It was the Queens Silver Jubilee that galvanised the people of Lee in to trying to get a Community Centre when as a result of an ‘It’s a Knockout’ competition between wards, which Lee won handsomely, the Lee United Action Group (LUAG) was formed. Eddie Irving, his wife Pauline and a group of steadfast friends including the then local councillors tried to get the Borough to provide a hall.
Space was allocated in Twyford Drive. Colonel House had gifted this land for community use and after endless negotiations with the Borough Council the go ahead for the proposed plan was passed. Both Hampshire County and the Borough gave grants provided that the community could match the funding. A target of £30,000 was set for fund raising a huge amount, but undeterred, LUAG knuckled down to the challenge.
Fund raising came from donations, buy a brick and the Carnival, or to give it its full title ‘The Lee Carnival and Solent Show’ which started in 1978 and ran until 1988. The Carnival took place over a weekend in July and was arranged so as not to clash with the HMS Daedalus Air Show. Thanks to the navy, we borrowed many bits and pieces for our show and we were eternally grateful to the camp for its support. The Carnival attracted over 10,000 visitors at its peak with entertainment being provided in 3 arenas. A majorette competition in one arena, Dog Show in a second whilst in the main show ring, first class acts such as Dinosaur Fighting, Mounted Horse Display Teams and HM Ghurkha marching bands to name just a few. There was the odd casualty among the acts, for example, the Giant Frog racing was cancelled after the frogs croaked it on the way to the show, and the snake charmer couldn’t get the snakes awake in time for her performance but anyone who lived in Lee during the 1980’s will have fond memories of the splendid Carnival procession on Saturday morning which passed from Elmore Road, along the seafront and down the High Street on its way to the showground on the Recreation Ground at Salisbury Terrace. The decorated floats were full of excited youngsters and sometimes the odd bleary-eyed regular from the Inn by the Sea dart team.
Using the money raised and with the support of Bass / Coors Brewers (the only brewer prepared to back such a risky venture) the lease of 99 years for the land was finally signed on 21 July 1981 and building works started in August of the same year. Ben Benstead was the selected local builder and the building was completed in early 1982. So on 29th March 1982 the centre was opened despite the fact that there was only a temporary roadway and the heating was powered by bottled gas. It was several years before the road past the centre was built.
Initially times were very hard with staff working voluntarily as Eddie, Pauline and the committee grappled with cash flow problems, but slowly the centre grew in popularity as residents became aware that a centre of excellence was offered for both hire by groups and as a social venue for members wishing to enjoy each other’s company.
In 1985 it had become clear that the centre was unable to cope for all the parents with children and so our first extension was planned and completed in just under a year. This provided what are now the Family and Games Room and an improved disabled toilet facility. We also completed work on a barbecue area and garden at the North end of the site and enlarged the car park to allow parking for up to 92 cars.
The centre’s reputation grew and the demand for the Main Hall (Now the Irving Room) for weddings and anniversaries helped increase the revenue, and in 1992 we were forced because our membership had increased to over 1700 members, to again enlarge the Club area by a further extension out to the edge of the property on the East side increasing the Lounge Bar and Family Room to it’s present size. This work was completed in July 1993, the year in which sadly our warden and driving force Eddie Irving passed away.
After leading the Bank Holiday lunch time celebrations Ed suffered a heart attack from which he never recovered. Pauline was asked to stay on, as her input supporting Ed in the background had been invaluable. Thankfully she accepted. Pauline was the centre manager until she sadly passed away in 2007. The centre is today run by her daughter Lisa having been found to be the most suitable candidate to take over from Pauline. She is responsible for the successful running of the centre.
The centre continues to thrive and recently a complete refurbishment of all rooms to provide a more comfortable relaxing club lounge and family room. There will be further improvements over the next few years as we again expand to cater for the new residents moving in to Cherque Farm and the principles applied back in 1982 of never accepting second best and always striving for excellence will continue to be our motto.