DITTISHAM Village Hall has won the cash to install an outdoor canopy so it can make use of its outdoor space in all weathers.

The hall is £300 better off after being one of the first ever winners in the Devon Village Hall Audit prize draw.

Since October 2022, independent charity Devon Communities Together (DCT) has been carrying out the first ever audit of Devon’s village halls to understand their stories – from their achievements to their struggles – which will result in a first ever asset map of these vital community facilities.

The aim of the initiative is to celebrate the value of village halls and what they mean to their communities, but also to understand what support they need and what potential they may have for providing additional services.

The information will be used to support and maintain these spaces as important assets for the future health and wellbeing of their communities.

As part of the audit process, each hall is entered into a prize draw with a top prize of £500 available to use for the winning hall. Stockleigh in Mid Devon was the winner with Dittisham in the South Hams and Horrabridge in West Devon also receiving prizes.

These halls were in the first wave of the project, where so far over 250 (out of approximately 400) village halls have been audited.

Jane Milton received the second prize of £300 on behalf of Dittisham Village Hall, she said “Having the audit of our hall was a positive experience - the questions were straightforward and it didn’t matter if there was one or two things I didn’t know. The DCT staff member was very friendly, and it provided the opportunity to hear what other Devon Village Halls are doing and to share knowledge and ideas, so I found it very useful. Dittisham Village Hall were happy to provide feedback to help DCT better understand how they can support Village Halls. I would encourage other Halls to participate in the survey. It was very exciting to win the prize - we will put the money towards an outdoor canopy so we can make use of our outdoor space in all weathers”

Devon Communities Together has a rich history of working with community buildings, having supported their creation, redevelopment and operation for over 60 years, through a dedicated village halls support service. Project Manager Charlotte Squire explains:

“As the Rural Community Council for Devon, we have witnessed over the past six decades how important village halls are for their communities. From places for people to celebrate, discover hobbies or enjoy exercise, to housing pre-schools, lunch clubs and – more recently – facilities like post offices and health services which are disappearing from rural communities in their traditional form. This winter in particular we saw halls seeking to become ‘warm hubs’ - a place for people to gather in a warm, welcoming environment away from the pressures they may have been facing heating their own homes.

“These buildings, often operated by volunteers, offer so much to their communities. Through our audit we want to give them a voice and put them on the map, quite literally, by mapping where they are and what they’re doing and hope to do, as well as what they need. We hope that the evidence we produce through this programme will help to shape future support services and even funding opportunities. There are over 400 halls in Devon, and we’d like to speak to as many as possible!”

All village halls that take part between now and December 2023 will be entered into the second prize draw where the top prize will, again, be £500 to spend on their hall, and second and third prizes of £300 and £200 respectively. Advisors from Devon Communities Together will make pre-arranged visits and look forward to meeting one or more members of the hall committee. The advisor will go through a standard list of questions around the facilities available, for example number of rooms, internet connection and parking. Participants will also have the chance to talk more broadly about their past achievements and their aspirations for the future.

“We are happy to visit at a time convenient to the participant,” added Charlotte. “We hope it will be a really positive experience and would encourage any village hall or community building committee to get in touch to take part. The more people we speak to, the more comprehensive and impactful the information we produce will be.”

The programme is funded by Devon Communities Together in partnership with Devon Public Health and DEFRA. To find out more or to organise a visit, please contact [email protected] or call 01392 248919.