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.

Setting up

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

Activities

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.

Correspondence

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.

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  • Really fascinating hearing all the views about Runwell YC, in particular the energy and efforts of Stan Caldwell. Stan put so much energy into building a link with the town of Emmerich in Germany which at the time was a wonderful bridge-building effort between the youths of two countries that were still recovering from WW2. Stan’s foresight in arranging football tours to Germany and arranging return events should have received more recognition.
    I was fortunate enough to have travelled to Emmerich with Runwell YC on the very last exchange trip – probably about 1960? As a result of that visit and previous and subsequent visits by my older sisters, we have maintained and developed our own family friendships that continue to this day. I have no doubt Stan would feel proud to know we now receive visits, and remain in contact with the grandchildren of the family I and my sisters stayed with during our visits to Emmerich.
    What’s more we turned out a pretty good football team!

    By John Cootes (04/12/2018)
  • In 1997 John Truss wrote to Jo Cullen, when she was Library Manager, about his days as a young person in Wickford, including memories of the Army Cadet Company and the youth club. During the Second World War John, with his ‘Wickford buddies’ John Nilsson and Maurice Lester, got permission to start an Army Cadet Company in the town.

    “We would parade two nights a week and Sunday Mornings on the Council School playground or at a big old house in the High Street opposite Helyers … and we would also practice small bore rifle shooting in the Nevendon Road brickfields, as well as attending Armistice Day and other important parades at the War Memorial at the Nurses Home in the Southend Road or in the cinema, when all groups from the Scouts up to the Home Guard would attend en masse.

    As we grew older there was the Youth Club in the secondary school where we could partake of sports, indoor or outdoor, music or amateur dramatics; I remember once we put on a short play called ‘The Crimson Coconut’. There were talent competitions as well, which were always won by a friend of my fiancée and me, the blond bombshell Emma Hughes who might have fancied herself as Doris Day.

    During the war of course there were always dances in aid of some charity such as Wings for Victory or the like. These would be held in the school hall or St Andrews’ Church Hall in London Road, or the Village Hall in Jersey Gardens, usually to the music of Bert Easton’s Blue Lagoon Band.

    Sunday nights our folks would walk down to the Quart Pot or across the fields to The Harrows Inn when I would always get a glass of lemonade and a packet of Smith’s crisps with the little twist of salt in blue paper.”

    By Maurice Wakeham (27/11/2018)
  • I just Googled ‘Runwell Youth Centre’ after watching my grandson win his cup final game on Sunday, and thought how my father, STAN CALDWELL, would have been so proud of him.
    Dad was the warden of Runwell Youth Centre from 1948 to 1960, and I spent my childhood watching football at the ground in the Southend Road with my mum on Saturdays.
    I was 8 years younger than my brother, Tommy, but remember so many of the boys and girls who were at the club, especially Josie Cootes and her sister Pat and her brother John who taught my son at Beauchamps School.
    Stan really loved his time at the Youth Centre, his father, also called Tommy Caldwell, had been a professional footballer and had played for West Ham United around 1909-1912, he was a left winger, left footed and right handed, as is my grandson Jamie!!!

    By Jean wood (nee Caldwell) (24/04/2018)
  • Hi Jo. It certainly has been a long time between drinks. I did not know your family had done so much in helping to look after the guests from Emmerich, and nice to know you still catch up with each other.
    On Wickford Memories I have two pics, one with the two youth teams that went to Emmerich and the other when we had the V.E day party down Highcliffe Road, with your dad helping to run it.
    Talking about army photos, I remember having one on my locker of you during my time in Cyprus.

    By Alan Beck (07/03/2018)
  • We still have contact with friends in Emmerich and see them at least once a year. Lots of amazing memories. Thanks to Stan.

    By Josargant (03/03/2018)
  • Stan was a very good friend of our family, we helped him find homes for the German lads’ football teams. We still have close contact with our friends from Emmerich and see them on a regular basis, normally once a year. He took our wedding photographs. Played table tennis with Tommy and always remember the apple pies we enjoyed at the youth centre. He was a great guy who played a great part in our life in the 50s, he even started an athletic team for us girls which was great. Lots of great memories. Alan Beck, you lived at the bottom of our garden, still have photos of you in your army days! Jo Cootes, now Sargant. Those were great days.

    By Josargant (03/03/2018)
  • Hi Jo I knew your grandad, he was a gas fitter for the North Thames Gas Board in Wickford, shop and flat were opposite Ladygate, my brother-in-law was an apprentice with him and later lived in flat above the shop.

    By bobcroot (30/05/2017)
  • There is other info on Wickford Youth Centres. I remember the Secondary school. We used to go way back in the late 40s and did all sorts of subjects. The canteen was good, and our school teachers took turns in running classes in the evenings, whether they got paid or it was voluntary I did not know, but I used to spend most evenings there. In the summer they used the quadrangle for sports etc. It kept us out of mischief, mum said.

    By bobcroot (30/05/2017)
  • Hi Jo.

    Sorry to hear about the death of your father Tommy.

    Some info on your grandad Stan Caldwell. I was a member of Runwell youth club in the early 50s and, seeing as we both lived on the estate at Highcliffe, your grandad used to pick me up on his motor-bike and sidecar to go to club and matches. No doubt your dad would have been with us as well, mind you in winter time it could get really cold in a side-car.

    Also your grandad was the photographer at our wedding in 1963 at St Catherine’s Church.

    Had the pleasure of going to Emmerich for the first time, I remember I stayed at a bakery, first time I had real coffee not out of a bottle. Sorry to say lost our first match 3-1. 

    Some names I remember – John Holbrook, Norm Goulding, Alan Death, Robert Catchpole, and of course your dad Tommy. Other names do not come to mind.

    Have a photo of the teams that went to Emmerich, only hope I can put it on Memories or history, not sure how it will go.

    As Geoff said I cannot remember a thing who paid for what but do remember having a few German lessons before we went and our games at Vista Road, I believe.

    Hope this helps a little.

    By Alan Beck (02/03/2017)
  • The old Infants School in Irvon Hill was turned into a Youth Centre after Beauchamps was opened in 1959. This was when the Juniors moved into the old Secondary School also in Irvon Hill.

    By Thelma Hornibrook (22/02/2017)
  • Hello Jo,

    I was a member of Runwell Youth Centre in the mid 50s and played football for the second team. Tommy was a star player in the first team, a very fast runner and played on the wing. He was also a very good table tennis and lawn tennis player. I think he played for Wickford and may even have played for Essex.

    The Youth Center was Stan’s baby, and pride and joy. He looked after all of us as his own. How this all worked I cannot tell you. I don’t remember paying to belong. Who paid our travel when we played away? Who washed our kit? It is so long ago I can’t remember if we met there every night or once a week. I can tell you our training run was Church End Lane, Runwell Road, Swan Lane and home. Mid winter in the dark was easier then than today.

    Tommy and I share the same Birthday, 8th June 1939. We also both worked for Marconi, Basildon, during a short period.

    Hope you find this a little interesting.

    By Geoff Fairey (06/12/2016)
  • ‘Googled’ my father, Tommy Caldwell, who passed Saturday.
    Geoff Fairey, I saw your comment, and how you mentioned my Grandad Stan Caldwell.  Would love to hear anything you have on my Grandad and Dad! 

    By Jo Caldwell Ignatius (11/10/2016)
  • I am sure I will not be the only one to make comment about this article. Runwell Youth Centre, in Church End Lane, was very active in the late 40s and 50s. Stan Caldwell was in charge. Their football team played in the Southend Minor league. Their “home ground” was in Southend Road, just before the railway bridge on the right hand side. They also had a very good table tennis team. An annual(?) football tournament was held against a youth team from the Ruhr district of Germany, (Emmerich?) Two of their players went on to play for Arsenal – “the Dove brothers”? Sorry I have left some questions for others to answer.

    By Geoff Fairey (09/04/2016)

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