Hunwick & District Working Men’s Club & Institute Ltd
This small but lovely community club in County Durham shows that in these hard times, clubs do not have to go under when the account sheets are in the red and things are looking desperate. It provides us with a good model of how to fight back to save our beloved clubs as continuing and lively resources and venues for members and the local community. Where there is a will, there is a way and there will be a club!
Set in a village where according to club Treasurer Neville Blenkinsopp ‘pits and brick works were the backbone of our memberships and business’, decline set in when the industries themselves started to fail. The locals, however, weren’t prepared to give in without a fight and Neville writes that - ‘somehow the village community spirit kept our humble abode alive.’
The club officially opened in February 1908 when 25 members each borrowed £25 and purchased the premises, formerly a joiners shop and a coffin makers. The house next door was eventually purchased in 1950 with various extensions including the steward’s accommodation, lounge and concert hall.
Between 1946-1954, the billiard team were Durham County CIU champions for 6 successive years. The shield is still proudly on display to this day. In the 1950s, the club organised an annual carnival for 4 years which included a fancy dress procession through the village with 8 silver bands. There was then a silver band contest in the recreation ground behind the club with side shows, fun rides and a village queen beauty contest. The festivities lasted a whole week!
There were also summer trips to neighbouring seaside resorts where members could take their children for free and they were given some pocket money. This continued to the 1980s but by then, sadly, finances were difficult and there was less interest. Then a serious fire almost destroyed the club but some members got together and kept the club open whilst the damaged was cleared. True club and community spirit!
The snooker table survived but a lot of work had to be done by dedicated members to make the club usable again.
The club reached its all time low in 1994, and was in serious danger of closing New officials were installed who remain to this day. They were given just 3 days to pay ageing VAT debts otherwise the bailiffs would be sent in to shut the premises down- sadly, an all too familiar story. The secretary arranged an emergency meeting with the then Federation Brewery and a cheque was handed over to keep the club going. But things got worse with more debts uncovered until there was a staggering £98,000 totted up!
After many years of sheer hard work and effort, the corner was turned and the current debt is only £4500 for the mortgage which will be paid off in two years time. Then, the clubs will finally belong to the members who have worked so hard to keep it going.
Apart from anything else, they have ‘an amazing secretary’, Thomas Ward, who is 87 years young. The club now has a small profit margin, an unusual thing in this day and age and Neville plans to put the full balance sheet onto the website when finalised. This should make some interesting reading for other clubs…. They survive on takings of between £1000-2000 a week. Neville’s message to other clubs is simple - ‘it can be done!’
Pay a visit to the club if you are in the area or pop in online at:
The club officials who have helped bring this about are:
Secretary - Thomas Ward
Chairman - Ian Richardson
Treasurer - Neville Blenkinsopp
Well done to The Hunwick’s hard working officials and members! Keep up the good work and very best wishes from Club Historians.
Club Historian - Ruth Cherrington