Rally cry for communities to keep Lancashire's church and village halls running
"Don't take us for granted, we need help to survive". That's the message from Lancashire's church and village halls facing a financial crisis due to the coronavirus.
Halls throughout the county are slowly reopening following lockdown, but are now struggling to attract bookings; at the mercy of individual hirers who are fearful of returning, or who cannot make their sessions work due to a decreased number of attendees.
"We've gone from having something seven days a week, to nothing whatsoever. But we still have to pay our overheads", said Richard Garside, chairman of Walmer Bridge Village Hall Association.
"We have a large field that needs mowing every week, we employ a caretaker and a cleaner. We're also coming into a period thay we don't like very much - where we will have to put the heating on soon."
The Association, which is a registered charity, has lost its big earners such as the summer fete, the fireworks display in November, and are now surviving off a £5,000 discretionary grant from South Ribble Borough Council.
"It would be wrong to say we're going to go bankrupt tomorrow, but we have no spare cash", said Richard.
"We want people to come back, but we have to make sure there is still a facility for people to come back to.
"The people of this village need to help us. We can't take these facilities for granted. We need sponsorship and people to volunteer with us, that's how we'll keep going.
"We want to keep going, we're going to fight to keep going, but we need help."
Association secretary Maureen Nicoll said: "We're taking a softly, softly approach. We definitely can't have any parties, and we're highlighting the fact that hirers have a responsibility and they must adhere to it.
"You can't expect the volunteers who run the hall to sanitize it as well."
She added: "We've reopened to a small group of bingo players, but their numbers are maybe half what they were before lockdown due to social distancing.
"We believe most of the hirers will be contacting us after September, when the schools go back. But there's just so much uncertainty about at the moment."
Paediatric nurse Michelle Scott usually runs a playgroup for pre-school children at Walmer Bridge Village Hall and also at Longton Village Hall.
She has decided not to hire either hall out again yet, due to fears over safety.
She said: "As a playgroup we have regular babies and children that come weekly but also sporadic visitors, so I have concerns currently how I would create safe “bubbles”.
"My volunteer team and I cleaned all the toys at the beginning of lockdown and I’ve done it again since.
"My two little boys went to their school’s lockdown club as I worked my shifts at RPH and were encouraged to take their own pencils and colours so not to share possible contaminated items.
"At Playgroup pre-lockdown, children played together, shared and tried to learn to share; a normal childhood development is putting things and toys in their mouths. Currently I’d have to clean each toy after one child had played with it - a mammoth task!
"And as for the much needed hot brews for the parents, would we need to invest in disposable cups? Or encourage them to bring their own?"
She added: "For play areas and playgroups there has been little to no guidance to present, but maybe that’s because the government haven’t a safe solution for us yet , hairdressers and beauticians can wear masks, visors etc getting personally close to people, but how is that possible with young children who don’t understand social distancing?
"I have taken it on myself to look at the official government web site for information as we (the playgroups) are not government registered they have no means of communicating directly with me."
Rev Nick Mansfield of St Leonard's C of E Church in Marshalls Brow, Penwortham, said his church hall is virtually vacant, despite always being popular with local groups, including playgroups, Brownies and Rainbows and yoga classes.
He said: "We've had very, very limited play in the hall. Three or four days a week for the last three or four weeks of the term.
"We had an enquiry with the yoga class, but the lady who runs it has decided not to continue.
"So at the minute, everything's on hold and we're waiting on groups coming back to us, when they are allowed and when they are ready.
"It's having a dramatic affect on church funds.
"At the moment we can't afford to pay our full quota to the Diocese. That pays for things such as wages, housing, pensions, training and so on.
"But as well as the financial problems, we are very disappointed that we can't run the activities in the hall that we'd like to for the community."
He added: "It's a very frightening time for people, there's so much uncertainty and a lot of tension.
"I think it was a novelty at the beginning of lockdown, but now people are fed up. They don't know when things are going to change or whether there's going to be another lockdown."
Linda Johnrose taught yoga at St Leonard's church hall for 25 years, but has decided not to hire it again presently.
She said: "I'd usually run a class with 25 people, but I asked who would be willing to go back to a socially-distanced class, and only 10 people said they would. I wouldn't break even.
"I would love to come back, run a class and clean the hall, but lots of people in my class are older and are having to shield, so I have to think about that."
She added: "I also have to think about liabilities as a business. What if someone in my class got ill? Not only would I feel terrible about it, but what liability would I have?
"There is very little guidance for us from the Government on 'yes you can' or 'no you can't'.
"I'm going to be checking week by week on what the situation is. I would love to go back to the church hall, it's perfect, but I need enough money to pay."
Anybody who wishes to help support Walmer Bridge Village Hall Association is asked to call Maureen on 01772 612113.