Next morning, fortified by a decent breakfast, and with the trauma of the previous evening’s village hall committee meeting fading under the assault of the second mug of strong coffee, I gave some thought to the decision taken. The committee had chosen me to approach ACTion with Communities in Cumbria (from now on known as ACT) to ask for advice about filling the paperwork in to claim a grant.
Personally I felt that it was the sort of task that would most reasonably fall to the secretary or even the treasurer. But no, they both felt that it needed somebody with gravitas of a chairman to give this ACT body the right idea about us. At least they didn’t say I was the cheap and expendable one so I suppose I should mark it up as a plus.
So I phoned ACT, and according to my lady wife, I looked distinctly pale and haggard when I put the phone down. Oh the person I talked to was perfectly charming. We discussed matters and she explained to me that if we wished to get money from various sources, we would need a plan. Our conversation at one point had gone something like this.
“But we have a plan.”
“Oh good, what is it?”
“To get a new building.”
“Yes, but what will you do with it when you’ve got it?”
Now to be fair, this was something I hadn’t really thought about. But in a moment of real insight I realised that, ‘To do whatever it was we used to do with the old one,’ wasn’t the answer she was looking for.
She may have sensed my hesitation. She might even have been expecting it, because before I even got the third, “um ah” she added, “Because really one of the first steps is to get the community involved to decide the purpose of your new building. After all, if you don’t know what you’re going to do with it, how can you know what you want?”
I think the conversation petered out after that. ‘Get the community involved!’ We had committee members who’d spent decades ensuring the community had as little to do with the building as possible. You could see their point, if the community was involved it meant that the building got used, and things ended up getting worn out or even damaged. How was I going to break this news to them?
My lady wife passed me another mug of coffee and when she nipped out to talk to the postman, I poured a generous shot of brandy into it. Purely medicinal, I needed it for my nerves.
My coffee finished, I decided I would go and see the vicar. To be fair, she’s a lady with enough problems of her own. So many problems that she’s lucky to have me as a churchwarden. But seriously, if the Church of England gives her any more parishes to look after they’d probably have to make her a bishop. But St Herbert’s, Auldwick, was in some way her ‘home church’ in that it was the one next to the vicarage. Apparently during the reformation, Cowperthwaite had flaunted its loyalty to the Pope for a fortnight too long; and Auldwick, quicker to read the writing on the wall, was the one that kept the church and the vicar. Of course Cowperthwaite had never forgiven this slight and every incumbent since had laboured under the burden of ‘not being our vicar’ when in the Cowperthwaite part of the parish. She’s lucky she has churchwardens of my calibre to support her.
Jenny was in so I explained my plight. She sighed sympathetically. “Best of luck.”
“Well I was hoping we could perhaps borrow the church for the meeting.” There was a good reason for this, between them the two villages have neither shop nor pub, and the sole community spaces are the church and the village hall. Given the state of the village hall, I was hoping to use the church.”
“Is that wise?” Jenny asked, “After all, you want people to see how bad the village hall is, surely meeting there will drive the message home. After all I think most people assume the hall is in reasonable condition and this will let them down gently.”
“Not necessarily gently, given the state of the floor.”
“Well if you mark off the weak patches it should be alright.”
Stymied in that area, I asked, “Given it is to be a community meeting, I hoped you’d chair it. People should see you as neutral.”
“Remember the last PCC meeting. We agreed to approach the diocese for permission to rip out the pews and create a community space. A public meeting might see me as a competitor.”
I had to admit it, she was good. The quality of training in our theological colleges has improved. I could normally dump this sort of thing onto her predecessor. Still I was one of her churchwardens, so that had to be worth something. “Well could you at least make suggestions as to who should come?”
“You mean announce it at the Sunday service?”
“That would be good, but I was thinking of inviting people who could be useful. It struck me that a personal invitation was less easy to ignore.”
Thanks to her, I left the vicarage with a list, and by the time I added in my suggestions, it was quite a long one.
There is a lot to be said for democracy. With a well chaired meeting, and intelligent and diligent committee members, one can achieve an a great deal. But to be honest, with guile and duplicity there are times when you can achieve far more. I took my list, wrote out by hand a few invitations, and then went to knock on doors.
I approached my committee members first. By the simple expedient of explaining to each that all the others had agreed to have a public meeting on Monday week, I got them all to agree to attend with no more moaning that normal. Then I went door to door, talking to people and handing out invitations. A surprisingly large number said they would try and make it. How much of this enthusiasm was the fact I casually mentioned refreshments and commented that Ann Hodgson would have one of her celebrated carrot cakes, I’m not sure.
You might not have realised but it’s now ‘Village Halls Week.’ As somebody who, one way or another, has spent a lot of time in village halls in various places, I’m a believer in their importance. So I thought I’d celebrate them a bit. So the story will continue.
Now if you’re lucky enough to live in Cumbria there is ACTion with Communities in Cumbria, our Rural Community Council, on hand to help.
If you’re in the rest of England you want ACRE, Action with Communities in Rural England.
Alternatively, when you just want a good book
Available in paperback or ebook
As a reviewer commented, “This is the third collection of farmer Jim Webster’s anecdotes about his sheep, cattle and dogs. This one had added information on the Lake District’s World Heritage status. This largely depends upon the work of around 200 small family farms. Small may not always be beautiful but it can be jolly important. If you want to know the different skills needed by a sheep dog and a cow dog, or to hear tales of some of the old time travelling sales persons – read on! This is real life, Jim, but not as I know it.”