Notes prepared by Beryl Chandler

St Albans logo - Banner (2)St Albans Jubilee Ceremony

First of all, my congratulations to everyone who makes this wonderful Centre, the Centre that it is. It doesn’t just happen – so much care, thought, planning and hard work is involved.

You have been so lucky that during these 25 years the leaders have been, and are, of the highest calibre.

I know that Val Archer was the first Chairman of the Centre Committee and she was ably supported by Mary Fox and Graham Wilson. Then for many years Pat Ryan has been involved as Chairperson in a very hands on way, again ably supported by Tonia.

I am particularly pleased and overjoyed to be here today with Jim Potter, Vernon Platel and David and Sheila Bryant. Memories come flooding back. In 1978 the two Parishes of Holy Trinity and St. Albans became a united parish and St. Albans Church was not needed as a church any more.

How could it best help the neighbourhood with the resources and buildings that were now available? In 1980 planning permission was received for the church hall and vicarage to be used for residential purposes and these were sold to a Housing Association for £60,000. This money was immediately allocated by the Church towards the conversion of St. Albans for a chapel and a community centre.

And so, in 1981, St. Albans Community Centre, a multi-cultural project for Smethwick was born. Three years later, as a result of vision, hard work and faith, this centre was up and running – Jim Potter was our Vicar and it was his vision that set us on the right road. David Bryant was our Architect and I was the Fund Raiser and general errand girl. Vernon became the Treasurer. We were undergirded by the support and prayers of the Holy Trinity Parish as it was then.

Life was full of meetings to distinguish a) the needs of Central Smethwick, b) the facilities proposed and c) the practical arrangements. This last included the conversion of the building, capital costs and funding etc.

I will highlight just one or two major factors. As I said Jim Potter was our vision, inspiration and guidance, and it was because of him that the Centre was leased, at a peppercorn rent, from the Church, to be managed and run by a Community Association.

I don’t know how David managed, for not only was he the Architect but the Site Manager and everything else besides. His workforce was 12 inexperienced young men on a Youth Opportunities Scheme, together with numerous general and specialist sub-contractors.

The mind boggles – the first floor and extension were added. We encountered numerous difficulties – one comes to mind. One day the chap in charge of the boys said “All building work to cease. The Trade Unions say the boys are taking away work from our men.” I found out when and where the Union officials met and hastened along that night. The next day Jim and David asked me “How did you get on, Beryl?” I replied “Less of the Beryl, I have been promoted to Sister in the Union and we can carry on working!”

Fund Raising was vitally important. Apart from the Church input, which was tremendous, luckily there was money available from the Government and other Statutory Bodies (e.g. The Sports Council) but it had to be found and fought for. Also we raised thousands of pounds from voluntary grant making trusts. I want to place on record our debt to Sheila Bryant, who wrote 600 letters to these Trusts – she painstakingly used a typewriter as computers and word processors were unheard of (by us, anyway!) Altogether, we had 67 positive responses from all our sources.

Finally, our Community Association with its Management Committee was formed. The Community Centre was completed, and the Grand Opening was on the 28th September 1984 – we had the Rt. Hon. Patrick Jenkin, M.P., Secretary of State for the Environment, to perform the opening ceremony. The Bishop was there and he asked David how we had managed. David’s reply was “Beryl raised the money, I spent it and Jim prayed!”

The longer I think about what our Smethwick Community has achieved, the more I know it was all built on faith.