A CENTRE FOR TRADE UNIONS AND THE WIDER LABOUR AND COMMUNITY MOVEMENT IN HUDDERSFIELD AND COLNE VALLEY
An appeal to the Trade Union Movement
Milnsbridge Socialist Club, near Huddersfield in the Colne Valley, was founded in 1892 and is Britain’s oldest surviving socialist club. It is facing closure after many years of decline and rising debts. A group of socialists, trades unionists and greens have got together to look at ways of buying the building and re-inventing the club as a broadly inclusive venue for meetings and concerts, providing facilities for labour and community organisations, including office space, and opportunities for offering benefits and welfare advice to the local community. This proposal sketches out our vision for how the club might develop as a centre for progressive organisations appropriate to the present day, filling a major gap in the area and contributing to the renaissance of the historic textile district of the Colne Valley. There is no shortage of enthusiasm to re-develop the club but what we lack is capital. This appeal to the trade union movement is to work with us on a scheme which would deliver benefits not only to trades unionists but the wider community and progressive movement in Huddersfield and Colne Valley. For a relatively small amount of money – about £125,000 to £150,000 – we could create an exciting multi-purpose venue which would be a model for others to follow.
Milnsbridge Socialist Club, about a mile outside Huddersfield town centre in the historic Colne Valley (and within the Colne Valley Constituency which is currently Tory held), has a history stretching back to 1892 making it the oldest surviving socialist club in the country. It has been in its current building since before the First World War. It was part of that very early socialist movement which was established in Huddersfield and the Colne Valley in the early 1890s. Colne Valley Labour Union was the first constituency Labour organisation in the UK, formed in 1891. The club has hosted many of the great figures of the labour and socialist movement and once prided itself in having its own socialist brass band. It was part of that broad socialist culture which provided the bedrock which led to Victor Grayson’s epic parliamentary victory in 1907, on a programme of radical socialism. It has continued to play an important part in the life of the local labour movement, hosting Labour Party and other community group meetings.
Photos: Rear of club adjacent to canal; meeting room/concert room; upstairs snooker room
However, the club has suffered from the problems facing so many pubs and social clubs. A meeting of members decided that the club was unviable and it was agreed that the building would be put up for sale so that debts totalling around £60,000 could be paid off. However, it was also agreed that I’d look at other possible ways forward, including sale of the building to a community organisation. That decision led to a hastily-convened meeting of interested people on June 19th, at which it was agreed to put a proposal forward to the trade union movement to help with the purchase of the building. The building must be sold to pay off outstanding debts, and also to make a clear fresh start with a new range of activities which we outline below.
Photos: Concert and meeting room (overlooking canal basin); bar lounge area
Milnsbridge is a deprived, multi-ethnic community which was once the centre of the Colne Valley’s thriving textile community. It has just one surviving pub and no café which opens after 1.00pm.The club is situated next to the re-opened Huddersfield Narrow Canal and has potential to capitalise on its attractive location.
Across Huddersfield, there is no dedicated venue for labour, trade union and progressive groups to meet – there are community centres which understandably need income to survive but this can make hiring a room expensive. At the same time, the labour movement needs its own centre which can help support the re-building of a strong labour and progressive culture in the area.
The Huddersfield area needs an accessible and attractive venue where people on the left can get together for meetings, discussions, gigs and other events. The Colne Valley once had a tradition of vibrant socialist clubs which combined politics, culture and socialising. Whilst Honley and Marsden socialist clubs survive, and provide a welcome for Labour and other groups, they are essentially social clubs with little if any overall political direction.
Photos: Bar lounge; looking through to concert room; front of club
The building itself is structurally sound and has had some recent investment to improve the bar area and concert room. We are seeking professional advice on options to make better use of the substantial space upstairs and in the basement but we have some initial ideas (see below). There is parking space and we would provide secure cycle parking.
So what’s the proposal? Please see over………
A social and cultural centre for the labour, socialist, co-operative and green movement in Huddersfield and Colne Valley
Milnsbridge Club has the potential to be re-invented as a modern, inclusive social centre for the left which opens its doors to the wider community as well. It requires a fresh start and the purchase of the building and formation of a new organisational structure which can manage and develop the building.
The club has a recently refurbished bar area and a concert room which can accommodate 60-70 guests comfortably. Upstairs there is more accommodation which would be suitable for offices for labour and other sister organisations. There is additional space downstairs which could be opened out onto the canal and serve as a café aimed at cyclists and walkers as well as other canal users. One possibility is to re-create a ‘Clarion Café’, after the movement which once flourished in the North of England, which was closely allied to the socialist movement. The kitchen is of a reasonable size to offer a meals service.
The building could offer adult, community and union education facilities during the day, welfare rights advice and other support. We are aware of the centres that Unite has developed in Barnsley and other parts of the country. Our proposal could fit very well with this concept, whilst offering a wider range of activities.
It could provide a venue for political and union meetings and discussions, including the existing monthly discussion group which meets at the club, and other events in the Colne Valley such as the arts-based ‘Red Letters’. It could encourage smaller concerts, film shows, poetry readings, theatre performances and other events.
The building should be a celebration of the proud social and political history of the Colne Valley, featuring the Luddites, early unions and co-operation, the rise of socialism in the valley, the women’s suffrage movement and the tradition of internationalism and peace campaigning.
At the meeting which formed a steering group on June 19th, the following suggestions were made:
· Library, internet access, printing and information facilities
· Welfare rights advice and ‘Job Club’, plus other Council-sponsored activities during the day
· Music concerts, including space for local bands to practice as well as perform
· A day-time café aimed at walkers, cyclist, local people and canal users
· Office facilities including printing and design
· Space for private parties including children’s events
· A range of trade union events, seminars, small conferences
· Each evening having a distinct ‘offering’ ranging from political discussions to quiz night, poetry readings, theatre, film and ‘red gourmet evening’.
· Display space for local artists
The upstairs area could be leased as office accommodation for a labour movement body, e.g. Colne Valley Constituency Labour Party and other sister organisations. The potential to develop a canal-side café in the basement is considerable but that would require some investment.
Initially, funds may not allow the centre to employ staff but could develop using volunteers. However, once the building is secured grants may be accessed for various projects which are in keeping with the centre’s values and objectives.
The building itself, whilst structurally sound, could benefit from modern eco-friendly features including photo-voltaic panels and other green building features.
A development package
We need to draw a line under the old management and form a group which would be willing to negotiate with the current club officers to buy the building, assuming the unions are willing to help. Without the union support and involvement it is very difficult to see the club surviving in any form other than as commercial premises or even being demolished to make way for housing.
We know that this will be hard work involving a lot of effort and determination but we are confident that the club could flourish as a non-sectarian centre for left, green, community and trade union groups. In due course it will be necessary to form a legal entity to take on management of the centre, possibly based on either a community interest company or a charitable incorporated organisation and legal advice will be sought for this. We are planning to visit similar centres e.g. Bolton Socialist Club, Hebden Bridge Trades Hall, Bradford 1 in 12 Club and others.
The development of the building should be seen as a gradual process based on several phases. The existing bar lounge area and concert/meeting room are already in good condition following investment over the last year. Some relatively minor improvements to the kitchen would be helpful but the ground floor is effectively for purpose for a range of activities. So Phase 1 would be largely cosmetic, involving signage, internal décor and replacement of the existing seats in the concert room. A second phase should see the upstairs area being developed as office space which would potentially bring a regular income to the club. This – Phase 2 – would involve significant work and possible provision of disabled access via new lift. Phase 3 would see the basement area converted into a café with direct access from the canal. This needs costing and other external funding to allow a range of activities to take place.
Protecting the socialist heritage: The Victor Grayson Centre?
The club should develop as a lively, open centre for a wide range of groups and individuals. The way forward is through events, developing the canal-side basement and renting space to labour organisations. The club’s socialist and radical heritage should be protected and celebrated. It should have a name which marks it off from the previous club, but which celebrates its socialist heritage.
The club will need a new name and one suggestion has been ‘The Victor Grayson Centre’ Grayson was a radical socialist who captured the Colne Valley for socialism in 1907. He was committed to workers’ and women’s rights, an internationalist and visionary. He was an inspiration for generations of Colne Valley people.
At the same time, the social and political history of the Colne Valley stretches back much further and Milnsbridge was a centre of Luddite activity in the early 19th century. A socialist publishing business once operated (c 1895) from an adjacent building which might offer ideas for a local publishing initiative using print and web-based media which highlight the area’s history. The Colne Valley had a very active women’s suffrage movement involving many working class activists such as Dora Thewlis; equally, Huddersfield and Colne Valley was a centre of resistance to the First World War. This radical heritage should be celebrated and we want to provide museum and record facilities in the centre and make it part of an ‘alternative radical tourist trail’. There are plans to form a Colne Valley People’s Heritage Network which could be based in the building. Some of the historic features of the building, such as a stained glass window to the front, should be opened up and made a feature of the centre.
Mission and values
To provide a friendly and accessible venue for the trade union and labour movement and community sector across Huddersfield, the Colne and Holme Valleys, offering social, cultural, political and educational facilities
The centre is committed to the vision and values of a broad, inclusive politics based on the principles of equality, fellowship, internationalism and environmental sustainability. It is firmly opposed to racism and sexism and other forms of discrimination and celebrates the great tradition of socialism and co-operation developed in the Colne Valley since the 1890s.
Revenue and Finance
The building has had three valuations, with estimates ranging between £50,000 and £135,000. We would aim to negotiate with the existing owners to agree a sensible price which allows debts to be paid off and all other liabilities covered, allowing the new centre to start with a fresh beginning, but following in the tradition of the socialist movement.
In addition to the purchase price, we estimate that approx. £75-100,000 will be necessary to bring the upstairs space into use as modern office accommodation and a similar sum (which needs properly costing) to convert the basement into a café area. More detailed estimates are being sought. However, the existing bar lounge area and concert room are attractive and good quality spaces which can be put to good use with little or no immediate investment other than new seating.
There will be further costs associated with legal, planning and design requirements.
The building costs in the region of £8000 a year to run, including all services. Assuming a volunteer team running the building, we would aim to cover the running costs by:
· A range of events including concerts, performances etc.
· Modest charge for hiring rooms
· Renting office space upstairs
· Renting the basement for a café business
· Individual and group membership fees
· General fund-raising
· Sale of drinks and meals
The centre should be run democratically and openly. Legal advice will be sought on the best approach but other similar centres have a two-tier system with an owning body (e.g. Bolton Socialist Hall Ltd) which comprises the shareholders or trustees, with a management committee which organises the actual day to day events and running of the club. Either or both could be established as co-operatives, or as industrial and provident societies.
We want to go forward in partnership with the trade union movement to create an outstanding facility for the area which meets the needs and agendas of the trades unions as well as the wider progressive movement in the Huddersfield area. If we can develop a funding package which allows for the purchase of the building and at least partial renovation of the upstairs area, we would be happy to vest ownership with the funding bodies, with them having ultimate claim on the asset. For our part, we would provide our own enthusiasm and voluntary effort and help manage the building in partnership with the supporting unions, and help raise funds for new projects (e.g. cafe in basement, lift facility for upstairs, etc.).
We invite senior union representatives to come and see the building for themselves and enter into serious discussions that could help us rescue this important part of our labour movement heritage.
Signed (on behalf of the steering group)
Councillor Paul Salveson (Golcar ward) Vice-Chair Colne Valley Labour Party, TSSA member
Councillor Hilary Richards (Golcar ward) Branch Secretary, Golcar Labour Party, Unison member
Councillor Carole Pattison (Crosland Moor and Netherton Ward)
Councillor Jean Calvert (Ashbrow Ward – current club secretary)
Bob Stoker, Secretary, Huddersfield TUC
Lesley Hedges, Huddersfield and Colne Valley Green Party
Temporary address for correspondence:
90a Radcliffe Road
Golcar, Huddersfield HD7 4EZ
Phone 07795 008691