Over the last few issues of The Whistler we have introduced the current members of the West Hill Community Association management committee (the Trustees) to give you a flavour of who they are, what they do and maybe to inspire you to become one yourself. In this issue we meet SYLVIA ALEXANDER-VINE
I first heard of West Hill Community Association when I received a copy of The Whistler through my letterbox in West Hill Road in 1992. I had just moved back to Brighton, having lived and worked here previously as an English and Drama teacher at Dorothy Stringer in the early 1970s. Between the 70s and 90s I had worked all over the country in the theatre as a manager, a director and a producer, having learned my trade in the Royal Shakespeare Theatre Company in the 1960s.
When the time came to look for somewhere to live in Brighton I was attracted to the West Hill and Seven Dials area by its convenience to the railway station and for its diverse shops, cafés and pubs, not least the Wonder Bar, Kostas the Greek’s Fish & Chip shop, Appetites Deli (all closed now), The Compton Arms (now The French Horn) The Sussex Yeoman and the Duke of Wellington. The area seemed to be a kind of small village hidden inside a large city. Everyone was friendly and there was a close-knit feel to the community.
Then, in 1993, I met Pam Bean, one of the founding members of the Association, and my life became involved with WHCA for the subsequent years until I retired from the duties of being Chair in 2015. I continue to be a Trustee and co-edit The Whistler.
The immediate tasks to undertake on being elected Chair of the Association in 1993 were to strengthen the Committee; to expand and edit a new Whistler; and to secure a community centre when the landlords of the All Saints Church Hall put it up for sale. The Committee agreed that we should try and buy the Hall, and after many delays and tense stand-offs between me 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 we would continue with the purchase. But not willing to give up, I started negotiating with the Church, applying for grants, and, together with Pam Bean, personally guaranteed a mortgage to raise funds for the purchase. This, together with a legacy left to Pam by a local resident to be used for the good of the community, enabled the Association to acquire the freehold of the Hall in May 1996.
Then began years of renovation and buying equipment and furniture for the 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. At that time I was engaged voluntarily with a number of other charities in the town and heard about the Single Regeneration Budget, a scheme set up by the government to help community groups financially. A number of funds were brought together and approved groups could apply for funding through the local authority. I applied and we were awarded a small but helpful amount towards the renovations.
In 1999 I 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; a steady programme of events that bring people together for laughter-packed occasions; and the regular publication of The Whistler.”
Since my retirement as Chair, over the last 3 years the Association has gone from strength to strength: the facilities in the Hall have been upgraded significantly with the refurbishment of the kitchen and the toilets; and the Hall is booked to near capacity which provides income and security for the future.
I am very glad I spent so much time working for the Association and the Hall, and it makes me very happy to hear people say how much they like it, which happens often.