Deck the halls

Stagg Architects

Stagg Architects has produced a guide for improving the energy efficiency of England’s 10,000 rural community halls.

It was while looking for third-sector involvement that Stagg Architects’ Founding Director Ben Stagg came across Action with Communities in Rural England (ACRE), the national body of England’s rural community support charities. ACRE co-ordinates a nationwide information and advice service for village halls, helping people equip themselves with the knowledge, skills and connections needed to improve their community and its assets.

This detail piqued Stagg’s interest. With more than 10,000 village halls in England alone, retrofitting for energy efficiency would make substantial headway towards the net-zero agenda, as well as future-proof their role for generations to come.

The importance of a vibrant village hall to a rural community cannot be understated. They are at the heart of community life in isolated areas, when there is often no pub, library or other place to meet. As Deborah Clarke, ACRE’s Village Halls Manager, says: “Village and community halls are a staple in rural communities, providing a warm and welcoming space for everyone to come together.”

Conscious that many community venues were struggling with increasing energy bills, Stagg set about authoring a step-by-step guide to support committees. “It struck me that many village hall committees were likely to be at some stage of retrofitting, probably starting with only basic knowledge but becoming experts over the course of the project. This knowledge could be shared to make the journey easier for others.”

With that in mind, he approached the committees of several halls and asked what they had found helpful and what they had found problematic. Their experiences formed the different sections of the guide. Halls with different characteristics were deliberately selected to include buildings of different size, age and construction, as well as those where large and more modest sums of money have been spent. Stagg is clear in his admiration of what these communities have achieved through research and sheer determination.

Stagg Architects
Stagg Architects

Help and hindrance

The first thing Stagg found was that many committees had recognised the need for professional help at the start, but hadn’t understood different professional specialisms or how to brief them. “As architects, we were keen to hear feedback from the participants about their experience,” he says. Unfortunately “committees found that architects were keen to design extensions sometimes when extra space was not a priority”. This is indicative of the need to appoint the right type of consultant, with full clarity about exactly what is required, what the priorities are and what the budget is. The guide covers this, as well as what the specialisms are, when and how they should be used in the process and what committees can expect for the fee.

Another element of the guide that was dictated by the case studies is a breakdown of funding options and how the budgets were spent on different projects. There is often a significant difference in the costs associated with heat pumps, PV panels, insulation and internal renovation and decoration.

“It depends on what they were working with at the start,” says Stagg. “For some, such as Hurst Green [built in the 1950s], the cost of the ground-source heat pump was greatest because of the building’s size and what needed to be installed from scratch. For others such as Otterhampton [built pre-1940s], its greatest expenditure was on internal decoration because of its condition.

“Part of the retrofitting exercise is to bring the hall back into full use and this can mean enabling it to generate revenue such as a wedding venue or party hire. It can only do this if the internal decoration is of a certain standard.”


The design guidance was kindly funded by the following companies who also contributed their knowledge and expertise: Baxi, Knauf Insulation, Utility Aid, Fakro, Heatable, Selectaglaze, Herschel and Zolb EV


Stagg Architects

Energy efficiency

Confusingly, the data from the case study projects suggested that most village halls weren’t using large amounts of energy. Once Stagg dug deeper however, he discovered the occupants were well aware of the costs of heating such poorly insulated buildings. This meant they were rarely, if ever, putting the heating on. “This, in turn, meant the halls were not well used,” he says. “An important part of retrofitting these spaces is improving the comfort levels. So while comparing the energy use before and after looks counterintuitive, we are in fact comparing an uncomfortable unused cold hall with a warm one in full use.”

Even then, the energy use data is impressive. For example, in 2018 Trent Memorial Hall [built in 1923] used 2,033kWh of electricity and just over 1,000 litres of liquid petroleum gas (LPG), resulting in a total use of 9,313kWh/year. For a hall of 185sqm this equates to 51kWh/sqm/year energy use. In 2022, after the hall was insulated and the existing LPG heating system was replaced with an air-source heat pump, energy use comprised just 3,884kWh per year. For a hall extended to a total of 235sqm, this resulted in a use of 16kWh/sqm/year – a 67% reduction.

The guide also introduces the notion of the circular economy and reuse of materials – something that Stagg Architects is passionate about. Even though there was only one example given of materials being repurposed (the bar of a local pub that was being demolished was given a new lease of life in Hurst Green), he notes that the principle was much more in keeping with these type of projects than larger commercial ones. “With tight budgets, committees are more inclined to reuse where possible and not as quick to just rip out and replace things. They are also mindful to keep the character of the halls,” he says.

The guide helps a complex challenge seem manageable, so you would have thought that was the end of Stagg Architects’ involvement. However, Stagg has further plans. “I attended the conference of village hall advisors, and what kept coming up was the need for a building and energy audit in order to get funding. But it can end up as a complex report with significant costs and no guarantee of a funding award at the end.” Stagg is planning to write a national standard in consultation with the funding bodies, then make this available to village hall committees before they approach surveyors for the audit. It seems he’s just as dedicated to improving community spaces as those who benefit from them. 

Read Village & Community Halls: A Net Zero Design Guide here: bit.ly/ACRE_guide

Stagg would like to hear from surveyors who are interested in sharing knowledge to support his work on the building and energy audit guide. Please e-mail [email protected]

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