This article has been kindly written by Dave Gibbs – trustee at Newton Village Hall about his experiences.
In hiring out our village halls and community centres, we routinely place our trust in complete strangers, giving them hours of unsupervised access to our precious facilities. We hope that they will treat them the way we would; with respect, leaving them tidy and undamaged ready for the next user. Normally, of course, they do. But what happens when things go wrong?
Sadly, there exists a small minority of people who do not share our values. For those whose activities fall outside the acceptable usage clauses of our constitutions and trust deeds, it seems to be the norm to lie blatantly about the proposed activity and take advantage of our trusting nature and, let’s be honest, our need to generate funds. National media have highlighted the “relationship support sessions” in Trumpington which turned out to be a bondage workshop and the recent “private party with music” in Haddenham that was actually a three-day neo-Nazi rally attended by 350 people. The latter, fortunately, was not in the village hall.
Alcohol has the power to transform the most mild-mannered person into the Incredible Hulk, as a visit to any UK town centre on a Friday or Saturday night will testify. This may have been a factor in the recent mindless destruction of West Walton Village Hall, just over the border in Norfolk, when a birthday party resulted in thousands of pounds worth of damage, leading to the temporary closure of the hall.
At Newton Village Hall, we have fallen victim to two bad bookings in the space of fifteen months. In both cases, a cosy family gathering was transformed into a public rave as soon as our backs were turned. As far as we can ascertain, there is no link between the two bookings. We were extremely lucky. Damage was superficial and the most detrimental impact was on our relationship with our neighbours, who were forced to endure hours of noise, anti-social behaviour, threats of violence and a garden full of empty bottles and cans. Police assistance was required to terminate both bookings, but with no serious crimes being committed, response times on a Saturday night are measured in hours, not minutes.
In hindsight, there is something comical about being left with a penniless, phoneless, drunken reveller who was determined to walk home to Bury St Edmunds, via his equally inebriated girlfriend’s home in Huntingdon, (a mere 80 miles in total), but at the time, my patience was tested to the limit!
What can we do? A large damage deposit is an option, but this would need to be at least the level of the excess on our insurance policy to provide us with full protection. A cash payment of this amount would deter honest low-income families from hiring our facilities, the very people we are trying to encourage to make use of the hall. Supervision of bookings is not an option for us. Paying staff would cost more than the value of some bookings whilst our volunteers lead busy lives and would not be able to spare the time. Ultimately, we have been forced to restrict the use of the hall to residents of the village, thereby reducing our potential income at a time when we are struggling to make ends meet. It’s not a watertight guarantee, but it’s the safest solution for us at the present time.
Community Facilities, Development Officer, Lisa Chambers, comments:
“Cambridgeshire ACRE’s advice to all village halls and community buildings is that whenever a management committee hires out any part of their premises, a written agreement should be in place so that both the management committee and the hirer know their rights and responsibilities. The use of a hire agreement, such as the ACRE Model Hiring Agreement, establishes a clear contract between two parties and can be used as evidence should legal action become necessary.
The Model is suitable for both single and block bookings. It is an Agreement between the hall management committee and person or organisation hiring the premises. It contains details of the specific hiring, together with Standard Conditions of Hire. An authorised representative of the management committee and the individual or representative of the hiring organisation will need to sign it. As a legal document, Cambridgeshire ACRE does charge a small fee to members to provide this document, currently £15. Please contact us if you would like to purchase a copy.”