Good news story; how one Village Hall in Cookham Dean, Berkshire has managed to stay vibrant and an asset to their community whilst adhering to covid 19 regulations

Here at CCB we were thrilled to hear from Chair of Cookham Dean Village Hall, Finbar Murphy, who wanted to share with us his good news story regarding how the trustees had worked with community initiatives to ensure that the village hall remained a community hub even managing to adhere to Covid 19 regulations. We know how important community buildings and village halls are to their local community often providing the space to run events and community gatherings that help combat loneliness and isolation. Please read on to read this good new story.

In October 2019 the lead tenant at Cookham Dean Village Hall (Noah’s Ark Nursery) was obliged to close down.  It was a sad ending particularly as it had been a central part of village life for nearly forty years.  It also had a significant impact on the financial viability of the hall, which is funded entirely by community donations and hall rental fees.

On the upside it meant that a significant portion of the hall schedule was now open, and the hall committee were free to look at new uses for our treasured community resource

One of these ideas was a local producers market, providing a platform for local producers to sell direct to locals.  A metre market – “fresh produce metres from your door”

We were in the planning stages when the Covid-19 situation refocussed everyone’s attention.  We initially shelved the idea, but then found it was something that we could do to help several local produce suppliers who had lost their traditional customer base of restaurants and public houses. 

Like all good community initiatives we started with one stall selling locally baked sour dough loaves, and with some great support from our community have grown that in eight weeks to over twelve producers offering Bread, Vegetables, Cheese, Sweet and Savoury Baked Goods Beer, Coffee, Beer, Flowers, Jams, Honey, Granola and even Dog Biscuits!, all sourced locally in and around our village.  We have now added a small coffee garden thanks to the generous support of the local Woman’s Institute, so we can enjoy a socially distanced coffee and chat.

We made some investment in infrastructure and technology so we could provide internet ordering, with pickup and delivery services.  We have also learnt a lot about running and managing a market environment in a safe and engaging way.

From a financial perspective we have been able to secure 50% of our lost revenue from a single morning usage, providing us with the luxury of exploring what other uses our hall can be put to.

We are blessed with a strong local community but a few really exciting side effects that we have seen already. 

  1. The market has been the springboard for 3 local people to start their own businesses, and we have two more in the wings.
  2. With the majority of local community services/activities constrained the market operation is fulfilling a strong social contact role, who would have thought that people like to shop and chat !

Under normal circumstances the hall would be used by a variety of charitable groups to host fund raising events, which they can no longer do.  With the support of our stall holders we are operating a weekly hamper raffle.  This will allow us to raise in excess of £10,000 for local charities as a consequence of running the market.  As one of our stallholders put it “a great way of supporting the community that supports us “

The whole experience has been transformational and it is really pleasing to see the diverse range

of customers, who return each week  and to have our village hall back as a focus point for village life at such a difficult time. 

We ran our first customer survey last week and this is some of some of the feedback

“Local produce, fab quality and welcoming atmosphere”

“Seeing friends; getting treats for weekend ­lunches from local sellers”

“Great local produce, good prices”

“Where it is, the choice of stalls, the organiza­tion”

 “Well organised and marked out”

This project has helped us secure the financial viability of our hall and allowed us to support our community in more ways than we could have imagined.”
“Love the unique village feel of our very own market
.”

We have confirmed that there is a very strong appetite for supporting local producers, based on reducing food miles, a general swing towards local/micro retailing and a direct consequence of the social distancing / self-isolation/ working from home situation, so the meter-market is the right idea at the right time

We believe that the model we have developed can be replicated in villages across the county and we would welcome enquiries from interested community organisations.

In the meantime I would encourage you to look at our online system www.metre-market.com and to visit us any Friday morning between 8:30 – 1:00.

Finbar is keen to see if this might be replicated in other Berkshire communities so if you would like to get in contact with him for more details please contact Kate.Meads@ccberks.org.uk so she can pass on his details.

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