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. But more than half of the halls who responded said they were struggling to find new recruits to help manage the buildings – with people protesting that they were too busy, too old or simply not interested. Read the summary of the survey or download the full briefing here.
Rural communities have continued to suffer a raw deal in the ‘piecemeal’ roll-out of the broadband project across the UK, leading rural network ACRE said. This is in the wake of criticism of the Government’s handling of the Rural Broadband Programme by the influential Commons Public Accounts Committee. Read more here.
ACRE has warned the ‘bedroom tax’ will lead to the break-up of rural communities who are bearing the brunt of benefit cuts. The charity says a dearth of one and two-bedroom homes in the countryside means rural tenants have no choice but to move into towns and cities if they cannot make up the rent shortfall and claims the Government failed to ‘rural proof’ the penalty, which cuts the benefits of tenants of working age in homes deemed to have spare rooms. Read the full press release here.
A new Commons Committee report highlighted the challenges faced by rural dwellers – from unequal funding in healthcare and lack of broadband and mobile coverage, to cuts in public transport and a dearth of affordable housing. According to the Environment Food and Rural Affairs Committee more needs to be done if Defra is to achieve its target of ‘fair, practical and affordable outcomes for rural residents, businesses and communities’.
ACRE Chief Executive Janice Banks said: “The Government wants to devolve powers to communities so that they can have a greater say in their futures – but not every community is equipped to do this. “That’s where professional support organisations such as ACRE, the Plunkett Foundation and the Rural Services Network, among others, are invaluable.” Read the full press release here.
Janice Banks has been appointed as the new chief executive of ACRE, which is the national umbrella body for the country’s network of 38 rural community councils. Janice began her career as an investment manager in the City before joining Nationwide Building Society as head of compliance where she held senior executive positions in communications, customer service, human resources, retail and secretariat. Her most recent role was as interim chief executive with Surrey Community Action, a member of the ACRE Network. Read the press release here.
England’s 80,000 village hall volunteers are being urged to get behind a campaign to form an All-Party Parliamentary Group on village halls. The idea has sprung from an initiative by BBC Radio 4’s PM programme to set up an APPG on a subject suggested by its listeners and village halls was one of the two final topics chosen.
Now National ACRE is calling on volunteers, hall users and community groups to lobby their MPs to support an APPG on village halls, which was suggested by Chris Perry-Yates, chairman of a small village hall committee. Deborah Clarke, ACRE’s Rural Community Buildings Officer, said: “The humble village hall needs a champion – historically they are an important part of our rural heritage but in the current climate they are being forgotten in the Government’s drive for social enterprise.
“An APPG for village halls is a brilliant idea as it would allow campaign groups, charities, and other non-governmental organisations to become involved in discussions and influence politicians”. Read the press release here.
More funding is urgently needed to train volunteer drivers to keep vital community
transport schemes on the road, ACRE (Action with Communities in Rural England)
and the Community Transport Association (CTA) have warned. Details here.
Secretary of State for Planning Nick Boles has promised communities who prepare Neighbourhood Plans a 25% slice of the new Community Infrastructure Levy imposed on developers by local councils. However ACRE believes there are hurdles pioneering communities must clear before they receive the cash arising from approved developments for urgently-needed community projects. One of the main hurdles is ensuring your local authority has a Community Infrastructure Levy policy, which does not need to be in place until 2014. Read more here.