A Brief(ish) History of Hanham Folk Centre

It all started during World War II. A group of 1914/18 Veterans who served in the Civil Defence Services felt there nothing remaining after the war and that opportunities must be found to preserve the comradeship established through the suffering and hardships of WWII. As a result of this in 1943, a group of five men and one woman began to hold private meetings in their own houses.

They discussed plans for a social centre where, under peaceful and happier conditions, local residents could meet and share their leisure. The made a resolution ‘To build a hall suitable for public meetings, dramatic performances, dance, lectures rooms, a canteen and playing field. The building was to be suitable foe education and recreation for both sexes of all ages, a place where particularly the Youth of the District can find an environment to equip them with the skills of good citizens. The outcome of these meetings was a public meeting called in July 1943 where an Investigation Committee of 24 members was formed from representatives of local associations, churches and from Trade and industry.hfc Old building

Money raising schemes were organised and social evenings were held in Samuel White’s School (located in the High Street) and Hanham Abbot’s School. Early in 1944 it became known that a piece of land in the High Street would be on the market. Any without further consideration a certain public-spirited gentlemen purchased the land for £3,100. The site was visited by a Mr Tompkins (H.M.I).

A second public meeting was called under the chairmanship of Mr Harry Crook in the hall at Hanham Abbot’s School. The result was the Investigation Committee was re-titled ‘The General Committee’ and they were given powers to raise funds to purchase the site. A public appeal was launched, and with the aid of some interest free loans, the money was raised. A name was needed for the proposed centre and a public competition, judged by Mr John Bennett (Literary Editor Bristol Evening World) produced the name ‘Hanham Folk Centre’.

A total of £800 was raised by public subscription, with many other larger donations. The Schools were used to Whist Drives and Drama performances all to raise the much-needed cash. Following this, the first of Hanham Horse Show was held and raised £410. Planning for a temporary building was discussed, and by Nov 1944 over £2000 had been raised.

A third public meeting was called in December 1945. Now there was an organisation with assets, and it became necessary to create a body of trustees. Mr Watkins (Education Secretary) quoted a book on community centres called ‘The Red Book’ and from this the Trust Deed was created. The trustees were Mr Frank Elbrow, Mr Willis, Mr Alec Bush and they formed the Trust Deed which remained in place until 2001.

In Sept 1946 an application was made for Grant Aid, plans were submitted to the council in November and were approved in early 1947. In 1947 the War Memorial had to be re-sited from Whittucks Road and the Folk Centre granted permission for its re-erection on the present site. The 1918 War Memorial Committee were recalled and were responsible for the gates and railings. The local council made themselves responsible for the gardens. The gates and railings were dedicated to Rev Plowright in April 1948.

About the same time, the Trustees were able to purchase the Sports Field in Hanham Abbotts for £1,800, enabling them to provide outdoor as well as indoor activities. The centre also produced its first magazine and membership was set at 5/-.

In June 1948 two second hand Hutments were purchased and erected over a 6-month period at a cost of £3152. On Saturday March 29th 1949 the Hanham Folk Centre was opened by Alderman Alpass MP. {See Picture}
A second horse show in Feb 1949 raised £312, and a warden was appointed (Mr Novak). Membership was at 270, Overdraft £1260, Loans £1500 and need £400 per annum to cover costs. The centre developed and many activities flourished, a Ladies section was formed in May. The committee still hoped to have a really fine centre and were working to increase the balance in the New Building Fund. They held a Community Week in Sept 1949 to advertise activities

Restrictions on the level of grant to £4000 meant either a smaller building or further delays. By January 1950 income was not sufficient to cover the costs. Membership had risen to 392 and a youth hut was erected. A new warden was appointed in June (Mr Harold Turner) and a social evening was held in July 1952. The centre now had a credit balance of £112.

My March 1951 plans were being drawn up to develop the playing fields, membership had fallen to 319, running costs had risen to £600 pa but sections are meeting and exceeding their targets. By February 1953 two cricket teams, a rugby team and a netball team were using the sports field. Income exceeded expenditure by £353 and running costs had risen to £780.

Archery Section – 1949
Old Time Dance Section – 1949
Bridge Section – 1949
By the end of 1953 the centre has 400 members and developed it’s own tie and colours. In March 1953 the first Annual Birthday supper was held and six-a-side football began. By 1956 membership had risen further with a lot of youths. £100 was spent on the Car Park and billiard table, and in 1957 an orchestra was formed and the centre was re-decorated by volunteers.

In 1958, the snooker section won the Bristol and District Snooker League Championship. Drama won an award as did Badminton, and a pottery section was formed bring the total number of activities to 25. Running costs were stable at £800 pa and £250 was moved to the building fund account. A children’s Gymkhana was held in June with over 70 entries for one class and there was an Art Exhibition in October which attracted over 550 visitors. 12,000 copies of magazine were printed and distributed.

1960. £658 in the bank with 28 sections operating in the building, including: Billiards, Snooker, Badminton, Bridge, Cricket, Canteen, Clinic, Drama, Dressmaking, Ladies Section, Needlework, Old Time dancing, Orchestra, Relaxation classes, Rugby Club, Six-a-side football, Whist drives, OAPs club and a Choir. In all over 1000 people a week come into the centre.

In July 1962, Miss Emmerson-Price (an Ministry of Education Architect) visited the Centre and changes our fortune. The grant offer was raised to £10,000 and was supplemented by £6,000 from Gloucestershire. As a result, a much grander new building was planned costing £30,000 (The architect was Mr B Woodward).Plans for the new building, relatively small in 1961, were radically changed in 1962. Miss Emerson Price (a Ministry of Education Architect) visited the centre in July and subsequent to further discussions the grant offer from the Ministry was raised to £10,000, which supplemented the Glos. C.C. offer of £6,000.

As a result, plans for the new Centre became more ambitious. The architect, Mr. B. Woodward produced the new design and by July 1963 work was commenced by F.H. Elbrow Ltd. The building (cost £80,000) was completed in 1964, and the opening ceremony took place on 6th June. It was opened by the President, Mr. Harry Crook, on the 16th June 1964, and was followed by a Gala Dance.

For the first time a temporary bar operating in the Craft Room. This system for functions continued for several years until a Social Club was formed catering for both the Centre and the Sports Ground Pavilion.

Spacious though the new centre was, it soon proved inadequate for the needs of the community and indeed for existing sections. So in the early seventies an annexe was built behind the centre with a separate entrance and detached from the main building.

hfc old LoungeIn the 1970’s cricket was rapidly changing. League cricket arrived and with it the need for a bar at the pavilion. The pavilion had suffered severely from wear and a decision was made not only to refurbish the existing wooden structure, but to add it to a lounge car area also suitable for small functions. At the same time, in the centre, a permanent bar and store were built at the end of the craft room.

With this completed the Social club, now formed, was fully operational. By Law this Club with its own constitution and officers, was licensed in October 1976.

In 1972 the Warden, Harold turner, retired, while 1979 would see the last warden. During the ’70’s the centre was increasingly let to outside organisations for parties, weddings and regular weekly activities such as Keep Fit. Undoubtedly the formation of the Social Club with its permanent bar helped.

By 1980 the Centre had changed considerably. The craft room was a lounge bar with voluntary bar staff. The sports pavilion saw the arrive of the Tennis Club in May 1974. Two courts had been constructed in a triangular area, well outside the cricket playing area.

The need for further expansion got underway in 1982 at the rear of the centre and to incorporate the annexe into the new complex. The work was completed in 1984 and opened with a simple afternoon function in the Wessex Suite on 29th October. The Wessex Suite, accommodated in excess of 80 people, plus the members bar was doubled in size.

By 1985 membership reached 1900. All activities were flourishing, particularly the Bridge section established in the Avon Room situated upstairs above the Wessex Suite. It was not surprising that thoughts turned to further expansion. The lack of a bar in the Elbrow Hall and the cramped backstage room for Drama productions were foremost in the 1988 outlined plans for a wraparound extension.

In 1989 the Administrator resigned to be replaced by Mrs. Nunn. The new extensions were completed and opened on the 25th April 1990 and gave a completely new look to the front and side elevation of the centre. The large Whittuck Room in the front of the building led to a new backstage area both behind and at the side of the stage. The Elbrow Hall looked completely different by the addition of a seating area and bar facility plus major redecorations and new lighting.

The 1990’s passed without further major alterations. Financial restraints, due to repayment of bank loans, continued throughout and only refurbishments were possible. These restraints were due entirely to a right-of-way dispute across the car park and land owned by the Folk Centre. Membership declined to around 1,200 and Social Club income was affected. By the turn of the century the annual subscription had reached £6.50 and the annual income around £120,000.

One welcome anniversary was a celebration dinner on 19th May 1995. 50 years had passed since the first trust Deed and the guest of honour for the evening was Mr. Hubert DEARNLEY, M.B.E., Clerk to the K.U.D.C. from 1941-1971.

With a fresh constitution, now called a Governing Document, agreed with the Charity Commissioners and approved by the membership at the 56th A.G.M. on 13th December 2001, a new era was beginning. It will see many changes. By 2002, the membership was about 1000, with a fee of £7.50 and an annual turnover of £150K.

The right-of-way issue continues, despite generous offers to our neighbour there would seem to be a lack of willingness to settle the matter over the exact route. Also in 2002 the Development Forum was set up to act as a focal point for internal fundraising events, and since then has organised the Holly Fayre, Xmas Eve and NYE parties as well as many Car Boot Sales and table top sales – raising over £15,000. With the growing legislative environment the centre also joined a number of community support organisations. Over the next period into 2004, the original ladies and gents toilets were replaced, a new disabled toilet added – the flat roof was also replaced.
2003 saw a rise in vandalism and youth harassement and saw the installation of CCTV and a much enhanced alarm system, as well as the arrival a a networked computer system and the website. In 2004 the main foyer underwent a major refurbishment, with automatic doors, ramp access, new floor and lighting and better access into the building and lounge bar.
In 2005 the refurbishment of the original building continued with the Elbrow Suite redeorated, and at the same time community services volunteer made a grand job decorating the majority of the building. On the down side, several ‘key’ Trustees resigned leaving a very small core working very hard to maintain the building and its services.

Chairmen: 1945-2005

1944-46 Mr. Frank Elbrow (Founder Chairman)
1946-47 Rev. Ernest Plowright
1947-49 Mr. Alec Bush
1949-50 Mr. David Evans
1951-52 Mr. Len Jones
1952-53 Mr. Alec Bush
1953-54 Mr. Alf Jefferies
1954-55 Mr. Arthur Perks
1955-56 Mr. Joe Twyford
1956-57 Mr. Theo Britton
1957-59 Mr. Eddie Edmunds
1959-67 Mr. Alec Bush
1967-71 Mr. Eddie Edmunds
1971-75 Mr. Trevor M. Jones
1975-77 Mr. E. Don Cox
1977-79 Mrs. Betty Yard
1979-82 Mr. Denis Nash
1982-84 Mr. Eddie Lewis
1984-91 Mr. Denis Nash
1991-94 Mr. Les Baldwin
1994-99 Mrs. Dilwen Guy
2000-05 Mr. Mike Thorne
2005- Mr. Kevin Lawrence