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New 'threat' to County Durham village halls
WELL-run village halls could be thrown into crisis and their future put in doubt by a council grants shake-up, it has been claimed.
Durham County Council officials have ruled to be eligible for a share of the £260,000 Community Building Grant Scheme (CBGS), community centres must not hold “unrestricted financial resources” exceeding 18 months’ running costs.
Independent councillor John Shuttleworth, treasurer of Rookhope Village Hall, in Weardale, said the change, apparently agreed by officials rather than councillors, was punishing prudence and would hit committees which had carefully built up savings over many years.
“These are vital facilities. All these organisations need a little help and if they don’t get it, in the future they won’t be there,” he said.
Clarice (CORR) Smith, secretary of Witton-le-Wear Community Centre, near Bishop Auckland, said: “It would be better if everybody got a little, rather than some getting a lot and others getting nothing. The distribution has got to be looked at again.
“We’ve no idea what the future holds at the moment – it’s going to be very difficult.”
It is unclear how many village halls could be affected, although Coun Shuttleworth believes more than 250 halls were notified of the changes by letter last month (January).
Gordon Elliott, the council’s head of partnerships and community engagement, said a working group of community building representatives had given the authority the clear message that it should not be funding groups with a “reasonable amount of cash sitting in an account”.
Groups with money put aside for a specific repair or project would get help, he added.
However, it is feared village halls building up savings in case of an emergency could still suffer.
Committees have been invited to apply for CBGS money by May 1, with funding announcements due to follow in mid-June.
Last year, the council confirmed the closure of 14 community facilities and agreed to hand over or close another 16 and stop investing in a further 38. Later, fears were raised over the future of business rate relief, with the taxpayer’s £300,000 commitment in doubt.
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