Volunteers in Wiltshire are being encouraged to apply for a share of a £700,000 Defra loan fund to improve rural community buildings or even build new ones.

The Rural Community Buildings Loan Fund plays a crucial role in helping community groups renovate and refurbish buildings such as village halls, church halls and community centres.

It encourages communities to raise funds, knowing a loan could be available to help them meet their target and win funding from other sources.

The fund is managed by ACRE (Action with Communities in Rural England), the national voice for England’s network of 38 rural community councils, on behalf of Defra, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.

Devizes-based Community First, a member of the ACRE Network, provides an advice service for volunteers who run village halls and similar community buildings.

Carol Southall, village halls and community buildings adviser at Community First, said: “The fund is a real boon for communities because it allows work to be done immediately, bringing instant benefits. The loan process is simple and we can use our in-depth knowledge of managing community buildings to help guide and support applicants.

“Village halls are the heart of rural communities but the majority of the 10,000 across England were built before 1970 and some are in need of a facelift or major renovation. We know how hard it is for communities to raise funds for projects.”

The average loan taken out by village hall committees is around £15,000 but larger loans are considered. ACRE makes around 10 to 14 new loans every year. The interest charged on the loan is returned to the Government, but capital is put back into the fund to support other community buildings.

ACRE’s rural community buildings officer Deborah Clarke said: “We are delighted to have been awarded the contract by Defra to manage the loan fund for another three years.”

To apply, call 01380 732818 or email csouthall@communityfirst.org.uk