The increasingly diffuse nature of urban communities and the reduced capacity within the public sector has led to the decline in use of community halls in London. They have gone from hubs of local activity to London’s family of forgotten buildings. Along with them, local opportunities for participating in social, civic and cultural activities have been lost. The buildings, however, are still standing and the communities they once served still in need of local opportunities. The challenge is to find an innovative and effective model to bring them back into meaningful use.
Our mission was to revitalise disused community halls to enable them to serve their communities once again.
The Middle Ground
The Middle Ground transformed disused community halls into vibrant multipurpose spaces. The venues hosted everything from first birthday parties to film sets. Through agreements made with classes and instructors, local residents had the opportunity to join activities hosted at the halls, such as yoga, dance and Zumba, for free.
Number of individual users per venue each month.
Agreed or strongly agreed that The Middle Ground had improved their neighbourhood.
Number of hours of use per venue each month.
How it worked
The Middle Ground used a 3 step process to transform community halls:
- Identify – We worked with Housing Associations to identify disused community halls on their estates with the potential to offer opportunities to the local community.
- Develop – Neglected buildings were transformed into high-quality multipurpose venues. We worked with the Housing Associations to target renovation efforts and we engaged designers, architects and volunteers to add extra value during the refurbishment process.
- Manage – We took on the ongoing management of the halls we developed. Each space was marketed to a range of target customers to bring in both community based and higher paying users. Community based users were hosted at the venues for heavily reduced rates on the condition that they provided benefits for members of the local community. Higher paying users were able to use the venues for private events and workshops but were charged a premium in order to subsidise the community focussed users. Venue Hosts were employed to give users a seamless hire experience and create employment opportunities for local people.
Athlone Hall: a case study
In January 2016, The Middle Ground partnered with Housing Association Origin Housing and took on Athlone Hall in Kentish Town. Under the management of The Middle Ground, the building was transformed from an unused building to a popular multipurpose venue space.
The neglected building was improved through initial refurbishment work. Windows, doors and toilets were completely replaced with the support of Origin Housing, volunteers repainted the inside of the building and pro bono contributions from designers Olivia Charlesworth and Lizzie Reid created a bespoke noticeboard and sign.
Improving the physical space was only the beginning, The Middle Ground then managed the hall to bring in a diverse range of users. Local marketing, an online presence and a summer garden party, attended by over one hundred people, created interest in the space. Local resident and Origin tenant, Charlene, was employed as the Venue Host to manage bookings and retain some local spirit in the management of the building.
By January 2017, Athlone Hall was being used everyday for a wide range of activities and these continue today. Local residents use the space on weekends for Christenings and Confirmations, children's birthday parties and wakes. Some events are small and low key, others are much more lively affairs but all are opportunities for people to come together. From salsa to dog training, almost every day of the week there has been a regular class or community group in the hall for people to participate in. In addition to this, during weekday daytimes, when halls like Athlone Hall are least likely to be used, L'ecole des Dyvrandes, a bilingual nursery, makes use of the space.