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.

Reporter Becky Milligan met with Sir Peter Bottomley MP, a champion of APPGs, to discuss potential topics. The tentative list was whittled down to two – village halls or grammar and punctuation.

Now Action with Communities in Rural England (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.

ACRE is the umbrella body for the 38 rural community councils across England who make up the Rural Community Action Network.  Village hall advisers are employed by the Network to support the 80,000 dedicated volunteers who manage 10,000 rural community buildings.

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.

“Village hall volunteers are often struggling with red-tape, loss of funding and the demands of managing a building.

“ACRE and the RCAN Network of advisers are working hard to support the teams behind these vital community resources – but we are facing increasing requests for help at a time when our own resources are dwindling.

 “Our research shows village hall use has trebled over the past 20 years. These buildings play a very important role in rural communities, serving as a social centre, arts centre, sports centre and, in some cases, providing education, health or retail services.

“Targeted and appropriate funding is needed for halls to enable them to continue this level of activity and maintain their buildings, particularly as the Government agenda on local commissioning for a range of services, including local health care, needs spaces such as halls.

“An APPG could champion funding and other important issues for parish councils and village halls such as VAT, music licensing fees, incentives for energy efficiency and the use of renewable energy.

“ACRE has said many times that Government, local authorities and other policy-makers need to work together nationally and locally to decide how their reduced resources can be invested to maintain the delivery of RCAN’s services so that volunteers who manage these vital facilities get the support and help they need.”

ACRE is asking village hall volunteers to contact their local MP to ask them to lobby the PM programme to push village halls as an APPG topic. Contact Radio 4 PM at  http://www.bbc.co.uk/radio4/features/pm/contact/

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