Village halls across Staffordshire are being urged to take part in a nationwide survey which will paint a picture of the vital role they play at the heart of rural communities.
Rural expert ACRE (Action with Communities in Rural England) is carrying out the research with the help of its national Network of 38 rural community councils.
ACRE Network member, the Community Council of Staffordshire, which runs a specialist advice service for community buildings, is encouraging all village halls across Staffordshire to participate.
The survey will help ACRE understand how topical issues such as licensing, VAT, rate relief and broadband are affecting village halls.
It will find out more about the 80,000 volunteers who manage England’s 10,000 village halls – and how the buildings support the local economy by hosting shops, post offices and training courses.
ACRE also wants to know how halls bring communities together through a wide range of activities – from keep fit, bowling and Brownies to choirs, cookery classes and dog training.
And the survey will ask whether village halls are still a traditional choice for events from the cradle to the grave – including Christening celebrations, wedding receptions, birthday teas and funeral wakes.
The survey – which has a deadline of 24 March - will update previous detailed research carried out by ACRE in 2009.
ACRE plans to use the results in its ongoing campaign to give village halls a voice in Parliament through an All-Party Parliamentary Group.
Chris Welch, Chief Executive of the Community Council of Staffordshire, said: “As more and more rural services disappear, village halls play an increasingly important role in our communities, serving as a social centre, arts centre, sports centre and, in some cases, providing education, health or retail services.
“They are often the hub of community activity providing a space for groups and services that otherwise wouldn’t exist.”
ACRE’s Rural Community Buildings Officer Deborah Clarke said: “Our previous research shows village hall use has trebled over the past 20 years, yet the volunteers who run them must cope with miles of red-tape, loss of funding and the demands of managing a building.
“We want village halls to take part in this survey to help us identify where they need support and increase understanding of their importance to rural life.
"We’ll use the findings to keep the work of hall volunteers and the challenges they face in the spotlight.”
Any hall that wants to take part in the online survey should visit the ACRE website: www.acre.org.uk or contact Cathy Russell, Village Hals Adviser, Community Council of Staffordshire on 01785 242525 Ext 206