How I Got Involved with my Village Hall and Rural Touring

Today marks the start of Village Halls Week 2020 and to mark the occassion we asked the Chair of the NRTF, Tom Speight to tell us a little more about how he came to be involved with his village hall and rural touring.

The Watson Institute, Cumbria

Sometimes it’s the ticket sales. But more usually it’s the positioning of the lights. Or the whereabouts of the corkscrew(s). Or working out how to squeeze another five seats in for late arrivals. Or juggling the dietary requirements of the actors who I’ve offered to feed before the show. But whatever the worries of being a village hall rural touring promoter, it’s always great fun and immensely satisfying.

I first took an interest in what I later learnt was called “rural touring” back in 2007 when I was working as the News Editor at BBC Radio Cumbria in Carlisle. Occasional press releases would come my way, advertising what sounded like ridiculously high quality, professional performance art – drama, music, comedy, magic, even dance – all taking place in the extensive network of village halls that pepper a rural county like Cumbria. I was intrigued. How on earth did that happen? How did they get such astonishing calibre of artists? How did this process work? Could I get them to my hall?

Trio Dhoore, November 2019 performing at The Watson Institute

I dug a little deeper, and before I knew it, I had become what is known in the rural touring world as a “promoter”. That is, a volunteer who makes an event happen in their village hall (there are currently 1,700 of us across rural England, Wales and Scotland).

My village of Castle Carrock has 270 people living in it, located 10 miles east of Carlisle, on the edge of the North Pennines Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. We lost our shop a few years ago when the proprietor died and no one stepped in. But we still have a good pub, a thriving school, a church and a village hall, The Watson Institute. And so we have enough amenities to keep some kind of community spirit going – so long as people use them. And hosting rural touring shows has been a crucial mechanism to keep the hall busy and talked about.

Shoo Shoo Baby performing at The Watson Institute, December 2019

I became the Chair of the hall 10 years ago because I wanted to see if I could offer some new ideas and some new energy, including bringing shows to life. People on the hall committee had done brilliant work in keeping things ticking along but like many voluntary institutions, new blood with new ideas and most importantly, new energy is always needed. The Watson Institute is a very special place. Built in 1897 by the richest family in the village originally as a Reading Room, it’s now a wonderfully intimate village hall and venue where I can seat 65 people at a push, cabaret-style, small tables, candles, subdued lighting and a small stage that I borrow from the school next door. I love being involved. I love the challenge of choosing a show which I think will work for my audience (my reputation is constantly on the line !). I love witnessing people coming together. And I love experiencing – and sharing – superb performance art on my doorstep. It continues to be a blast.

The Watson Institute

This season The Watson Institute are hosting one of our Rural Touring Dance Initiative shows ‘Louder is Not Always Clearer’ on Saturday 7th March, 8pm. The Watson Institute is part of Highlights Rural Touring. Find out more here.

Tom Speight can be found on twitter @tomspeight

Guest Blog: Blaize Village Halls Week Interview with Worlaby Village Hall promoter

Friday, January 25, 2019

This Week is National Village Halls Week, and the NRTF have teamed up with ACRE to celebrate along with our rural touring schemes, promoters and artists. All week we will be releasing new content here on the blog and over on our Social Media to celebrate just how much Village Halls do for their community.

Today we have a guest blog post from Blaize who deliver Rural Touring events through Live Lincs and Artery. To find out more about Blaize and their programming visit their website. 

Remember if you have a Rural Touring Story you’d like to share, email us admin@nrtf.org.uk!




Here at Blaize, we join the National Rural Touring Forum (NRTF) to celebrate #VillageHallsWeek! Village venues play a vital role in the lives of many rural communities.  Today we hear from one of our valued promoters, Richard Beeforth, who is responsible for our Live Lincs’ events at Worlaby Village Hall in North Lincolnshire. Richard explains;


Worlaby is a small village in North Lincolnshire but despite its size, it has great community spirit and is a nice place to live. The village pub closed some years ago so our village hall is the hub for most community activity and is very well used. We have a fairly new village hall and our Village Hall Committee works hard to maintain and improve it. 

The Live Lincs rural touring scheme has been superb for Worlaby and the surrounding area. Not only providing quality entertainment for our residents but providing much-needed income for the upkeep of the hall. Because the quality of acts has been consistently high, it makes it easy for me, as a promoter, to sell tickets. I usually only have to put out a promotion email to our locals and the demand for tickets comes flooding in!

We usually fill the hall which creates a great atmosphere for the entertainers as well as providing a memorable night for the residents.  As a promoter of the scheme for Worlaby, the most rewarding time is getting good feedback from our audience after a performance. I then feel satisfied that I have chosen well! It’s particularly rewarding when the entertainers also provide good feedback that we have looked after them well.

Thanks to my wife Pam and our volunteer helpers, performers always get well fed at Worlaby!

I hope the funding for this scheme continues and Blaize continues to provide such a high standard and diverse mix of entertainers. Long may it continue!

Richard Beeforth
LiveLincs Promoter.

How The NRTF Works with Village Halls – and how you can join in!

Friday, January 25, 2019

Water Yeat Village Hall, a Highlights Rural Touring Venue

This week is National Village Halls Week and across the country thousands of village halls are hosting special events, on top of their already packed schedules, to celebrate.

Village Halls are integral to the work of rural touring.  Of course, rural touring events happen in spaces of all shapes, sizes and varieties. From community centres to libraries, but Village Halls play a huge role in providing their communities with arts and culture activities, through rural touring and otherwise.

But how does the NRTF work with these village halls?

Through Schemes

Our main link to village halls is through the Rural Touring Schemes. Schemes cover specific geographical areas and most will put together a programme of events, like any theatre or venue would do, across a season. However, instead of programming several rooms or spaces within one building they are programming work across whole areas, using Village Halls and other community venues.

The NRTF works closely with Schemes to advocate for arts and culture within rural areas and to support them in being able to continue our joint mission of making every village a cultural hub.

You can find your nearest Rural Touring Scheme here.

Through Specific Projects

As well as supporting schemes in their core work, the NRTF is also a partner in a number of projects which directly help Village Halls and Schemes to deliver high-quality performances in their spaces and areas.

The Rural Touring Dance Initiative is one such project. Contemporary dance suitable for rural spaces is hard to come by – the RTDI aims to change that! We work with dance companies to think about how they can make work suitable for rural spaces, and we work with schemes and promoters to help them build audiences.

Another project we are currently helping to deliver is a Social Impact Study ‘CONCERTA’ which has been a national research project into how rural touring impacts rural areas, from delivering culture on your doorstep to making long term social and economic impacts on a community.

You can find out more about Our Work here.

Via our Membership

If you’re a Village Hall promoter already associated with a scheme then you can join the NRTF as a member. This gives you access to our discussion boards where you can pose questions and discuss rural touring with colleagues nationally. You’ll receive weekly bulletins which highlight funding opportunities along with other things, and you’ll get access to some small grants and early access to conferences and other events.

If you’re a village hall and you’re not yet associated with a local Rural Touring Scheme then we can help put you in touch! And if there isn’t a scheme in your area (very unlikely) then we can help connect you to rural touring artists and other projects.

Find out more about becoming an NRTF member here.

Guest Blog: Blaize interview Jazz Musician Dave Newton

Tuesday, January 22, 2019

This Week is National Village Halls Week, and the NRTF have teamed up with ACRE to celebrate along with our rural touring schemes, promoters and artists. All week we will be releasing new content here on the blog and over on our Social Media to celebrate just how much Village Halls do for their community.

Today we have a guest blog post from Blaize who deliver Rural Touring events through Live Lincs (North Lincolnshire) and Artery (East Yorkshire).

To find out more about Blaize and their programming visit their website. 

Remember if you have a Rural Touring Story you’d like to share, email us admin@nrtf.org.uk


This week, (22-28 Jan) The National Rural Touring Forum highlights the vital role that village halls can play in rural communities.

Here at Blaize, we decided to join the celebrations! We decided it would a good idea to hear from one of the acts we commissioned about their experiences of touring small venues. Last season audiences in East Yorkshire and North Lincolnshire couldn’t get enough of jazz musicians, Dave Newton and Alan Barnes and having heard them play, we can understand why. The two have been playing duets together for over 40 years. These multi award-winning performers cover a vast repertoire from Louis Armstrong to Chick Corea. Their fantastic music, coupled with their interaction with smaller, more intimate audiences is what made each of their tour dates with us such a fabulous success. We spoke to Dave about what it was like for him, playing to audiences in village venues. Here is what he shared with us.

Q. Ok, Dave, so you’ve obviously performed to audiences large and small – what’s the largest audience you’ve ever played before and what’s the smallest? (roughly) Which do you prefer (if any) and why?


A. The largest physical audience I can remember was when I played as part of the support group for a Frank Sinatra concert at Ibrox football stadium and that was about 10,000 people but playing live solo piano for radio broadcasts on Radio 2 where the audiences would have been in hundreds of thousands was probably more nerve-wracking. As to the smallest, I sometimes play for people in their house and that can be to as little as ten folk lounging on easy chairs in a nice room with a lovely grand piano that might not get used very often. I really don’t have a preference. I enjoy playing in most settings.


Q. What do you like about rural touring? You build a very good rapport with your audience – does it feel more intimate in a rural setting? What is the secret of connecting with an audience – is it easier or harder in a smaller venue?

A. Rural touring for the most part, means playing to people that are unfamiliar with jazz or improvised music but having it brought closer to them means it’s easier to pluck up the courage and go and see for themselves that it’s not as esoteric, discordant or unfathomable as some would have them believe. In fact, if delivered with some humour, it can actually be quite entertaining. The village hall is a wonderful setting to hear acoustic music as you are up close and there’s no distraction which give the listener the chance to absorb themselves in the music completely.

Q. Do you have any anecdotes about rural touring you could share with us?

A.I can’t think of any anecdotes other than the apologies forthcoming from a lady who was running one particular village hall who was five minutes late in arriving because she’d been up in the hills ‘doing the lambing’ all afternoon and had forgotten the time! They really are fantastic people who deserve fantastic music.

Q. Is it difficult being on the road, driving long distances away from home or is it just something you get used to?

A. I love getting into the car and going somewhere new so it’s always been 50% of the job for me and as a result, nowhere feels obscure, just different.

Q. Why do you think rural touring is important? Should we make an effort to do more of it? 

A. The feedback from our rural audiences has been marvellous and very vocal from people who once lived in cities but now live a country life and are thrilled the city has come to them for a change.

Q. Is it difficult working in smaller halls with equipment etc and sound?

A. We have never had any technical difficulties as there’s only the two of us and there’s never a shortage of plug points or anything of that nature. In fact, it’s usually much easier to get in and out of village halls as you can get the car right up to the door!

Q. What would you say to other large acts considering the rural touring circuit? 

As long as a group has keyboard equipment of their own, I would encourage anybody to get involved in rural touring if I thought their music was the right mixture of ingredients. I can only reiterate my observation of earlier, that the audiences and especially the volunteers, really are fantastic people who deserve fantastic music.


If you’re an artist looking to get more involved with Rural Touring then be sure to check out NRTF Membership here.