For generations they have been the beating heart of communities, a place for weddings, funerals and christenings, drink-fuelled ceilidhs and youth club discos, whist drives and Brownie meetings.

Mostly built by the Victorians, often paid for thanks to a bequest from a wealthy citizen, there came a time when village halls got rather tired and dated. In some cases the doors closed for good.

Now, though, in villages and small towns across the land, the community hall appears to be pulling out the bunting to once again serve as the hub of local life.

Whether it’s a renewed sense of community spirit or just a sudden appreciation for all the benefits a hall of their own can bring, neighbours up and down the country have turned their focus to saving, reviving and, in some cases, dramatically upgrading their local hall.

As a result, buildings once used daily by previous generations but which eventually started to rot away are being reborn in million pounds plus schemes that will once again place them at the centre of community life.

In others, tiny halls which have always had a special place in villagers’ hearts are being taken over to secure their future and be run as thriving community enterprises.

Many are accessing Scottish Land Fund cash, funded by the Scottish Government and delivered in partnership with the National Lottery Community Fund to help them in their quest to take control of halls which could otherwise be lost, and taking advantage of Community Asset Transfer rights to wrestle buildings from council ownership – often to make a better job of running them for a new generation of village hall users.

One of the most significant hall revivals is in Millport, where the local hall served residents and tourists for decades with music, drama, cinema and social events before closing its doors and slowly falling into disrepair.

Efforts are underway there to raise the £3million needed to transform into a 21st century facility.

“The hall was boarded up for ages,” says Angie McCallum, Chair of Trustees at Millport Town Hall, which received just over £50,000 from the Scottish Land Fund to progress their plans.

“Our little town lost its main social venue, it was where we celebrated Burns Night and Hogmanay, enjoy music and drama.

“Like many village and town halls, it’s a Victorian building that required a lot of upkeep and the cash-strapped council closed it.

“But these halls are such fabulous vehicles for getting communities together and have so many uses.”

There are now plans to transform the hall into a heritage and conservation centre, community hall and, to help cover the costs of running it, holiday flats for visiting tourists.

Currently rather plain and a little dowdy on the outside, it will be given a glossy new atrium and the ugly polystyrene false ceiling will be ripped away to reveal the original Victorian dome.

Meanwhile in the small Inner Hebridean island of Iona, the 90-year-old village hall has been at the centre of islanders’ lives for 90 years, hosting countless ceilidhs, wedding dances, parties and fundraising events.

Declared no longer fit for purpose, it too is on the cusp of a £3 million plus rejuvenation.

Islanders, who have received a total of £1.6 million from the Big Lottery Fund, grants and local initiatives, are understood to have raised the remaining £2.1 million needed to push ahead with a complete revamp of the hall to create a multi-use, community-owned facility at the heart of the island community.

Eventually, it will tie in with another community-run project, the Iona Heat Network, which will deliver energy and heat to the hall, the historic abbey – also in the process of a major renovation project – and more than 30 other properties on the small island.

In a message to fundraisers, Iona Village Hall Community Trust chair Anja Jardine, said: “We cannot overstate the importance of having a fit-for-purpose village hall on the island.

“Iona Village Hall is the place where our children grow up; have birthday parties, perform their school plays, celebrate their sporting achievements, dance, and get married.

“It forms the backdrop to the collective memory of our community and many of our visitors.”

But not all village hall projects are multi-million pounds investments.

HeraldScotland:

In East Lothian, a small red tin ‘hut’ made from corrugated galvanised iron has been the focus of the tiny Whitekirk village life for more than 80 years.

Originally a ‘Tin Tabernacle’, one of the pre-fabricated church buildings which sprang up in rural spots and in industrial heartlands at the turn of the last century, it was carefully dismantled from where it stood in Gullane, seven miles away, in 1927, and brought to the village.

Rebuilt, it became a focus for the Women’s Rural Institute meetings, whist drives, amateur dramatic performances, an annual panto and as the village polling station.

On New Year’s Day, villagers gathered at the hall before setting off for a brisk walk, returning to sit around its wood-burning stove for a hair of the dog. And in February, one of the last events before lockdown, they returned for a fund-raising ceilidh aimed at boost the ‘Tin Hut Appeal’.

Having secured almost £40,000 from the Scottish Land Fund to buy the hall from the Church of Scotland, the community now has until October to raise the final £22,00 to secure the hall.

With their fundraising efforts on hold due to the pandemic, they recently launched a fundraising page to help hit their target before the deadline, with money pouring in almost every day.

There are similar tales of enterprising villagers taking matters into their own hands right across the country.  

When the future of the Spa Pavilion in Strathpeffer was thrown into doubt when its lease was due to run out, locals banded together to secure its future.

Set against the backdrop of the wooded foothills of Ben Wyvis, the Pavilion’s quaint Victorian architecture was already a hub of social activity, with concerts, weddings and meetings all taking place beneath its vaulted ceiling.

A community trust took over the hall last year after receiving £485,000 from the Scottish Land Fund to buy it from owners, the Scottish Historic Buildings Trust.

In Forres, the town hall’s ornate façade, with its columns and arched windows, has been a focal point for the community since the 1820s. Having been earmarked for closure by Moray Council, councillors have now agreed its transfer to a local community-run group.

While at the other end of the country in New Galloway, moves are afoot for locals to take over the council-owned town hall after running it for three years during which time usage has increased.

And in Campbelltown, the picturesque whitewashed town hall, at the heart of the community since 1760 and used as a courtroom, prison, polling station and council offices, is now in the hands of locals after South Kintyre Development Trust secured £2 million of funding to turn it into a multi-purpose facility.

Back on the island of Cumbrae, the planning application for revamping Millport Town Hall has been lodged and fingers are crossed for a £1.5 million windfall from the Scottish Government’s Regeneration Fund.

“Recently the community has been brilliant, coming together and cracking on, but the lack of a community hub has been even more obvious,” adds Angie.

“We’re looking forward to getting our hall back.”