Village halls responding to the climate crisis

  • From 20-26 January 2020, Village Halls Week celebrates the contribution that village halls and their volunteers make to rural communities throughout England
  • Many councils around the country have declared a climate emergency
  • Village halls and community groups are working to make local changes

Failure to adapt to climate change is the number one risk of the decade according to the 2020 Global Risks Report by WEF. As of October 2019, 65% (265 out of 408) of district, county, unitary and metropolitan councils have declared a climate emergency. Thousands of charities are making changes to respond to environmental concerns.

To celebrate Village Halls Week, we are focussing on how rural communities are addressing climate issues. We look at two villages whose halls have invested in low-carbon improvements and have created hubs for people to make changes locally.

Gilling East Village Hall

Gilling East Village Hall in North Yorkshire is in the former village school. It was built in 1894, stopped operating as a school in the 1980s and opened as the village hall in 2010. Simon Harrison, treasurer explains what the hall is doing about its own environmental impact.

“When we took the building on it was in poor state of repair. The old storage heaters needed replacing so we decided to upgrade to something more ecological. As we have outside space, we chose ground source heating system, which involved burying hundreds of metres of coiled pipe in deep trenches. The hard work was done by community volunteers and a professional installation company. The heating system is both efficient and quiet, and electricity costs are low.

“We try and avoid waste where we can. For example, the vast majority of the kitchen equipment is second hand. The crockery was donated through two corporate refurbishments so rather than it go to landfill, it came to us. The hall is a local donation point for recycling printer ink cartridges.

“We run a bric-a-brac sale each year which helps unwanted items to find new homes – along the lines of one person’s rubbish is another’s treasure! This event is always popular with regulars looking out for when the next sale is.

“In the last few years we have become aware of a growing interest in what individuals can do to help. Last autumn we ran an eco information fair in the hall. We welcomed stalls from local organisations and providers including our wildlife trust, a composting charity, a local vegbox scheme, local projects looking at flood prevention and an inventor showcasing his solar powered beeswax extraction system! We were really pleased with the turnout as it attracted people from all around the local area, not just our village.

“This spring we’ll hold another fair, focussing on gardening for wildlife. We’ll launch our bird feeding area, near to our bug hotel. We hope that these will become a talking point for people of all ages. This year we are also installing swift boxes as there are a number of swifts in our area.

“As a committee we will continue to run the hall as a community resource which is eco friendly and as sustainable as possible.”

Whittington Village Hall

The parishes of Whittington and Fisherwick are in southern Staffordshire. In 2007, local residents formed the Whittington and Fisherwick Environment Group (WFEG) as a response to climate change. Mike Kinghan, joint founder and vice-chair, explains what the group does and what it has done to help Whittington Village Hall address its carbon footprint.

“One of WFEG’s earliest actions was getting funding to provide energy audits for community buildings including the village hall and 100 households in the parish. The hall’s audit identified ways to improve energy efficiency and WFEG sourced funding for cavity wall insulation and new lighting, providing both carbon and long-term financial savings.

“Next, WFEG looked at solar energy. In partnership with a similar organisation in Lichfield, we set up Southern Staffordshire Community Energy (SSCE), a community benefit society. SSCE raised funds to install a solar photovoltaic system on the roofs of the village hall and St Giles Hospice (also in the parish) supplying free solar energy to them both, reducing CO2 emissions and energy bills.

“We have also helped the village primary school and church hall to obtain funding for solar panels. SSCE has installed panels on hospitals and 300 solar systems on council homes in neighbouring Cannock Chase though a sister project.

“In recent years, WFEG’s focus has been promoting biodiversity throughout the parish. We focus on adapting to climate change and carbon sequestration (capturing carbon from the atmosphere through planting trees and shrubs) and have won awards from Britain in Bloom, a Silver Gilt award in 2018 and Gold in 2019. The village hall provided meeting space for our team and spruced up their window baskets and surroundings. A great source of local pride!

“With the support of local partners, including the village hall, parish council and landowners, we are now concentrating on how to reverse declines in biodiversity and promote carbon sequestration. We hope to start an ambitious programme to restore local woodlands, heathlands and meadows. We want to build Nature Recovery Networks to sequester carbon and support a flourishing array of wildlife. We can only do this as a community.

“To follow our lead:

  • get together a solid group of green-minded, passionate people
  • think big but start small. Build gradually, learning and growing as you go to gain credibility
  • build collaboration with local organisations, such as schools, faith groups, businesses, youth groups, parish and district councils, village halls
  • engage people in green actions by providing information and opportunities to take small but significant steps in their lives
  • keep tabs on key funding opportunities – the Lottery Funds, local charities, Government Green initiatives, business funders
  • push your local authorities to declare a climate emergency.

“People often feel helpless in the face of the huge challenge of reducing CO2 emissions from fossil fuels and tackling global warming. Acting together as a community moving towards zero carbon we feel we can have an impact and hopefully provide inspiration to other groups and communities to follow suit.”