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THE STORY OF THE JAMAICAN CLUB/ALL NATIONS COMMUNITY CENTRE

Compiled by Mr Errol Green

The building we are in now was first opened on 16th May 1970, but the story did not start there. We will revisit the opening of the building later.

 

The idea of having a sports and social club for the growing West Indian community in Gloucester was first voiced over 50 years ago.

 

It is over 60 years since Gloucester played host to the first crop of young West Indian men and women to arrive here. Most, if not all, West Indians arriving in this country during this time had their passports stamped with an immigration stamp granting them leave to remain in this country for 5 years?

 

Those early pioneers tried to integrate themselves into the local community. During the working week, they worked hard to earn enough money to sustain them in this country and to provide some financial aid to their family at home. Weekends were for cooking authentic West Indian cuisine, laundering, impromptu cricket matches and, most importantly, attending local dances. Where would we be without dance parties? It became apparent however, that those early pioneers were not always welcome at the local dance halls particularly if they danced with local girls. In fact, I have heard tales of young West Indian men attending dances at Cheltenham Town Hall having to stand and fight for survival or flee. Frequently they stood their ground and fought! This was far from an ideal situation. These early pioneers were not going to be content spending their weekends without a dance party. As the local West Indian community grew and it became apparent that those already were unlikely to return home after 5 years, some became homeowners, which in turn provided temporary venues for house parties. Whilst this was a temporary fix, it created its own problems, there were objections to “loud music being played late at night” (perceived noise disturbance will feature prominently in this synopsis of the history of this building). For some of our forebears the answer was simple. They decided that they would build their own sports and social club. A group of young men (and women) set about the task with vigour. Their endeavours gave birth to “The Jamaican Sports and Social Club of Gloucester Limited” (the company). The name originally chosen, had a West Indian theme, but this was changed after an approach was made to the Jamaican government, for financial help? Their initial response was favourable; however, a proviso was added that the name of the club had to have a Jamaican theme. If only life as so simple. Financial help from the Jamaican government did not actually materialise.

 

To raise funds, dances were held at Barnwood, Tuffley Community Centre, The Guildhall in Gloucester, Maisemore Village Hall and other venues. Our group of pioneers were also able to enlist the support of Andrew Boggan and Harry Worrall. Mr Boggan was the Gloucester Town Clerk and Mr Worrall was a local politician. I am certain that our pioneers would have fulfilled their dreams eventually without the help, hard work and commitment of Mr Worrall and Mr Boggan. It is also true to say however, that this building would not be standing on its present site if Mr Worrall and Mr Boggan had not opened doors which would have remained firmly closed.

 

 

There were still mountains to climb. The major considerations were, securing suitable premises or land for building suitable premises and financing such a project. As stated earlier, some money was raised through fund raising dances and further sums were raised through loans provided by members of the Local West Indian Community. These sums were secured by a series of Debentures with a face value of £5 each and later, a new series of £25. These Debentures were referred to as shares. However, some clarification should be given now. A reference to shareholdings suggests that the shareholders are the owners of the company and its assets. Clearly this was not the intention.

 

The Jamaican Club was incorporated as a “Company Limited by guarantee and not having a share capital.”  To clarity this further clause 4 of the Memorandum of Association  stated that: “the income and property of the Company shall be applied solely towards the promotion of its objective as set forth in the Memorandum of Association and no portion thereof shall be paid or transferred, directly or indirectly, by way of dividend, bonus or otherwise howsoever by way of its management  committee shall be appointed to any office of the Company paid by salary or fees or receive any remuneration or other benefit in money’s worth from the Company.”

 

Clause 7 of the said Memorandum of Association stated further, that, if upon the winding-up or dissolution of the Company there remains, after the satisfaction of all its debts and liabilities, any property whatsoever, the same shall not be paid to or distributed among the  members of the  Company, but shall be given or transferred to some charitable institution or institutions having objects similar to the objects of the Company, and  which shall prohibit the distribution  of its or their  income and property to an extent at least as great as is imposed on the company under or by virtue of clause 4 hereof, such institution or insinuations to be determined by the members of the Company at or before the time of dissolution, and in so far as effect cannot be given to such provision, then to some other charitable object.”

 

We appreciate that this section is heavy going and we hope that you have not fallen asleep: we think that it was important to clarify the Debenture/share issue which has festered for many years. The Debentures represented loans made to the Jamaican Sports & Social Club of Gloucester Limited and such loans bore interest at…………. with a maturity date of……………

 

Now to get back on track:

 

Mr Boggan and Mr Worrall were able to exercise sufficient influence over “The Mayor Alderman and Citizens of the City of Gloucester” (the Council) as the Council agreed to (a) provide suitable premises and (b) assist with the financing of the venture. Before the venture could get off the ground (quite literally) a suitable site had to be found. Even this was not an easy task. Various sites were deemed unsuitable due to their proximity to residential dwellings and the belief that such a venue would be the cause of noise nuisance to the residents.

 

A site, deemed to be eminently suitable, was found in 1968 and construction of this building was completed in 1970. Those of us who are residents, and are old enough to recall, will remember that this site and the surrounding land now occupied by commercial light industrial units was no more that scrub land. It was the construction of the building which brought mains services (gas electricity and water) to the development now known as Chase Lane.

 

The Council owned the freehold of these premises, so they granted The Club a lease for 66 years from 3 March 1969 at an annual ground rent of £250. The Council also granted The Club an option to purchase the freehold interest in the property.

To facilitate the construction of the clubhouse, the Jamaican Sports & Social Club of Gloucester Limited obtained a loan of £7750 from The Mayor Aldermen and Citizens of The City of Gloucester (now known as the council of the City of Gloucester). The loan was secured by way of a legal mortgage.

 

The red-letter day for the local West Indian Community was Saturday 16 May 1970. This was the date our club opened its doors to its members. The open ceremony was performed by the Jamaican High Commissioner to the United Kingdom. Also, in attendance, was the Mayor of Gloucester.

 

The opening night was a remarkable success for the five hundred people who shared a new unique experience. The dreams of so many finally came through.

 

The original Jamaican club (known to so many of us as “Club”) opened 7 days per week and was managed, cleaned and serviced by a string of volunteers (committee members) who all had full time “day jobs” and who had no previous experience of running a small business. We owe a great debt of gratitude to those people.

 

The Jamaican Sports and Social Club of Gloucester Limited continued, with what was a successful formula, for some years. That included dances on Fridays and Saturdays (during this period the club hosted most of the international Reggae starts and nationally known sound Systems of the day), the famous Domino tournaments (which hosted visitors from all over England), film shows on Sundays, youth club facilities and dedicated events on Bank Holidays. The Club was also the chosen venue for numerous wedding receptions, christening parties and funeral wakes.

 

There is popular maxim which says that to stand still you a more forward and this particularly true in the entertainment industry.

 

Many factors contributed to the decline in popularity of the club during the last 1970s and mid-1980s, the country was in an economic recession, the club facilities had become thread bare and less welcoming, some of the loyal club members from the early days had grown tired of the entertainment provided or simply changed their life-style and many of the original committee members and helpers we no longer able, physically, to continue with their club duties.  Sadly, some of the club’s pioneers had passed on during this time.

 

By the late 1980s, a new management team took over the day-to-day management of the club although some of the original team remained. During this period there was as emphasis on large scale dances at weekends. These dances attracted customers from everywhere and, on the surface; this was a successful turnaround in the Club’s fortune. Sadly, this was not a renaissance. These “BIG” dances hand attracted the attention of Inspector Christopher at the Barton Street Police station, the responsible police officer for this area. Claims of noisy music disturbing the neighbourhood was the trigger for the special attention afforded the Club. Over a period, the police compiled an “impressive dossier of offences” which included not complying with the licensing regulations as far as they applied to the club and not complying with the regulations as to the admission of non-members into the club.

 

This is a good point to explain that the Club, under its past and current names has always been a members’ Club with a registration certificate to the effect. A members’ Club is one strictly for its paid-up members and their guests and all guests must be signed in by the member who is responsible for them whilst they are on club premises. Guests are not event permitted to go to the bar and purchase drinks.

 

It is fair to say that some regulations were breached through ignorance!

Between 1988 and 1989 the club faced many problems which threatened the very existence of the Jamaican Sports and Social Club of Gloucester Limited. After the departure of the outgoing management team, the new management team was faced with amassed debts, a rundown building with a leaking roof, frequent burglaries and not forgetting the attention of Inspector Christopher.

 

It is also fair to say that record keeping was not good. Compliance with and observance of the various rules and regulations which applied to the Jamaican Sports and Social Club of the Gloucester limited specifically or to registered members’ club were at best haphazard. This factor gave inspector Christopher great scope in his campaign.

 

At a time when membership had dwindled to an exceptionally low level the club was dealt a huge body blow! The club Chairman was summoned to appear before the local Magistrates court to answer to dual charge of not complying with the regulations as to the admission of non-members into the club and not complying with the regulations as to the admission of non-members into the club. It also became known at this time that the club was operation illegally from the first day it opened its doors to its members. The police had been thorough in their investigation. They discovered that the latest closing time for the Club was 11pm; that was the agreed closing time when the club opened in 1970. Each time the club’s registration certificate came up for renewal no amendments were requested.

 

The management team of the day were advised by the Club’s solicitor that the only realistic option available was to accept the changes levelled against the Club. The Club management accepted the solicitor’s advice and in so doing they were granted a “stay of execution” provided they undertook to comply with the regulations relating to licensing hours and the admission to non-members. The case against the club was left sine die. To put it plainly, the case was adjourned indefinitely, could be resurrected, and bought back to court at the any time.

 

At this time, the club had no future. The widespread belief was that dances ending at 11 pm were not a viable proposition and there was insufficient trade to run the centre as a bona fide (genuine) pub. The future looked bleak, debts were mounting, and the wolves (in the guise of bailiffs) were at the door and regular patrons could be numbered on the fingers of both hands. Existence was on a day-to-day basis. The club still had on-board some of its original management committee members. They had lived through some tough times in this country and were not about to give up now! So, they could provide their loyal supporters with a pint of beer or a bottle of Guinness these men frequently used their own money to buy stocks.

 

The dawning of the 1990s brought new hope for our beloved Club. Record keeping improved, Annual General Meetings were held annually! Some of you may wonder how the holding of Annual General Meetings could improve things. Apart from the legal requirement, these meetings provided an opportunity for the memberships to ask questions and for the management team to give an account of their achievements over the past year. Most importantly (we think) it was a means by which new committee members could come forward with innovative ideas and skills. And so, it was.

 

New blood was elected to the management committee. The renascence (revival) of The Jamaican Sports and Social Club of Gloucester Limited began.

 

A proper management committee structure was established, minutes of meetings were recorded, and monthly accounts were recorded. The major task, however, was to refurbish the Club and to convince the licensing authority that club was deserving of extended opening hours.

I am sure that most of you are familiar with the saying, a new broom sweeps clean, there is however a further part to that saying. The full proverb is a new broom sweeps clean, but the old broom knows the corners. The task ahead was not going to be easy. The club now had new committee members who were better equipped to tap into resources available through national and local agencies, but it had a good balance of experienced heads.

 

Contact was re-established with Gloucester City Council as a good working relationship was essential at the council was the club’s Landlord and Mortgages, furthermore it was hoped that the club could tap into grants etc, available through the council.

The management committee canvassed the opinion of the local community to find out what they wanted from their Club. Time moves on and so does the requirements of any community. The general opinion was that a social club was required but a fully functional community centre was what was required. With that in mind the management committee launched a fundraising campaign to raise the funds for refurbishment/remodelling of the building. At the same time the club exercised its option to purchase the freehold interest in the property from Gloucester City Council.

 

Also, in keeping with what the community said they wanted, the name of the Club was changed to the Jamaican Sports and Social Club & Community Centre Limited. Fundraising events were organised.

 

A major contributor to the cost of refurbishment was The Foundation for Sports & the Arts based in Liverpool; without their help the refurbishment would not have been possible. Bass Brewery also helped by providing a mortgage. The club also had assistance from Desnoes &Geddes (parent company to Dragon Stout) and J. Wray & Nephew Limited.

 

As to the delicate issue of licensing: After much challenging work and with the help of the Club’s solicitor a supper licence was granted. This meant that drinks could be served with food up to 2am on Saturdays and the club was also able to evoke the little know Little Ship Rule which permitted registered members’ clubs to supply intoxicating to non-members of the club attending at the club premises when functions are authorised by the management committee. Always provided that (a) such function is a function of the West Indian Community or (b) such function is promoted by and the responsibility of a member of the Club who is present at the function. These functions were limited to twelve in any one year.

 

The Club was able to offset some of its historical debts and things remained on an even footing for some time.

During the period 1995 to 2005 there was a rotation of committee members with new Chairpersons, Treasurers and Company Secretaries taking up posts on a frequent basis.

In keeping with the community’s requirement for a community centre the club departed down a road to broaden its appeal. The Home Office granted funding to develop the potential of young Black men and community projects operated under the banner of the Jamaican Sports and Social Club and Community Centre Limited.

It was apparent however that once the programme for young Black men had end the club was running out of steam and seemed to lack direction. The Gloucester City Council came to the rescue again. They took on the Mortgage granted by the brewery company and Club’s management team undertook to repay the sum back to the council at the rate of £500 per month. The alternative would have seen the Club default on the loan and the brewery selling the property to realise the money owed to them.

Unfortunately, the debts did not end there. After another period it became apparent that value added tax was owed to Her Majesty’s Custom and excise and court proceedings were commenced to recover a sum in the region of £25,000. It was at this point in the proceedings that an Extraordinary General Meeting was called by the Club’s management to inform the membership of the grave situation that the Club was now facing and to ask for financial help. Numerous proposals were put forward. A sum of money was collected from members to offset some of the debt.

At the court hearing, the Club’s management team was granted time to communicate with her Majesty’s Custom and Excise with a few achieving a negotiated means by which the debt could be settled. There was a breakdown in communication as no contact was made, and as a result the High Court ordered that the Jamaican Sports and Social Club and community Centre Limited be wound up and its affairs put in the hands of liquidators. The Liquidators appointed acted swiftly locks on all doors were changed and the community was excluded from its beloved club.

A meeting between the liquidator and members of the Club was hastily arranged on a Friday evening for the following Monday evening the irony of this situation was not lost. The club members had to obtain the permission of the Liquidators to hold the meeting and subsequent meetings in the clubhouse. Alistair Findley of accountants Findlay James (the appointed Liquidators) explained that he was now responsible for the club and the powers and duties of the management committee were at an end his main duties were as follows:

  1. Secure the Company’s (Club’s) assets.

  2. Sell those assets.

  3. Hear the claims of the creditors and

  4. Investigate the affairs of the Company.

The Known debts at that time were detailed as follows:

  1. Inland Revenue – PAYE/National insurance - £25,000

  2. Customs & Excise – VAT - £30,000

  3. Gloucester city council – mortgage – approximately £25,000

  4. Government levy by way of interest from the date of the court case – could not be calculated at that time.

  5. Liquidator’s fees – could not be calculated at that time.

The members of the club drew Mr Findlay’s attention to the provisions of clause 7 of the Memorandum of Association (as mentioned earlier) in light of clause 7 Mr Findley agreed, in principle, to the members of the Jamaican Sports and Social Club and Community Centre Limited setting up a new company to purchase the building from the Liquidator for a sum to include the debts and the Liquidators’ fees.  He added however that if the members could not organise themselves as a group and it is likely that no progress will be made, he would be obliged to put the building on the market.

The members were able to organise themselves and a new Management Committee was elected to take the project forward with the following objectives:

  1. Form a new company.

  2. Arrange a mortgage to finance the buyback of the building.

  3. Consult with the Liquidator on a regular basis.

  4. Take all necessary steps to have the building reopened and functioning with due haste.

A tall order indeed

A new company was created and the building we are in became All Nations Community Centre, but this was just the first step in a marathon race. There were many obstacles along the way. The new team found it impossible to raise a commercial mortgage for a sum more than £100,000. Yet again members, of the (old) Club, were called upon to provide financial aid and many rallied to the call to the best of their ability. There was still a shortfall however, and it was apparent that the liquidator would not wait much longer. At the last-minute, a third party made an attractive offer for the grassed area of land to the rear of the premises. The offer was accepted and the land at the rear was sold to finance the purchase of the building and its refurbishment. This decision was not met with universal acclaim, but it is fair to say that the new management team did what they considered to be the best that they could do in the circumstances.

The building had stood empty for over 2 years, but refurbishment, refitting and restocking was completed in time for reopening in the early summer of 2007. The name of the new company was decided upon. All Nations Community Centre rose from the ashes of the liquidated Jamaican Sports and Social Club and Community Centre. But the hand of fate moves in mysterious ways sometimes. Rain of biblical proportions fell on Gloucester on Friday 20th July 2007 and the club was flooded!

This was not a full stop, merely a brief pause. All hands were to the pump (quite literally) and All Nation Community Centre was reopened for business after a short while. The name All Nations Community Centre was carefully chosen to be reflective of our multi-cultural and multiracial community and facilities the Centre is hoping to offer that community. The centre still has a long road to travel and it has stumbled many times, but I hope that everyone here will wish the management team every success in the future. Bring on the Next 40 years.

We deliberately did not mention many names for fear of offending those people whose names we did not mention, however we would like pay tribute to committee members and helpers of yesteryear who are no longer with us:

Austin (Daddy West) Westcarr – Founder member and the first chairman of the original club

Dudley Davis – Founder member and treasurer/secretary

Harry Worrall – Honorary President

Ken (John) Johnson – Founder member, handy man, steward, miracle worker

Byron (Masa love) Thompson – Founder member

Eric Peck – Founder member, supporter in every way 

Mr Hilton

Ben Green – Founder member

Billy Mitchell – Committee member (gone to soon)

All Nations Community Centre would like to express its heartfelt thanks and appreciation to Mr Errol Green for his ongoing support and commitment to the organisation over the years and for undertaking this vital piece of work.

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