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

of funds.


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