The Whistler – February 2017

Jane Austen Bicentenary 2017
Jane Austen
Bicentenary 2017

40 Years Celebrated

In December West Hill residents celebrated WHCA’s 40th birthday. It was a joyous occasion. Here’s an extract of the speech Colette Wilson gave on behalf of the Trustees.

The Association started in 1976 as a coming-together of groups of people living in the West Hill area. Those groups included Writers, Local History, Gardening, Community Help, Play Reading, Traffic, Chess and The Newsletter (the forerunner of The Whistler). In 1977 these groups were formally incorporated  into the West Hill Community Association, and in 1978, it started meeting in the almost derelict All Saints Church Hall. Members spent a lot of their own time, energy and money they fundraised making the Hall habitable so it could be used as a base for community activities. In 1986 Pam Bean of West Hill Street, who was a founder member and leading light of the Association until her death in 2010, was left a legacy by a local resident who was one of her customers at the Terminus Road Sub-Post Office.  Unfortunately, there is no record of this generous woman’s name in any of the Association’s archives, but she left half her estate, £30k, to be used for the good of the Community, and she also stipulated that there should be 6 editions of The Whistler a year.

Many activities –  cubs, Bingo, a lunch club, a toddlers’ club – took place but the Hall only had an outside toilet, no kitchen, no heating, and a huge expanse up to the roof. The Association spent thousands from the legacy renovating the Hall, putting in a gents  toilet, heating, lowering the ceiling, and building a kitchen even though it belonged to the Church at the time, which then promptly took it back under their control in 1991, and started charging the Association rent!

In June 1993 the Church put the Hall up for sale for £30k. In July Sylvia Alexander-Vine joined the committee and was elected Chair. After many delays and tense stand-offs between the Association and the Church, in April 1994 a long-awaited survey revealed that the Hall was in need of major works, and it was touch and go whether the committee would continue with the purchase. But not willing to give up, Sylvia started negotiating with the Church, applying for grants, and, together with Pam Bean, personally guaranteed a mortgage to raise funds for the purchase. After further tortuous delays and even more tortuous negotiations with the Church, the Association finally acquired the freehold of the Hall in May 1996.

Then began years of renovation and buying equipment and furniture for the renamed West Hill Hall through money raised by the many, many members of the community through jumble sales, boot sales and grand sales, race nights, quizzes, and grand raffle draws.

In 1999 Sylvia wrote in The Whistler: “The survival of community associations and the spirit that drives them depends on the good will, good cheer, and hard work of people caring for each other, and cannot survive on just good intentions. The achievements of the West Hill Community Association so far have been the acquisition of a meeting hall, continuous and fun-filled committee meetings, and a steady programme of events that bring people together for laughter-packed occasions . . . Our thanks to all those who help us fundraise.”

The Association has seen hundreds of local residents join in activities and campaigns over the last 40 years, and as people have moved out of the area or, sadly, died, new people have come along and contributed to the work. The Association’s Trustees have been fairly constant over the last few years, but we always urge residents in West Hill who would like to join the committee to do so and keep the Association, this beautiful Hall, and The Whistler going for another forty years and more.


One thought on “The Whistler – February 2017”

  1. It is great to read how Westhill Community Association is flourishing after 40 years. I was a local resident, actively involved in the Community Resources Centre (then on the site of Brighthelm) and was asked by a brilliant community worker to help organise the first meeting in St Nicolas Church Hall. I can’t remember her name, but I learnt a huge amount about how to help a local community create its own organisation. She recruited a few volunteers to deliver leaflets to every door and talk to people. There must have been over 100 people at the meeting, which started with a brief introduction to the idea of a community association, then broke up into small groups so that everyone could meet and speak with other people to say what they wanted. Someone from every small group reported back to the plenary and several people volunteered to form a steering group, including John Wilson and myself from Buckingham Street. We recruited a “street rep” for every street and produced a monthly newsletter, which I delivered to street reps for distribution to every house. I enjoyed my Saturday rounds, stopping occasionally for a glass of carrot wine or cup of team. Production of the newsletter was a collective effort, with people of all ages, from teenage to one person in his 90s. I can’t remember names, but I do remember personalities, the warmth and community spirit.
    Titus Alexander, now living in Kings Langley, Herts

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