A brief History of Bowburn Community Centre

(This summary was originally prepared for publication on www.bowburn.net. At present, that no longer has information about the Community Centre.)

The Community Centre in Bowburn was built in 1961 as the second Bowburn Miners Welfare Hall and Institute. The first Miners Institute had been opened on 26th February 1921, when a Roll of Honour, on which the names were inscribed of 35 men who had fallen in the First World War, was unveiled by Rev. Thomas Wardle, vicar of St. Paul's, then the Parish Church of Cassop-cum-Quarrington.

The roll of honour was on brass, mounted on marble and framed in oak. It was dedicated by Rev. A.J. Gadd, former vicar of St. Paul's and then honorary chaplain to HM Forces. Prayers were said by Rev. G.R. Bell. The plaque has remained in the Miners Welfare ever since, moving to the new building (now Bowburn Community Centre) after it was built in 1961. Four more names were added in 2001.

The original Institute was built by Bell Bros., owners of Bowburn Colliery, who also donated the memorial. It was later known as the Green Hut Welfare, in contrast to today's building, which built across the road from it, in 1961. Under the 1920 Mines Industry Act, provision had been made for establishing a fund to improve social conditions for miners and their families. Many NE collieries opened new welfare halls and built parks, sports grounds and other amenities. The Institute was leased by the colliery company to the workmen and comprised billiard rooms, reading rooms and a large hall. On 4th February 1929, an additional 0.35 acres of land and wooden institute thereon were leased from Dorman Long & Co. (now the Colliery owners), to extend the Institute. Signatories on the new lease were Peter Harle and John Gladstone Ramsay (the Colliery Manager and Under-Manager) and miners Robert Willey and Joseph Cook Smart. The building was well-used throughout its history, not just by miners organizations but by churches and other bodies.

On 22nd July 1961, the new Miners Welfare Hall (now Bowburn Community Centre) was opened, replacing the wooden Institute over the road. A plaque in the foyer reads: This Welfare Hall was opened on 22nd July 1961 by W.L. Lowson Esq. Mr. Lowson was the former Colliery manager, having retired in January. By a 99-year lease dated 24/4/1964 (but effective from 6/5/1960, i.e. before the centre was built), 1.25 acres containing the social welfare centre were leased to four foundation trustees two nominated by the NCB (Walter Harrison, keeker, of 12, Grange Park Crescent, and Stanley Charlton, Colliery manager, of Hoggersgate House) and two nominated by the NUM (Joseph Wright, shot-firer, of 64, Park Avenue, and Robert Arkwright, stoneman, of 5,Walker Street). The general control of the scheme was vested in a Management Committee consisting of the foundation trustees plus nine members appointed by the NCB, nine by the NUM, two by the Durham Education Committee and two others (to represent those not engaged in mining) appointed by the rest of the Committee. The lease set a rent of £5 p.a. The new Welfare Hall was built at a cost of £74,000, allocated by the Coal Industry Social Welfare Organization, through its Durham Divisional Welfare Committee. The previous tenant of this land had been John G. Hare, of Bowburn Farm (across the road from Tweddle Terrace, near the Hare & Greyhound.)

The old Welfare Hall remained in use as a youth club. (The annual meeting of the Bowburn & District Youth Centre was held there, for instance, on 19/2/1962, and the DJ Evans Youth Club did not open until 1963.) It was demolished, however, in 1964.

A licensed bar was used for first time in the new Welfare Hall on 31st December 1963, at a New Years Eve dance. Serving at the bar were Bob Bellis, Fred Jones and Tommy Gordon. (The last two were outside members, being a police tailor and a self-employed builder, not miners.) The bar had been built by Harry Bainbridge and Mr. Coates jnr., both NCB joiners. On Tuesday 28th May 1963, the Hall was filled when Walter Harrison opened a gala night concert by past and present members of the Bowbells party. The compare and pianist were Mr. & Mrs. Freeman. The Bowbells were famous for their concerts throughout the county.

In October 1964, Bowburn Womens Institute celebrated its 40th birthday in the Welfare Hall, with a supper followed by entertainment. Founding member Mrs. Holmes was present and Mrs. Willey presided. The toast was given by Mesdames Bowman, Haigh, Baker and Wright, who had also been members for 40 years.

On 17th May 1967, a special meeting of the Bowburn Colliery Consultative Committee was held in the Miners Welfare Hall to discuss the NCB proposals for closure of the Colliery. Last coals were drawn on 20th July that year and, after a year of salvage work, the Colliery finally closed in 1968.

The Centre did not cease to operate, however. Indeed it continued to be well-used. Apart from normal day-to-day activities (like the snooker room), there were some major events. In September 1971, BBC Radio Gardeners Question Time was held here and in 1972, Chay Blythe, circumnavigator of the world, gave a slide show. (This visit was organized by MacKays Carpets.)

However it was clear that the building could not operate indefinitely as a miners welfare and institute, now that the pit had closed. So a public meeting was held on 25th October 1977 and a steering committee formed. On 11th April the next year Bowburn Community Association held its inaugural meeting and a constitution was adopted.

The President of the new Association was JJ Ramshaw, Chairman J. Tommy Robinson, Vice-chairman Terry Mills, Secretary Maureen Anderson, and Treasurer Fred Jones. The rest of the Committee consisted of J. Bowman, L. Brown, G. Egglestone, J. Gething, Mrs. G. Goodwin, T. Gowland, R. Grey, G. Knox, J. Lethbridge, T. Lynn, S. Marr, C. McCormick, W. McFeggan, E. Smith, G. Stoker, M. Syer and Mrs. J. Todd.

On 29th March, 1982, a deed of variation to the lease of the Bowburn social welfare scheme (including the community centre), by the NCB to the foundation trustees, formally vested the general management of the scheme to a committee appointed by Bowburn Community Association plus not less than two appointed by the Coal Industry Social Welfare Organization (CISWO). The Trustees at this time were Ralph Walton (4, West Park, East Herrington), Stanley Charlton (The Gables, Trimdon Grange, formerly Hoggersgate House, Tursdale) and Joseph Wright (5, Park Hill Estate).

The Community Association has officially been responsible for the Community Centre ever since. With the privatization of the coal mining industry in the 1990s, ownership of the land and building passed first from British Coal (formerly the NCB, of which CISWO had been a part) to the Coal Authority and then back to CISWO, which had in 1991 been re-established as a national, independent charity. Bowburn Community Association is therefore the tenant of CISWO to this day.

Recent noteworthy events at Bowburn Community Centre have included an ecumenical service on 7th Mary 1995, to mark the 50th Anniversary of VE Day and the end of World War II. The service was in two parts, the first in the Centre and the second at the site of the new Bowburn War Memorial 'to those who fell in war to give us peace'. The parade included West Cornforth branch of Royal British Legion, Navy Club, RAF, Army Cadets, Gateshead and Chester-le-Street Sea Cadets and Air Force Cadets. Three years later, on 26th July 1998, a Book of Remembrance to Bowburn men who died in World War II was dedicated in the Community Centre. A parade marched down from the Oak Tree public house and Gerry Steinberg M.P. attended the ceremony. The cabinet containing the Book was made by local cabinetmaker, John Johnson, using oak from Bowburn Methodist Church pews, and has since had pride of place in the foyer.

On 17th April 1998, the Child Health Clinic closed after 30 years at the Centre, due to the substandard nature of facilities. (The health visitors had used the Board Room and the doctor used the tiny office.) Five months later, on 18th September, the Clinic was officially re-opened by Gerry Steinberg, M.P., in the converted Ladies Cloakroom. (It closed, however, in 2004, when the service was transferred to the communal hall in Marlene Avenue, Bowburn.)

On 12th November 1999, the Computer room was officially opened by Gerry Steinberg, M.P. Also present were representatives of the projects sponsors, PC Henderson, Northern Electric and East Durham & Houghall Community College. Funding was also granted by the National Lottery Charities Board.

On 28th October 2001, a memorial plaque to four men killed in World War I, was unveiled in the foyer by Cllr. George Cowper, Mayor of Durham. There was already a plaque there, with 35 names on, the one that had signalled the opening of the original Miners Institute in 1921. (A further plaque was at that time in Christ the King Church, originally placed in St. Pauls Church, Quarrington Hill, and subsequently relocated in Quarrington Hill Community Centre. This other plaque included men from Cassop and Quarrington Hill, as well as Bowburn. (However there had been four Bowburn men whose names were not on either this or the Miners Welfare plaques.)

On 2nd July 2003, a fire at P.C. Henderson sliding door factory destroyed the GRP (glass reinforced plastic) shop. Following fire klaxon just before 11.00am, all 250 (approx.) employees assembled safely in the car park. (None were hurt.) They then transferred, together with those from other evacuated units on the industrial estate, to Bowburn Community Centre, where volunteers served them tea and biscuits.