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May 2, 2012

Rethinking the village hall

For so long the mainstay of community life, worrying numbers of village halls are facing a desperate struggle in the fight for survival. If it isn’t the spiralling costs of repairs and maintaining the buildings, it is the constant challenge of attracting sufficient numbers of local people to use the facility.  A radical rethink is needed – perhaps along the lines of Maryhill Community Hall.


ZUMBA, decoupage, a crèche and a Koran study group are just a few of the weekly events taking place in Maryhill Community Hall. It might be in the middle of Scotland’s biggest city but it still struggles to get people through its doors.That was until one of its funders said it could only get cash if it restructured the way it operated and became more business-like. `

So it did. But opening its doors to more groups involved a root-and-branch re-organisation of the way the hall’s governing committee was run.

It needed new blood in the form of expertise in finance, legal structures and a chair who was able to have an eye on running a business as much as a voluntary organisation.

Easier said than done but Jim Herrington, the committee’s convener, believes all halls need to wake up to the 21st century or they’ll cease to exist.

“It’s not easy, especially when you effectively have to sack your old board but funders demand business plans, income generation schemes and a return for their investment.

“So if you want the money you have to come up with a decent structure and be able to prove the community is going to use the facility.”

His own committee is now made up of more experienced members who are able to use their knowledge to run the hall.

They’ve also recruited a voluntary PR professional who’s able to generate stories in the local press as well as creating a monthly online newsletter that goes out to over 2,000 people in Maryhill.

“We effectively reinvented ourselves to get funding we needed,” said Harrington. “If we didn’t we’d have to close. It’s difficult and you have to really work at it but I don’t think funders are being unreasonable. You have to diversify in all walks of life and accept change. It’s difficult but it can work.”

The committee now has a business manager who overseas income generation. Many similar sized venues might baulk at the notion but it does make sense as it enables groups to become more enterprising.

“We did a scoping study to see what type of activity people wanted the hall to hold. It came up with all the usual – fitness classes, childcare etc – but crucially also enabled us to do outreach with people from ethnic communities in the area, something we hadn’t done before. And now we’ve got a lot of events which are available to a wider section of the public.”

What’s more, the Maryhill Centre, as it is now known, is reaching out to neighbouring organisations and helping them get more business-like with their community centres.

“We see it as one of our priorities to help other groups. We help them with funding, publicity and management. We’ve already helped three get on their feet on a consultation basis.

“If you’ve got the expertise then you should flaunt it in the right direction.”