Reminiscence of how Grovehill Youth Club came to be built
Alan Naylor (previously Rev Alan Naylor-Smith)
Early Days. Grovehill Youth Club really began in a small way when young people got together on Friday evenings at my house in Craigavon Road. I do not remember how frequently we met ; probably not that often? But meet we did.
Grovehill at that time was, it must be said, a rather desolate place. Grovehill School, later to become Astley Cooper School, was there, as were a Doctor’s Surgery and Hammond School for Infant and Junior Children. The only Church was Cupid Green Church, with a very small and rather cold hall round the back. But there were no shops, no centre, no youth club, or other place for people young or old to meet.
Meanwhile the Anglican (C of E) and Baptist churches were working to provide the growing community with a temporary Church and Community centre. We purchased from Lovell’s (the phase 1 building contractors) their unwanted building site office. Then a group of new residents, together with some church people from the town collapsed the building into sections and transported it in lightly falling snow on the back of a trailer pulled by a tractor to a new vacant site in Runcorn Crescent.
There the “Temporary Church and Community Centre” was built. Much of the work was voluntary; some people came from the neighbourhood, with some young people, some church people from Town Churches, including a fantastic Baptist minister, Ron Newis, who had been an electrician earlier in his career who put in all the electrics. We had professional help from two carpenters; and we also needed financial help from the Town Council to complete the work.
This temporary centre consisted of a small hall at one end and a large hall at the other; and there was a kitchen, toilets and a boiler room. In this we installed an oil fired 'pot' boiler which was lit by flooding the pot with oil and then throwing in a bit of lighted paper, and standing back. There would be a loud explosion as the oil ignited. The heating was now on! What would Health & Safety say now?!!
This temporary Centre was used as a church; and as a meeting place for a variety of groups including an old people's club, Guides and Brownies and a play group; and there was a Junior Youth Club on Thursdays and a Senior Youth Club on Fridays. This remained the situation for a number of years.
James Hannaway with some of the members of the club outside The Old Huts
The New Club
But Grovehill was of course growing. A further hall was added to the temporary centre. But the provision was totally inadequate. And around 1972 work began on a new Church and Community Centre. But there were not enough funds to incorporate provision for young people. So the youth club approached the planning authorities for permission to take over the Temporary Centre and use it as a Youth Club.
The local residents in Runcorn Crescent objected; and they got the support of the prospective Conservative candidate, Nicholas Lyle. There was an election coming up, so the situation was tense. I rang Nick up and asked him if he was aware that if planning permission was rejected, the Youth Club would have to close and there would be no provision for young people in an area that was already desperately short of facilities. This put Nick in a difficult position; he had promised the Runcorn Crescent residents that he would oppose planning permission. But he also saw the importance of the Youth Club for young people. The resolution to this problem was found in giving the youth club permission to carry on with their work at the temporary centre, but limiting this time so that the youth club would have to move to new permanent buildings within a stipulated time.
So we set about raising funds for this new venture. The management committee was strange mix of people. I was the local vicar and had a lot of contacts locally, and could often get people together to find solutions to problems. Then there was Alan Clooney; he had built his own house in Grovehill, in partnership with a self build group. Alan was very practical and calm, and excellent at getting jobs done.
Then there was James Hannaway. James was the Youth Leader in Grovehill and had a great relationship with the young people.
Then finally there was a treasurer whose name I cannot remember; but he too was an invaluable member of this team.
We set about fundraising in a great variety of ways, while at the same time approaching the county council, the Commission for the Newtown and the borough Council for funding for the new building. All promised their support, but I think the County Council were banking on our not raising the funds. But raise them we did, and this meant the county council had to find their bit. They then said they could not after all afford it. This was a disaster for us; the building costs were rising rapidly at this time and we had no chance of our funding keeping pace with the costs of inflation. At an emergency meeting Nick Lyle gave us strong support, as did a number of other people; the county council gave in and we had the money to build a youth centre.
So plans were drawn up and we went out to tender. But when the quotes came in they were all too high and we could not afford them. We were in a terrible position; to stop meant abandoning all hope of building a youth club in the near future. But to go ahead and build seemed impossible too. Alan Clooney came to our rescue. He stated that we should manage the contract ourselves and use a series of subcontractors to do the work. I said no, no ,no, -there was no way that we ought to get involved in that sort of detailed work and accepting such a heavy responsibility. My fear was that we would run out of money with the building only half finished, and then what would happen?
But Alan slowly convinced us, and so we went ahead with managing the project ourselves. This work was undertaken by Alan, James, the treasurer and the architect. And together they did brilliantly. Building contractors put in the foundations, then young building apprentices moved in to do the brick laying. Later electricians from an Army training school came in to complete all the electrical work. And all this was free except for the cost of materials. And so it went on; different people making their contributions; and eventually the work was completed.
Grovehill had their own new purpose-built youth club, and this is a wonderful result which came through having such a great team of people.
I wish the present club well as they seek to meet the different needs of different generation of young people.
PS James Hannaway is now famous in the area as the person who got the Rex in Berkhamsted rebuilt and refurnished. It is good to think that he had his first experience of managing contracts at Grovehill Youth Club before, after a number of different jobs in the town, he took on the restoration of the cinema. He is now involved in a similar restoration project in St Albans.
Ray Wilby sent this message when he read Alan Naylor's account of the building of the Youth Club.
'I was one of the youngsters who regularly went to Alan's house for chats and a cuppa, also I was one of those who man-handled sections of the community centre from St Agnells Lane to its present position. It was a task and a half I can assure you, but we needed a place to go to meet. Without Alan the youth of the early Grove Hill would have had no direction in life and nowhere to go, he is an inspiration.'
Alan died in January 2012.
Click on the button to read Alan's moving poem about a day's experience of living with Parkinson's Disease.