Village halls are at the heart of rural communities, and we want to ensure that they remain so for many years to come. That is why, on 5 April this year, the Government launched a £3 million fund to improve them. Grants of up to £75,000, or 20% of the project costs, are available for the refurbishment and alteration of these essential community buildings.
Village halls are a vital asset in many rural parts of my constituency, offering a wide range of activities for groups of people of all ages. I know that from personal experience, having served as chair of my local village hall in Shuttington for several years before my election. I welcome the fund, but how are village hall committees being encouraged to apply for it, given that they are often run by a large number of dedicated volunteers?
We have publicised the grant scheme on social media and fundraising community websites, and there have been more than 70 expressions of interest. The National Association of Local Councils has been informed, and I am sure that it will use its networks to advertise the scheme. I should point out that the deadline for applications is March 2020. The funds may already have been allocated by then, so we want to encourage as many village halls as possible to get on with their project proposals.
Bassetlaw will be happy to pioneer the green energy policy in village halls, along with the Secretary of State and the Government. We offer all our village halls to the Government, so that, with Government funds, they can work together to become carbon-neutral, and villages can see the benefits—
This is very interesting, but what is the question?
The question, Mr Speaker, is this. Does the Minister agree that such a partnership would be in the national interest?
The Government have already done that extensively in village halls, but I am sure that my right hon. Friend the Minister for Energy and Clean Growth will be delighted to take an interest in any proposals that the hon. Gentleman puts to her.
Although small, the village of Rushton in my constituency has a church, a pub, a village hall and a village newsletter. Village halls are extremely important. Will the Minister take this opportunity to praise all the volunteers who seek no reward, save to serve their local communities?
I certainly will. I am sure that in some of the villages in Buckingham tonight, the villagers will be gathering in their rural communities to watch Arsenal—hopefully—beat Valencia, just as they will have watched Spurs win last night and the mighty Liverpool win on Tuesday. Village halls are places where communities come together for moments of joy, but also for other important purposes such as community activities, and our villages would be poorer without them.
I welcome the fund, but may I ask the Minister to look again at the eligibility criterion that forbids parish councils from bidding for it? In villages such as Rainford, Billinge and Seneley Green in my constituency, halls run by parish councils are real community hubs, and they would be good umbrella bodies to bid for the money on behalf of their communities.
I will certainly look at that again. I understand that village halls are usually run by separate entities, so I am not sure why there is a barrier to grant applications in the villages that the hon. Gentleman has mentioned.
Hundreds of farmers are being treated for mental health issues. What plans have been made to ensure that village halls have a signpost to mental health help for rural communities?
Village halls are used for a variety of purposes, including the provision of health services, which are also available in the voluntary sector. I commend the hon. Gentleman’s suggestion on how we can continue to use village halls to support farmers locally.