Acton Gardens developers taking over building next year
Alex Smith and Joseph Watson. Picture: Ged Cann
One of the oldest members’ clubs in the country is facing closure.
Developer Acton Gardens LLP is expected to take possession of the club building by February 2020.
While the future of the club remains uncertain, locals say they are losing “the hub of their community,” and its closure could leave many older residents lonely and with nowhere to go.
An Ealing Council spokesman said the council was approached by club representatives and bought the freehold premises of the building in 2012 at market value.
He said: “At that stage, the SAWMC (South Acton Working Men’s Club) was in severe financial difficulty and was likely to become insolvent within months.
“It was felt that buying the SAWMC building well ahead of time would allow the club more time to find alternative premises with funds from the sale.”
The spokesman said the council had worked closely with the club, trying to accommodate it within the newly built community hub across the road, but no mutually agreeable solution had been found.
He said “We continue to work with the SAWMC to seek a mutually agreeable way forward. No options have been closed off to the club to date.”
Picture: Ged Cann
Alex Smith says some of the best days of his life have been at the South Acton Working Men’s Club. For the 26-year-old , losing the club will be like “losing a relative.”
He said: “People coming in on Sundays for the bingo, that’s a great laugh.
“On Friday nights, you do get some of the young people in here, and they are basically throwing that away.”
“You have the pool table, you have the JukeBox. I think that’s what a lot of English pubs are missing.”
Smith had seen all sorts during his time, from people riding around on bicycles, to merrymakers finding ever more creative ways to turn the pool table into a stage.
He said: “I’ve seen plenty of ludicrous stuff here that can’t be reported.”
Picture: Ged Cann
A book corner allows members to trade DVDs and books, and Mr Smith said he doesn’t believe there are many places in London where you can find a £3 pint, or a £3.20 Guinness. Smith had been brought to the club by his parents when he was a young child.
“It’s in the blood basically, and when it does go it’ll be like a relative going. It’s not fair.”
“When it comes to my Friday and Saturday I’m usually here. It’s just more fun, you don’t have to deal with rowdy and packed bars.”
Joseph Watson is another member, and said he didn’t understand why a Labour-run council wanted to close a working man’s club.
He said: “We get people who have got bad legs, bad backs, elderly people. It’s the only time they actually get out and to come across here and have a game of Bingo on a Sunday. They just want to converse with other people. This is the hub of the community.”
Mr Watson said there was never any trouble in the building, with the upstairs club room being rented out for celebrations of births, funeral wakes and marriage receptions.
The council spokesman said the club sits on land earmarked for development as part of our regeneration of the South Acton estate in Acton Gardens.
He said throughout the planning of the new community hub, the council and Acton Gardens LLP have consulted the club on the hub’s design.
“This was because we thought it would be appropriate to move the club to the community hub, which has two large halls, two industrial kitchens, a number of smaller rooms and 200sqm of flexible space for voluntary sector groups.
“Unlike all the other voluntary sector groups being displaced through the regeneration programme who have moved to this new building, the SAWMC did not want to share facilities with other groups and felt the licencing restrictions were too restrictive.
“Subsequently, we paid for a valuer to help the SAWMC to find alternative facilities nearby which it could rent or purchase with the proceeds from the sale of its existing premises, and a number of options were discussed.
“Unfortunately, the SAWMC decided it only wanted to be located in the same or very similar position to their current location, which would not have been possible without the loss of much-needed affordable housing.
“We have worked closely with the club to try to help in several ways, including resolving its immediate financial difficulties by buying out the freehold of its premises, consulting it on the design of the new community hub and helping it to secure alternative premises.”
Ged Cann - Local Democracy Reporter
October 24, 2019