The welfare of the district’s elderly residents can be traced back to 1955 and the
foundation of the Basildon Urban District Old People’s Welfare Committee. This
committee contained representatives of several statutory bodies (e.g. Basildon
Development Corporation, and the National Assistance Board – Romford), as well as
several dozen voluntary organisations within the Basildon and Billericay area.
Amongst these organisations was the Old Age Pensioners’ Association for Wickford.
In the years which followed, the District Old People’s Welfare Committee established
several sub-committees which focussed on the needs of residents in different parts of
the district i.e. Basildon, Billericay, Laindon, Pitsea, Vange and Wickford. These sub-
committees held their meetings in various halls and community centres, as none had
premises of their own.
In 1964, the Wickford sub-committee was the first to obtain its own premises when
the Co-operative Society allowed the use of its Rest Room at 2 Jubilee Villas in the
Broadway, Wickford. The room was only small and was soon operating at maximum
capacity. The Wickford OPWC began exploring the options for alternative
accommodation and established its building fund.
By late 1965, Basildon Council planned to purchase a detached house at 27, Southend
Road, Wickford, and lease it to Wickford OPWC, on the understanding that the
organisation would fund the conversion of the building into a day centre for the
elderly. Offers of financial assistance for the project were made by Wickford Round
Table, The Inner Wheel Club of Wickford, the Rotary Club, and other local charities.
At an OPWC planning meeting held on 17 March 1966, it was proposed that the new
centre be called “The Priority Club”.
The lowest tender for the reconstruction of the premises was £5,500, far in excess of
the funds that were available. In order to reduce the cost of the works, the designs for
the first floor were modified, bringing the cost down by over £900, and the project
The Chairman of Basildon Council formally opened “Priority House”, the new home
for The Priority Club, in September 1967. The new accommodation was large enough
to provide a luncheon club, as well as various activities within the premises, together
with day trips and holidays.
The high level of use of Priority House made the Council consider developing a
purpose built day centre in Wickford, along the lines of the George Hurd Centre in
Basildon. However, when the plans for a day centre were shelved, the Wickford
OPWC decided to enlarge Priority House, by extending the lounge on the west side of
the building. This extension was completed by early 1981.
For many years, Priority House was financially independent thanks to the generosity
of Basildon District Council. It had granted the Wickford OPWC a peppercorn lease
of the premises for 21 years. Although the Priority Club was not a registered charity,
the Council enabled the club to claim both mandatory and discretionary relief on its
business rates. The Council also provided the club with an annual contribution
towards its operating costs, an amount usually in the region of £2,000.
In 2002, Basildon Council began exploring the possibility of the wholesale
redevelopment of Lower Southend Road, Wickford. The first phase of that
development would be a housing block, to be situated on the site of Priority House,
and adjacent premises. It was planned that the new development would incorporate
accommodation for a replacement Priority House. It had been hoped that the new
accommodation would increase the space available for recreational activities, but the
replacement was barely larger than the original.
To enable the site to be developed, the Priority Club had to temporarily vacate the
site. The developer offered temporary premises across the road, opposite the old
Priority House moved into its temporary premises in 2005. The temporary home
lasted longer than anticipated, and it was not until July 2009, that the Priority Club
moved back over the road into its new premises.
The change in accommodation coincided with a more stringent financial approach
from Basildon Council. The following changes had a severe impact upon the finances
of Priority House.
a) The lease for the new premises was charged at a commercial rate of £5,000
p.a. with a reduction in proportion to the community benefit provided by the
Club. The Club was awarded the maximum benefit which reduced the annual
rent by 90%, leaving an annual rent of £500 to be paid.
b) The new lease was self-repairing, requiring the Club to meet a range of
maintenance costs not previously budgeted for,
c) The new lease also required the club to pay a service charge of £500 a year.
d) The Council also withdrew the annual contribution towards the Club’s
operating costs, a loss of about £2,000 p.a.
The increased expenditure, coupled with the loss of Council grant-aid resulted in
Priority House having to subsidise its operations from its limited financial reserves.
In January 2014, Basildon Council closed down the welfare catering kitchen at the
George Hurd Centre, resulting in the cessation of the hot meals which it had
previously supplied to the luncheon club at Priority House.
The loss of hot meals was the final nail in the coffin for Priority House. Whilst Mrs
Harper soldiered on providing hot meals on several days a week, the number of diners
declined. Mrs Harper deserves special mention, having served the elderly residents of
Wickford for nearly 50 years, since the first accommodation was found in 1965.
At the 2015 AGM, a decision was taken to wind up the organisation, before it ran out