Cumbria’s village halls encouraged to ‘go green’!

Cumbria’s village halls encouraged to ‘go green’!

Great Corby Village Hall solar PV panels

18th March 2024

National Village Halls Week returns for its seventh year and is celebrating how halls can save energy and support initiatives that help with Net Zero.

Community development charity and village halls specialist, ACTion with Communities in Cumbria (ACT), is encouraging Cumbria’s 330+ halls to share their experience and consider what more they can do to ‘go green’.

Run almost entirely by volunteers, village halls are a cornerstone of rural community life, bringing multiple social and economic benefits to the county. These multi-functional spaces are the venue for a huge range of activities, events, groups and services, for everyone in the community – from Baby Yoga to the Over 60’s Lunch Club. Village halls have been used as Warm Spaces and as a place of refuge during extreme weather events. They also sustain many livelihoods connected with use of the venue.

But over the past few years many halls have struggled to meet increasing energy bills, made harder as they’re often older and difficult to heat properties.

ACT and the national campaign organisers, Action with Communities in Rural England (ACRE) believe there is great potential to connect these concerns with broader action to address the climate emergency.

Village Halls Week 2024 is a call to action with hall management committees being encouraged to consider how they can ‘go green!’ – to safeguard their own future, and that of the wider environment.

A livestream launch event led by ACRE on Monday saw the release of a new Net Zero design guide, offering practical advice on retrofitting halls to reduce energy consumption and dependency on fossil fuels. It features the efforts of six pioneering halls who are doing just that – including Cumbria’s Skelton Toppin Memorial Hall.

It is hoped that the recent £5m uplift in grant funding announced by the Chancellor in the Spring Budget will help many more halls to undertake such works to improve insulation, replace inefficient heating systems and generate their own electricity.

But it’s not just about the buildings, the campaign is also encouraging halls to support environmental behaviour change in their communities and provide a space for environmentally minded groups and initiatives – from repair clubs and conservation volunteers, to refill stations and community fridges.

ACT’s Lead Village Hall Advisor, Hellen Aitken, added This year’s Village Halls Week is all about how halls can make a positive impact on the environment and ‘Go Green’ – an important subject for us all. But each year the week is also an opportunity for a big collective ‘thank you’ to all village hall volunteers, without whom we wouldn’t have these wonderful community facilities.

“We’re proud to support village hall committees across Cumbria, many of whom are developing plans and delivering projects to improve their buildings, making them more accessible, comfortable, energy efficient and financially sustainable, to better serve their communities both today and in the future.”

“Halls such as: Skelton Toppin Memorial Hall; Great Corby Village Hall; Little Clifton Village Hall; Drigg & Carleton Village Hall; Brigham Memorial Hall; Hutton Roof Village Hall; and Burton Memorial Hall”:

  • Bob Towers says of Skelton Toppin Memorial Hall

“It was a state-of-the-art building in 1923 with its own generator and even a cinematic projection room. The trustees wanted to be equally ambitious in our centenary refurbishment project. Our aim was to provide a warm, welcoming and comfortable modern multi-purpose community hub. An essential aspect of which was to have a carbon neutral village hall. It was necessary to make the changes in phases, so we focused first on upgrading the main hall, with key features being insulation and new far infrared heating system.

“At the same time, we were able to take advantage of green energy grants to insert 60 PV panels into our roof and install a battery storage system, transforming our 1923 projector room into a green energy hub. The hall can be a place of refuge in emergency events; and Electric Vehicle charge points will be added to the car park.

“We now have a modern all-purpose main hall and look forward to welcoming back our regular users, with many options for new activities. The Trustees appreciate the support we have had from ACT and ACRE and the many grant funders as we set out to complete the further phases of our restoration project"

  • Helen Dodd says of Great Corby Village Hall:

“Pre-Covid we commissioned a building condition and energy survey to decide on a plan of action to improve our hall. We wanted to reduce our carbon footprint and improve the appeal and comfort of the building. When we reopened after Covid we realised just how cold, damp and unwelcoming it was and then rising fuel costs meant our energy bills began to spiral – action became imperative.

“Our first priority was to replace the multi-patched and leaking roof, now fully insulated and with solar PV panels. Thanks to further National Lottery funding, via ACT, phase two quickly followed and is nearly complete, with new double-glazed windows and doors; battery storage for the solar PV system; LED lighting throughout and sensor lighting in the toilets (so they can’t be accidentally being left on!). Destratification fans in the main hall now recirculate hot air when it rises into the high ceiling space and a far infrared heater has been installed in the yoga room, which needs to be warmer than the rest of the building.

“The impact has been immediate and hall users are delighted. Everyone has commented on how much lighter, brighter and so much more pleasant it is to come into – no more damp smell or condensation on the windows! We also expect to see significant savings on our fuel bills.”

  • Fiona Heslam says of Little Clifton Village Hall

“The solar, battery & insulation project began as a result of the energy crisis. The idea initially was just to install solar panels, but I’d also had battery storage fitted at home and it was clear to me that installing both together was the way forward. National Lottery funding, via ACT, has enabled us to make this ambitious project a reality and the system will be going live very soon.

“A true bonus has been the way that the project has generated a lot of local interest and greater community involvement with brand new initiatives at the hall, such as FareShare – tackling food waste and helping the local community.

“We are not stopping now! We’re having the gas meter removed and plan to have our new air source heat pump in place before the autumn.”

  • Sadie Clarke says of Drigg & Carleton Village Hall:

“Upgrades to the hall began a few years ago, starting with insulation and then the installation of solar PV and energy efficient lighting throughout. We’re now planning to add battery storage too. We have also tried to make sure the hall appeals to as many users as possible. It is vital as a key parish asset, that it remains viable and sustainable in the long term.”

“Since we started the warm and wellness hub last year the community has really come together at the Friday Hub sessions with many ideas to make the hall and village more sustainable and a greener and cleaner place to live. We look forward to seeing our new flower tubs and roadside verges come into bloom with our planting for pollinators scheme.”

“As a new parish councillor and village hall committee member, I'm keen to see this great well-used village hall continue to be enjoyed by the local and wider community.”

  • Anne Myers says of Brigham Memorial Hall:

“Last year we installed solar PV panels and battery storage at our 100-year old hall, to ensure our sustainability and reduce energy bills. The panels are also a visible message to the wider community for households considering how to reduce their carbon footprint.

“Our system’s emergency power change over switch means we can continue as normal even in the event of a major power failure and the hall can also be a place of refuge for the community during such events. We have a smart metre and have signed up for Smart Export Guarantee, which provides a ‘trickle’ of steady income for the hall from exporting excess electricity generated back to the grid.

“We also encourage our hirers, by email, posters and face to face, to make simple changes such as ensuring the entrance door is kept closed, stage curtains drawn across when not in use, and heating returned to the default temperature if it’s been raised. By being mindful of the energy used we can keep costs down whilst also maintaining a comfortable environment for everyone using the hall.

“Our hirers have been very cooperative and understanding and all do their best to keep our energy costs down for which we are very grateful.”

  • Eve Simpson says of Hutton Roof Village Hall:

“Since 2009 we have been gradually improving our hall with the help of professional surveys, grants and fundraising. All our projects have improved the green credentials of the building as well as the comfort and the running costs. The hall now has double glazing, underfloor and loft insulation, solar panels, heat recovery ventilation, far infrared heating and our electric car charger goes live this week!”

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