Members of the Ruckinge Parish Council met with the Treasurer for St Mary Magdalene Church, David Hanbury, in November 2022. It was highlighted that the Ruckinge Village Hall, which is owned by the Parish Council, was back under Parish Council management and a series of updates and renovations would be starting in the New Year, and that the Hall would be closing during this period. These renovations remain ongoing with progress updates regularly posted on this Parish Council website and inside the hall itself.
9th May 2023
David Hanbury, St Mary Magdalene Church “I’ve seen first-hand today the changes both inside and outside, and I think it’s tremendous what has been achieved by residents and councillors who have clearly worked tirelessly over many months. The main hall looks fantastic, and the frontage outside looks inviting, and something which the community can be proud of. I know it’s a “work in progress” but we can all see it’s heading in the right direction, and I am certain will be a great success.
At this time, the St Mary Magdalene Church lacks toilet facilities. It should never be assumed or expected that the toilets at the Ruckinge Village Hall be made available without a valid booking, and I am delighted that we’ve come to an agreement over key dates in 2023 where we have now formally booked the facilities. I wish to place on record my thanks for the help and support of the Parish Council and congratulate them on the work they’ve already completed.”
Denis Archer, Parish Councillor & Chairman of the Ruckinge Village Hall Group “It’s a juggling act renovating the building, and on a shoestring budget I might add, while also taking bookings to grow much needed revenue. I’m glad we’ve been able to reach an agreement with David over the dates he needs support, and that wider we are looking at ways to work in partnership together on other initiatives.’
January – May 2023
Over the recent months more than 20 residents have worked tirelessely.
- The main hall has been completely transformed – replastered, repainted, new lighting, floor rubbed down and revarnished.
- The car park undergrowth has been cut back – doubling in size the number of parking spaces.
- The entire frontage has been cleaned of debris, fencing and gate restored, new posts added, new signage, a new bench.
- Electrical and plumbing changes are in flight.
- Broadband has been installed.
Much work remains “ongoing” and will continue as part of a year + renovation plan.
New garden planting is ongoing. Restoration of the 1951 Ruckinge sign is in progress and an application to the BBC to appear on television show is in progress.
It’s been fantastic to see the community support.
Thank you to all those that has contributed time, efforts, and made donations.
Some recent images
Within the Parish of Ruckinge there are two Village Halls. One at Ruckinge and one at Bromley Green. The Parish Council own the one at Ruckinge, and own the playground, car park and field (Carters Field) at Bromley Green.
It isnt easy to run a Village Hall unless you have lots of time and lots of money – and over 30+ years it has historically been a challenge for anyone to operate the Village Hall at Ruckinge. Since December 12th 2022, the Ruckinge Parish Council have taken over the running and restoration of that Hall.
Why did the Parish Council take over the running of Ruckinge Village Hall?
The Parish Council began a process that has lasted nearly 2 years, attempting to build a relationship with the then tenants (the previous “Village Hall Committee” / Charity 302828) that were responsible for the day to day running of the Hall, its upkeep, marketing, and promotion.
Repeated requests to either attend Parish Council meetings (widely published and known years in advance, always held on the 2nd Thursday of every month) were made by the Parish Council with the council also offering alternative dates (repeatedly offered). It reached a point where it was clear there was no way forward.
A lease originally existed between the Parish Council and the original Village Hall Committee – upon review last year it was discovered that the lease had expired more than 30 years ago. Legal advice was sought as to how the situation should be put right.
To write a new lease would have been cost prohibitive and based on the Village Hall Committees unwillingness to engage with the Parish Council, it was felt there was no point in creating a new lease with the building (inside and outside) looking run down, mostly empty through lack of any promotion, with increasingly negative feedback from residents (which was being directed at the Parish Council).
The Parish Council has very little funding, the 7 councillors, are all unpaid, acting in an entirely voluntary capacity. Reviewing planning applications and dealing with resident issues takes up a lot of our time already, so running a Village Hall was never a desired outcome but as the legal owners of the Village Hall, the Parish Council have a care of duty over what is an historic building and what could be a valuable community asset.
Covid Grant Funding
During the Covid period, the Government passed significant grants to Village Halls. The Village Hall Committee received around £30,000 in grant funding for the Ruckinge Village Hall.
Part of the reason the Parish Council wanted to engage with the then Village Hall Committee was that we had noted that the £30,000 grant had been omitted from their Charity Commission returns – without that due diligence from the Parish Council that would remain the case today – only through our repeated letters, was that corrected – to this day, there has been no admittance that financial information had been incorrectly reported.
When the Parish Council served notice (giving 6 months’ notice) all we really asked for was a professional handover (providing key information such as suppliers) and that the Covid funding (mostly unspent) be transitioned so that it could be used as intended on the hall and its restoration.
Lack of Promotion
Has the Hall ever been promoted? We could see no evidence of that happening for years (either before or after Covid) it has sat largely empty. Our view is that if you don’t tell people it’s there, if you don’t keep it looking nice inside and outside, it’s unlikely to be a success. Even something as simple as advertising in the Parish Magazine (which other local halls do) wasnt being done.
Right now, it has a broken entrance gate, broken fencing, it has mould throughout the building (an historical challenge, yes, but it is still a fact, and needs attention), there are Security issues, two caravans in the back (a fire risk highlighted by Kent Fire and Rescue Service), red paint has been splashed all over the walls in the main hall, the floor has been heavily scratched by Table Tennis being played without any protection being laid down. Paint is peeling off. See images at the bottom – then compare to those at the top to see a THEN verus NOW.
Residents were contacting the Parish Council asking who was running the place, why did it look so unkept, and some that had tried to make a booking were not getting replies. The Parish Council took the blame from residents for a building we were not even administering and were not receiving grants for.
Terms of the Original Lease
Whilst the lease had (it turned out) long expired, it did have very express terms (clear expectations) and remained as the governing document for the Charity.
- The Village Hall committee needed at all times to have a chairman (they did not, and did not for a long period)
- They needed to hold public AGMs (they have not been)
- They needed to engage with the Parish Council (they did not)
- At all times, insurances needed to be in place listing the Parish Council as the legal owners of the Hall (they were not, which meant that if the building burnt down, the Parish Council as the freeholders would not have received any money and the asset would have been lost).
So, in that sense, as tenants, they had broken a lease, albeit one that had long expired.
Handover / Transition
Sadly, the hoped for handover did not occur on or ahead of December 12th.
- The keys to the building were never supplied – so a locksmith had to be brought in.
- Fire equipment was removed (and signed for removal by a member of the departing Village Hall committee) which meant the building had to be temporarily closed and a Parish Council meeting had to be moved at the last minute.
- The Boiler had not been serviced to its required schedule – so an urgent service had to be scheduled.
- It was discovered that none of the appliances had been tested/certified to their required schedule – meaning the building had to be closed to the public throughout December until a qualified electrician could be arranged.
- The heating oil had been allowed to run dry – meaning an emergency oil delivery needed to be scheduled (not easy two weeks before xmas and with the risk of burst pipes). Bookings and revenue were lost as a result.
With the unwillingness to meet to transition/handover, the unwillingness to transfer the Covid grants for the Hall, the Parish Council has been forced to write to the “Charity Commission” and prepare a bill for end of tenancy for items such as repainting, boiler servicing, locksmiths – all of which was entirely avoidable, and was clearly communicated as avoidable, with the steps clearly laid out to close this matter out.
Even at this late stage, it is still in the gift of the former Village Hall Committee to sit down with the Parish Council – yet another offer was made by the Parish Council (27.2.2023) to “sit down and talk” which has disappointingly once again declined.
Irrespective of the open issues, the Parish Council have not been deterred from making progress.
Already we have:
- Negotiated ¾ off the price of standing electricity charges (£2.50 a day down to .60p)
- Negotiated 100% relief from business rates.
- Cheaper (but also better) fire equipment has been obtained on a service contract.
- Bookings are up.
- Broadband has been installed.
- The address is now listed with the Post Office (incredibly it never was).
- A post box is being added.
- Increased Security has been added.
- We have received a £500.00 grant which can go towards repainting and redecoration and there will be a painting (interior and exterior) day in March and a clean-up of the exterior grounds weather permitting (20 people have so far volunteered).
All the Parish Council want to do is look after the building, and see it generating revenue that is sustainable and not be continually reliant upon grants.
The Parish Council remain committed to a fresh start, literally a fresh coat of paint, and to take the hall forward and ensure it plays an active role in the community.