Wickford Youth Centre
Do you remember any of the Youth Centres?
The Spring 2016 Borough Diary of Basildon Borough Council mentions that a “Youth Drop Zone” has been set up for 12-19 year olds in Wickford. It seems to be what at one time would have been called a “youth club” where young people could meet and take part in a range of social and sporting activities. As many readers will know this is not the first time something like this has been set up. A similar centre was founded in the Second World War.
There are some records of the wartime Youth Centre held in the Essex Record Office. They are in the form of the Minutes of the Centre House Committee between 1941 and 1948 and comprise a single hard backed exercise book in which some entries have been typed up and stuck in while others are directly written in longhand. They don’t tell us exactly what went on at the Centre. Perhaps some readers can fill in the details. Meanwhile we have to read between the lines of what the Minutes tell us.
In 1941 the fairly great and fairly good of Wickford decided that the youth of the town needed to be kept occupied. On the 3rd of December representatives of various local groups and an unspecified number of young people met at the Senior School and agreed that a Youth Centre should be established. Among those present were Mr Rose from the Senior School representing the Old Scholars Club, Mrs Hodson from Rawreth School, representing the Evening Institute, Mr Payne from Ethelred Gardens, representing the Boy Scouts, the Rev Munson represented the Boys Brigade, Mrs Smith of the Gresham Café spoke for the Girl Guides and Mrs Hansford from Swan Lane for the Girls Life Brigade. Also present were Mr Watts from Morland Road and Miss Turner from Egbert Gardens. It was decided that Mrs Hodson would be the Warden, assisted by Miss Nummelin. Mr Watts would become the Chairman of the House Committee and youth representatives would be given the task of arranging a programme
In the first year a programme of four academic and four recreational classes were proposed. A revue would be held in April 1942 with the proceeds going to the Soldiers, Sailors and Airmen’s Families Association. The Centre would also be open on Sunday afternoons for the Church to run a Youth Fellowship Group.
The Centre acted as a base for various groups (Air Training Corps, Army Cadets and Sea Cadets for example). Groups and individuals had to pay their membership fees termly in advance. Among the classes were variety and dancing, led by Miss Upton, and physical training. By 1943 a gymnastics class was being held and there was a minor problem when “the box”, in which equipment was stored, was damaged. Although there were suspects, nobody was apprehended for causing the damage, as far as the Minutes record anyway.
Shorthand and Amateur Dramatics classes failed to take off in the first year though in the second year a Festival of One Act Plays was held. However a Girls Training Corps was formed and members helped organise, and act as hostesses at, the Christmas Party.
By 1944 there were 240 members and it was proposed that a canteen be organised. Members would be asked to volunteer and would probably have to contribute cutlery. Adult supervision would be needed and the House Committee wondered if the new Senior School Domestic Science teacher would be willing to do it. A canteen eventually began operating in January 1947. A supervisor would be paid 2/- an hour and a washer up would get 2/6 an evening. £6 was spent on crockery and wood was required to make a cupboard. Active groups in that year included drama, dancing, gym, first aid and a “Make and Mend” class. A violin class was suggested and it was agreed to as long as some violins could be provided. The Warden thought she would be able to get some for £3 each.
A Policy for the Centre
The Senior Committee decided that the Centre needed a formal policy of what it should do. Their meeting of May 1945 proposed that the WYC would provide young people of Wickford with adequate interest and recreation during their leisure hours. Membership would be open to local people at a cost of 2/6 a term in advance. Members would be expected to be courteous, well behaved, disciplined and a sense of responsibility was essential. Admission would be by membership card, signed by the Warden or her deputy and including the member’s name, address, record of subscriptions paid and a copy of the Centre’s policy. There was also a Junior Committee which was responsible for organising actual activities, like netball, football, dance, French and German lessons, shorthand and so on. This committee could send representatives to the Senior Committee but they could not vote. A group of people from Rayleigh were not allowed to join the Centre because not only were they not local enough, they were also ‘undesirables’. The Runwell Scouts wanted to use the School Hall but they were refused and told to ask the Runwell Youth Centre.
A Centre Library was requested because the town library was closed when members got home. The Committee would contact the Education Authority. Miss Rait, the County Librarian replied asking for further information. The Warden wanted better lighting along School Road because of the numbers, especially girls, using the Centre in the evening. The Committee began a correspondence with the County Highways and Byways Committee about street lighting.
In February 1946 it was agreed that Mr Banks from Rawreth would be paid to use converted school air raid shelters to run a model making class. The boxing class was also proving popular. In March concern was being expressed for the spiritual development of members. The Sunday Fellowship classes had apparently ceased. A small sub-committee including the Reverends Munson and Marles and the Warden would investigate. Centre membership stood at 385 in November 1946. There was an average attendance of 78% across 14 classes. In February 1947 eight Youth Centres in the area took part in a Drama Festival hosted by Wickford; the canteen did good business.
The authorities take over?
The local town Youth Centres appear to have been part of a structure which included Area and Regional Committees within the County structure. As the higher committees informed the town committee what it could and could not do the members of the local group began to think that they could do very little without referring up the management structure. Some members were beginning to feel that they had better things to do with their time than being involved on committees which could affect nothing. By December 1947 there were 114 members of the Centre compared to 413 one year before. The Senior House Committee decided more promotion of the Centre was needed. They also suggested having a longer enrolment period, acquiring more equipment, advertising in the cinema, sending out an “audax van”, and putting up posters. They considered setting up a Special Activities account so that they could deal with local events and donations without referring to a higher committee. 1948 saw the Centre holding a dance, a party, and closing on February 24th for a local election. On the 3rd March a “Welcome Home” dinner was held for members of the returning armed forces.
What happened next?
The Minutes of the final Committee meeting of 1948, the last recorded in this slightly battered exercise book, gave no date for the next meeting. Did the Youth Centre close down at this point? Perhaps readers can fill us in on what happened next.