They'll All Be Friends And Neighbours In Time (23 August 1974)
In one of her recent articles my Gazette colleague Susan, wondered “what sort of population this brave new city of ours” was going to have. She pointed out that the Wolverton Community Association was said to be defunct after only 18 months; that there was a fear that the Bradville Community Association might fold up; and that the Top Gear Social Club, formed only seven months previously, had a dwindling membership. She wondered at the apathy apparently underlying all this and rightly bemoaned it.
Well, if it any consolation to her – and I don’t suppose it is – I would say: “Cheer up, Susan ‘twas ever thus.”
The fact is that in this matter of community spirit, as in many other respects, the new city is only having the same experience that its constituent town of Bletchley had in its own rapid growth under the Town Development Act of 1952.
I have quite lost count of all the associations, clubs, societies and branches of national organisations that have been started and have then folded, some to be re-started and achieve success and the majority never to be heard of again.
Coming specifically to community associations, the first of these in Bletchley was set up at about the end of the second world war, when the town’s future expansion was little more than a pipe dream.
It enjoyed the supreme advantage of having a home to go to – the council acquired former Temperance Hall in George Street, which it still inhabits. Various sections were formed, including the Darby and Joan club, which soon had a membership of 250. Other sections also are still going, more or less strong.
It became a powerhouse of projects; but its own pet project was never achieved.
When town expansion became a certainty, a plan was made for the building of a large community centre in a position that would be more central for the new town, but for some reason or reasons it never got off the drawing board.
When planned development began, it started at the other end of the town with the Saints estate. Not all the Saints houses were built before a so–called “London Club” was formed. From this grew a West Bletchley Community Association, but not, I think, the West Bletchley Community Association we know today.
The association soon had several sections and also a news-sheet, just like those which have since come into being on the Lakes estate and up and down the new city. But the primary need was for a community centre and despite offers of help from one or two quarters this was where the association first faltered then fizzled until the football club was the only section that remained.
Finance was the stumbling block. At that time the terms were that the county council and urban council would each contribute a third towards the cost of a building provided the association contributed the other third. The association could not see their way to doing this.
The suggested site – about where the present West Bletchley Community Centre now is – also had little appeal for the people of the Saints estate and Whiteley Crescent.
It might just as well have been at Newton Longville for them. Besides which, the local old people – the Good Companions Club – were already nicely settled in at St. Mary’s Hall (now the Labour Hall) and would not wish to go further afield.
Incidentally, the new community centre at Wavendon was quickly built on the same terms. But then, there is a vast difference in togetherness between a growing village community and a brand new urban neighbourhood, however much we may theorise that there ought not to be.
It manifests itself in many social way – such as how village branches of the Royal British Legion flourish while town branches languish and die.
But mention of the former St. Mary’s Hall is significant. When the earliest London estates were planned and a–building, the existing churches saw it as their duty to provide for the spiritual needs and some of the social needs of the newcomers. They had sites earmarked by the council for that purpose.
Time was when that would have been a sure-fire way of welding people together.
The churches would have been a most potent social factor. But not now – and more’s the pity, for nothing half so effective has taken their place.
The Anglicans “accepted the challenge” by building the hall on Meager’s Hill. The Bishop of Oxford laid the foundation stone and expressed high hopes. The hall did not attract those it was designed to attract. Another hall was built in Church Green Road and the Meager’s Hill hall disposed of. The new “daughter” church of St. Frideswide’s was also built – but nobody had in mind a Lakes Estate at the time.
The Baptists were as early in the field and met with a better response. For some years they had had a mission hut at Trees Square. Now they bought sufficient land adjoining the Saints Estate to build both a church and a Sunday School. Only one of the buildings has yet transpired. Still, St. Andrew’s is a force.
The Methodists built premises at Warwick Road on the Castles Estate. For various reasons they sold out after a time and concentrated activities at the old-established but much-extended Freeman church instead. The Warwick Road building is now the Peter Pan centre.
The Salvation Army also tentatively planned premises in the same area, but nothing came of it.
All Saints’ RC Church and the Whaddon Way Baptist Church came much later and are hardly part of the same initial story.
We also once had a widely-based Council of Social Service in Bletchley, but it soon fell to pieces.
The original post-war town sports club also went on the rocks when the expected influx of support from the new estates arrived only in the form of a tiny trickle.
We used to ponder about such apathy and we concluded that the majority of newcomers were too engrossed in making new homes, bringing up children and looking after their jobs to have much time for social work. We did not think there would be much improvement until the second generation arrived.
Now they have arrived and we do see some. I fully expect the that is how the new city will go, too. Rome wasn’t built in a day, neither physically nor socially. So do not despond.