for work to take place?

The need for expansion had been identified over several years and while the previous committee had held an initial fundraising event in 2011, they were unable to make headway for the next couple of years. The process really got going with the election of the new committee in April 2013 and the first fundraising event took place within a month. The first funding bid was submitted in September 2013, and by May 2014 all grants were in place and building work began. Existing funds enabled a large, brand new kitchen to be installed in August 2013 and, using a local grant, it was fully stocked before the end of the year.

The main phase of work – new entrance lobby, meeting room / community library, toilets and two new storage areas – is now complete and these extensions have been officially opened. So, in all, the process took less than 30 months.

What has it enabled the VH and others in the community to do that they couldn’t have done before?

“We wanted to increase the number of regular weekly and monthly groups and for these to become embedded, enjoyed and with members of the community running them,” says Jean. The more attractive hall, the more flexible space, and the hard work of involving the community in the project means that this has been achieved. A weekly bridge club, a weekly Keep Fit for Seniors, weekly ballroom dancing lessons, a monthly domino drive, a monthly book lovers’ group, a monthly gardening club, a bi-monthly quiz night and a well-used Community Library run by local volunteers are all new since the expansion project started. The hall is now hired for significantly more private functions.

Co-Chair Jean says, “Many events are already booked into the 2016 diary and some are being run for us, free of charge, by people who don’t even live in our community. For example, friends from Catterick are running a “Would I Lie To You?” evening in February; the March Quiz is being written by a lady from Newcastle; a professional musician is giving us a musical evening; and a friend and travel agent who lives in Northallerton is writing and running our July Quiz. A couple who have only just moved into our village are writing the January Quiz for us and they see it as a great way to get to know others in the community!

“A lady who lives in north-east Durham gave an illustrated talk on “The Hidden Italy” and people enjoyed it so much that it triggered a community holiday when eleven people from the community went together in September (2015) to the area about which she had talked. She even met the group there and became their tour guide. This was so successful that a second community holiday is planned – a fully-booked group of 14 goes to Croatia in October 2016.”

PICTURE: The fantastic new community library and meeting room.

What’s next? Any plans for further expansion or new project ideas?

After complete refurbishment of the “old kitchen”, the hall management plan calls for a hearing loop, investment in projection equipment and to set up a film club / cinema, something on which RAY’s Information Officer James is advising the committee. Installation of broadband is also imminent, with initial discussions taking place on how to best use these including computer skills classes or an internet café. There are, too, plans to resurface the car park, the poor state of which is a barrier to disabled people even though the hall itself is now easily accessible.

What advice would you give?

The committee has clearly learnt a lot and would be more than happy to pass this experience to the committee of any hall that is considering organising an extension or any other large project. Here’s their advice in the words of Co-Chairs Jean and Sheila:

“It’s not technically difficult to raise money, it just takes a lot of time and imagination, whether getting it from grants or fundraisers. It is definitely not a one-person job – those leading it need the support and commitment of the community. Be wary of it taking over your life – get a good team together and don’t be afraid to ask for help. Within the community there are always people who don’t want to lead anything but who will happily help if you just ask. In 2013, the committee made the decision to have Co-Chairs rather than one person taking on all the responsibility: this may well be the single most valuable decision we ever made!

“Formulate a plan and stick to it – you can’t please everybody! There will always be some resistance (“we’ve never done things like that before”) but stick to your guns. For instance, the decision that there would be no furniture whatsoever stored in the hall throughout the period of renovation (and thereafter) was made for good reason. It was not popular with some user groups, not least because there would be further to carry the things they needed like tables, chairs and PE equipment. Nevertheless, it was very necessary in order to create a safe environment and to make the hall more attractive to hirers.

“Find out what skills people have, and use them. We have lots of local talent. For example, one of our elderly committee members wanted to write memories of his own, very interesting life. His hand-written notebook was typed up for him and professionally printed. Sales of the booklets have raised more than £700, all for village hall funds. The same man also turned an old shopping trolley into a furniture lift that did sterling service until the new furniture trolleys were purchased! We are fortunate to have a Crufts judge living in the community who gave a wonderful, illustrated talk while her old English sheepdog, Ruby, sat patiently by. This raised almost £400.

“It’s important to tell people about what you are doing! Even now that the construction work is complete, much still needs to be done to ensure that the facilities are well used and that everyone knows what is on offer. So, publicity is the key! We have learned the truth of the adage that we all need to read / be told things at least half a dozen times before they register! Our village shop is a key part of our publicity as it operates as the box office for all village hall events. Very early in the process of building and refurbishment however, we recognised that more publicity was needed. Hence, we have purchased free standing outdoor noticeboards for the village and new noticeboards for the hall; organised the writing and publication of a monthly newssheet which is delivered to every house in the four villages that the hall serves and have taken on the role of correspondent to the Darlington & Stockton Times. This ensures that all our events reach every household in the community and beyond. Finally, we have pages on an excellent parish council website.

“In terms of fundraising events, one thing we found successful was, for a standard ticket price of £5, to make sure that all events included some refreshments. So, for example, all our quiz nights include pie / vegetarian quiche and peas while for other events, such as hosting a choir, we serve a buffet supper. Wherever appropriate, we try to provide a relaxed, café-style atmosphere in the hall.  The provision of food helps to make fundraising events more attractive to people, and also makes a significant financial contribution in its own right. We are continuing to do this even though the building work is finished as it raises funds for ongoing maintenance and improvement. This income is also building up a pot for the next phase of refurbishment, and will help to match-fund future grant applications.

“No one said the job would be easy. It has been close to 30 months of full-time work, but it has been worth every minute spent on it and the support of the Trustees, the rest of the Committee and the Community at large has been outstanding.”