Decision to shut social club in Knowle West, Bristol, branded 'disgusting'
HUNDREDS of people have been left in the lurch after a sudden decision to close a church social club in Knowle West.
The Christ the King social club has been serving the community around Filwood Broadway for 65 years.
But after six decades of hosting everything from parties and wakes to darts competitions and weekly cribbage tournaments it is no more.
At a meeting of the club's committee a week ago a representative of the landlord, the Clifton Diocese, told stunned members that it was to close with immediate effect.
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Last night angry members made their feelings felt as the committee met again with representatives of the Catholic diocese in a desperate attempt to stop the closure.
More than 100 people – some barely into their teens, others in their 80s – braved the cold to protest, waving banners and placards and chanting outside Christ the King Church, which is in front of the club.
Families who have used the club as for five generations cheered as the committee members went into the meeting to tell the diocese of the community's shock and disgust.
Club secretary Simon Noble, 54, from Creswicke Road, said: "The club is the heart of the Knowle West community. This has totally devastated the older members and has really affected everyone.
"It has come as a great shock to all of us. We had a meeting last Tuesday and we were told, 'that is it, finished'. That was after we were given the go-ahead in December to take on new members. I don't mean to sound flippant but for a lot of people it feels like a bereavement."
The club pays the church £15,000 a year in rent and is understood to owe the diocese £16,000 – an "operating" overdraft – which is believed to be behind the closure.
Mr Noble said: "We could have secured money from elsewhere, but every option we came up with was ignored."
Committee member Simon Pirret said the club could easily pay the overdraft back. He said: "They didn't even give us the chance to do that. We have a member who lost his wife a year ago and he offered to put up £10,000 himself to keep the club going, but they turned it down flat.
"People are disgusted, appalled, let down and questioning their faith when the church can pull the rug from under their feet after they've put so much into the community. In the last two years we've raised £18,000 for charity and helped bereaved families – we're the little club with the big heart."
The closure has already hit the club's 500-strong community hard. A 21st birthday party on Friday had to be cancelled, its stewards Paul and Maggie Baker, who have been running it for 26 years, will lose their jobs and the DJ has lost £800 in bookings for the year.
Sarah Purnell, 36, from Instow Walk, said: "My grandad was a member, as are my mum, myself and my son – four generations, and now they want to shut it down.
"We have skittles, bingo, pool, Christmas parties, and some people have been playing crib here for 40 years. It is disgusting."
Mr Baker said: "I've been working here for 26 years and I was given three days' notice of it closing."
Terry Coughlan, 81, from Carisbrooke Road, is one of the club's oldest members, having joined in 1961. The former Rolls Royce machinist has used the club for every aspect of his social life for the last 50 years, and still plays cards there every Sunday.
He said: "I feel very bad about this, as it's a big part of our lives. There aren't many amenities around here."
Filwood ward city councillor Chris Jackson added: "The most important thing is that it is another community facility being removed from Knowle West."
After last night's meeting Mr Noble told the Post the committee could write to the trustees of the diocese to appeal against the decision. He said: "We've had the backing of our priest, Father Michael D'Mello, but it feels like the diocese has turned its back on us."
No one from the diocese was available for comment last night.
An e-mail sent to the committee read: "The club has been trading at a loss for some time and the position has become unsustainable. I hope the parishioners will work with Father D'Mello to bring the community together other than through the club environment."