Sadness over plans to close a conservative club that's been running for more than 100 years
PUBLISHED: 14:01 15 December 2018
A conservative club that survived through two world wars is set to close next week, with its committee blaming a 'stay-at-home' drinking culture for the dwindling bar takings.
Framlingham Conservative Club, which is located on Church Street, just a two minute walk from Ed Sheeran’s famed ‘Castle on the Hill’ Framlingham Castle, boasts a proud history.
Founded in 1910, it was originally opened as part of the British Council Working Men’s Club movement. “The Conservatives did so badly in 1906 election, they set up Conservative working men’s clubs all over the country,” explained the club’s secretary, Bob Roberts. “A ‘Doctor Edwards’ gave his house and surgery to the town for the club. During the First World War, they built a community hall adjacent to the club to be used for convalescing of soldiers.”
Two years ago, the premises was sold the freehold to the Association of Conservative Clubs for £300,000, in order to pay for essential repairs to the listed building, which Mr Roberts says had been “neglected.”
“It needed a new roof because there was water coming through the ceiling and the electrics had to be replaced, so we spent a lot of capital on maintenance works,” he said. “We have found that because of the rents we now have to pay, we can’t sustain the club from our bar takings and the rent of spaces. We no longer have the back up funds to sustain us as the takings drop.”
Framlingham Conservative Club isn’t the only Conservative club in the region to have lost the battle to survive lately. Last month, Colchester Conservative Club, which has been in town’s High Street since 1928 and in the town since 1905, shut its doors for the final time after a rapid decline in membership in recent years.
In Suffolk, Leiston Conservative Club closed recently, and drawings have been prepared for a scheme comprising 22 apartments at the site.
In Framlingham, the British Legion closed its facility on Albert Road three years ago, and many of its members moved into the Conservative Club.
Mr Roberts claims that Framlingham has lost half of the six pubs it had when he first moved there in 1994. “It’s significant that the town has 12 bottle banks - people are drinking at home, which is bad news for clubs like ours,” he said. “It’s very sad indeed.”
The closure is a loss not only for its members, but for the Framlingham community groups that use the facilities, including Friends of St Michaels Church, Probus, the Bridge Club, the Canine Rescue Centre, Weight Watchers and Fram Flyers running club.
One of the conservative club’s members is Charlie Reed, who lives in Kesgrave and has been coming to the club for the last 12 years to play snooker. “The organisations that used the club on a regular basis have all been forced to find alternative accommodation in a ridiculously short timescale, and in the run-up to Christmas,” he said. “Small businesses who use it as a trading address will be particularly hard hit with trading addresses no longer in existence.”
The club’s last day will be December 21, as the lease expires on December 31, and after that, the premises will revert to the Association of Conservative Clubs.
Mr Roberts is also a local councillor, and explained that Framlingham Town Council will discuss the future of the club at a meeting on Monday.
He said: “The council is not happy about the fact that it’s closing, because of the facilities it provides, so they are considering registering the club as an asset of community value. That will give it a measure of protection in case there is a proposed change of use.”