In our latest guest blog, Action with Communities in Rural England - of which we at Rural Action Derbyshire are a member organisation - and Utility Aid discuss their pride at being shortlisted for a prize at the Third Sector Business Charity Awards

The duo were recognised for their efforts in addressing the energy concerns of England’s 10,000+ village halls, including hundreds in Derbyshire. If you are a community building committee member and would like to receive support from ACRE, as well as RAD, please consider joining our Village Halls Membership Scheme - where you can gain discounts on training and events, receive invites to networking opportunities, and get access to ACRE Information Sheets, Model Documents and more. Find out full information on our Village Halls Membership Scheme webpage

An initiative between Utility Aid and Action with Communities in Rural England (ACRE) which has sought to understand and address the energy concerns of England’s 10,000+ village halls has been recognised as an outstanding project where a business has worked with a charity to help it’s end beneficiaries.    

Energy prices have soared over the past year creating significant financial pressures on many organisations, not least the humble village hall. These are buildings run almost entirely by volunteers for the benefit of the local rural community, providing what is often the only space for clubs, events and even local services. But their aged construction and not-for-profit modus operandi left them vulnerable to the energy crisis.

In response to growing concerns, ACRE asked Utility Aid to support a survey of village halls which asked management committees about their use of energy, the impact of rising prices and the support they need to become more energy efficient. Nearly 900 responses were received demonstrating the scale of the challenge with 1 in 10 halls claiming to spend over half of their income on heating and electricity. The information helped ACRE make the case for greater financial support and specialist advice to be made available to village halls whilst Utility Aid made contact with groups that said they would welcome advice managing their energy usage.

The Business Charity Awards 2023, hosted by Third Sector, provides recognition of what this project has achieved. To date, 148 rural community buildings have been supported to move to new energy tariffs giving them greater budgetary certainty. The government has introduced an energy bills discount scheme for non-domestic consumers. And ACRE is now administering a £3 million grant fund for village hall improvements, to which 64% of applications submitted have been concerned with increasing energy efficiency.

"Helping management committees save energy whilst contributing to Net Zero is one of our top concerns and we will continue doing everything we can as a charity to make this happen"

Speaking on behalf of Utility Aid, William Campbell, Commercial Director said, “We’re thrilled to have been shortlisted for this prestigious award alongside some really big players such as ITV, OVO Partnership and the John Lewis Partnership. Our ongoing corporate relationship with ACRE has enabled us to reach out and support village halls in a more targeted and informed way. It’s also spurred on new commercial offerings such as our remote Discovery Document Service which is virtually connecting customers with expert in-house assessors who can make recommendations for reducing energy consumption and starting a Net Zero journey.”

Deborah Clarke, ACRE’s Village Halls Manager said, “Working in partnership with Utility Aid has not only increased our capacity to put the energy concerns of village halls on the radar of policy makers, but it has also added value to our Village Halls Advice and Information Service, operated across England by members of the ACRE Network. Helping management committees save energy whilst contributing to Net Zero is one of our top concerns and we will continue doing everything we can as a charity to make this happen.”

‘Helping England’s rural village halls respond to the energy crisis’ is nominated for the award of ‘Best Project’ along with other entrants such as a televised concert held to raise funds for humanitarian relief in Ukraine and a partnership that’s produced online resources to support parents in laying the foundations for a healthy, happy family life. An awards night is being held in London on Wednesday 10 May 2023 to announce the winners.

Community Buildings Advisory Service