What’s the point of village halls?

Are you aware of the surprising wealth of activities organised by village halls throughout the Blackmore Vale, asks Rachael Rowe.

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Village halls have a reputation for being rather lacklustre; hosting jumble sales and tiresome meetings.

Not so; especially in rural communities. Our village halls are critical in reducing social isolation.
It’s Village Halls Week from 24-30 January, when the community spirit of these remarkable buildings is celebrated, especially the work that goes on behind the scenes to keep them open. Although the pandemic has seen many halls unable to open, the positivity in this community space has not gone away. Most are back in action with even more activities and fun to keep Dorset’s rural communities amused and supported. So if you thought your village
hall only organised jumble sales, take a look at just a few of the events in north Dorset.

Grab a Coffee at The Mud Pie Cafe

Okeford Fitzpaine’s village hall is transformed into a vibrant pop-up cafe on most Saturday mornings. It’s a meeting point for people iving alone, newcomers to the village and for finding out the latest news and gossip. Organiser Sue Finklaire described the atmosphere. “The Mud Pie Cafe is a brilliant weekly event that brings the whole community together and is run by volunteers.

The Mud Pie Cafe in full swing – most Saturday mornings in Okeford Fitzpaine. Image Rachael Rowe

“Villagers love our home-made bacon rolls, cakes and freshly filtered coffee. It’s definitely the first place to head for if you’re new to the village and want to quickly settle in. And if you’re keen to find out about local issues and make new friends, the Mud Pie Cafe can help with it all.”

Learn a new craft!

Village halls are also creative spaces, with many hosting classes. Bishops Caundle Village Hall hosts many engaging workshops and classes, from an embellishing group to quilters and a craft group.
Colin West, the management committee secretary and treasurer says, “My wife set up the quilters group which has really taken off. Proof that if there’s a gap in the community, it just takes one person to come forward and start up a successful community activity.”
And over at Winterborne Whitechurch they have a community library in an old storeroom. There’s also ‘Crafty Natter’, which is an informal get- together on Fridays.
And now they’ve introduced ‘new age kurling’ – a contemporary fun activity where the modest fees generates funds to help maintain the building.

New Age Kurling at Winterborne Whitchurch. Image Rachael Rowe

If you, like me, always associate curling with ice, kurling is different and can be played indoors by most people, including wheelchair users. The group invited me to have a go, and I can assure you it is harder than it looks (my excuse for not hitting the target) but definitely fun. In Winterborne Whitchurch there’s also puppy training and other fitness activities.

’Our fish & chip quizzes are over-subscribed’
Mappowder boasts perhaps the least glamorous village hall in the Vale, but it hosts cracking events including a superb annual quiz which is always over-subscribed. “For just a tenner, villagers enjoy a really great evening and the price includes an excellent supper, such as a generous plate of fish ‘n chips or a choice of curries,” says ex-village hall committee chair Kae Palmer. “We’re packed with happy people and lots of laughter.”

For the anniversary of VE Day the hall hosted a party where villagers were invited to bring and share authentic dishes from the war – although one eccentric villager brought along a big dish of sauerkraut and German sausage. “This was served during the war,” he explained, “just not to English people.”

Winterborne Whitchurch’s community library, making use of an old unused store room in the village hall.
Image Rachael Rowe

Imaginative fitness classes

Perhaps gym fees have put you off exercising, or you fancy trying out a new activity. In that case, there’s probably something within walking distance at your village hall. Popular activities include yoga, keep fit, short mat bowls and badminton.
Colin West says Bishops Caundle Parish Council acquired spin exercise bikes for the community. There’s now a regular spinning class in the village hall.

Over at Hinton St Mary, the village hall doubles as a clubhouse for the cricket club with the green just outside.


Be part of something good!

Most village halls are run by volunteers; sometimes also trustees of charitable organisations set up as part of the governance.

Volunteers or trustees organise events and manage bookings, and fundraise to keep the buildings viable. Some help with maintenance and cleaning, as well as events. Winterborne Whitechurch Chair Teresa Goddard summed it up: “We have an excellent committee – and a good committee makes all the difference.”
If you want to get involved to keep these valuable community assets safe for future generations, volunteer a little time to help out. Also, simply support your village hall activities to keep the spirit of these unique places alive.

By: Rachael Rowe

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