D&S column: helping our village halls get fit for the future

VILLAGE halls are tremendous community assets – in many of our smaller settlements they are often the only place where everyone can come together.

We have some truly splendid ones in our part of the world. The Arts and Crafts style of East Rounton’s is rather special – but there are many others, often simple and functional, that perform an equally valuable function in their communities.

Like the hall at East Cowton which I called into recently when visiting the village’s exciting new community shop which sits alongside it.

The hall is a timber structure purchased secondhand in the 1950s. There are plans to replace it but despite its age it is very much at the centre of village life – particularly on Friday afternoons when the mobile post office sets up shop there.

Thanks to Linda Bainbridge’s pop-up café which opens at the same time, villagers come together to visit the shop, use the post office and enjoy Linda’s tea, coffee and cakes.

The cakes are made and donated by villagers and sell for an extremely reasonable 50p for a humongous slice – and I can vouch for their quality. All monies raised go towards the fund for the building of a new hall.

It is typical of the efforts made by villagers across the constituency to maintain and improve these vital community spaces. Kirkby Fleetham Village Hall is another great example where I recently had the honour of opening the superb refurbished facilities.

Rural MPs like me often make the case to Government about the importance of sustaining these vital hubs in our rural communities. So we were delighted by the Chancellor’s Budget announcement that £8m is being set aside to help fund village hall improvements.

Details of the scheme and how village hall committees will be able to apply have yet not been finalised but the idea is to provide grants equivalent to the VAT chargeable on refurbishment projects.

It’s a small, technical, but very important issue facing a community raising money for such projects.

The charities which typically run small village halls are not VAT registered so they cannot reclaim the 20 per cent VAT on building work, which means that a £200,000 refurbishment project incurs an extra £40,000 in non-reclaimable VAT.

I know this has been an issue for some village hall projects where the VAT bill has been something of an unwelcome surprise.

This is often perceived as a tax on voluntary effort which many perceive to be unfair and believe the rules should be changed.

In the meantime, the Chancellor’s grants announcement should enable many village halls to avoid the VAT.

As I know from the many great examples in the Richmond constituency, charitable community buildings underpin rural life, where they provide the base for a wide range of groups such as pre-schools, youth clubs, WIs, lunch clubs for the elderly and sports organisations.

 

Talking of quality cake, after calling into Humble Pie in Askrigg following my Hawes surgery last Friday, I can heartily recommend Betty Guy and Elizabeth Fawcett’s lemon drizzle and chocolate varieties which were much enjoyed by my Northallerton office staff later that day.

It’s a lovely little deli and café selling great local produce. I took the opportunity to wish the mother and daughter team good fortune in the regional finals of the Countryside Alliance’s “Rural Oscars” awards in May. Simonstone Hall Hotel at Hawes and Barton Village Shop are also finalists in the rural enterprise and village shop/post office categories respectively. Good luck to them too.