While the existence of North Petherton's Community Centre is often taken for granted, the local population struggled for several generations to get it built.
It was in the 1920s that a committee was first formed to raise funds for a community centre. After many years they were able to purchase an area of land off High Street, however that turned out to be the easy part. It was not until the late 1970s that a revived committee recommenced the fight for a community centre in earnest.
During the early 1960s an area of housing was demolished between the church and Hammett Street, so that the A38 could be straightened and widened. A subsequent archaeological excavation, conducted in 1975, revealed part of the old Saxon town below the site, including a number of burials. With the future of the site unclear, the new committee approached the newly created Sedgemoor District Council, who expressed an interest in its use for a community centre.
However, even if the land might be made available, fund raising takes time. Meanwhile, Sedgemoor District Council developed plans to build housing on the land, bringing them to a memorable public meeting at the Walnut Tree at the start of the 1980s at which the Committee's contrasting vision for the site was expressed. An early concept design for the Community Centre dating from this era has survived. Following subsequent meetings with District Councillors, the housing plans were dropped in favour of firm support for a community centre, and a 99 year lease was signed in November 1983. Shortly afterwards, the Community Centre Committee were given planning permission to station a caravan on the site which, after conversion into a shop, helped raise much needed funds, as well as being a physical statement of intent and rallying point. The site was also used for several fund raising fêtes and hog roasts, which also helped to mobilise support.
Finally, with the rise in property prices that was taking place at the time, the Committee also had a potential means of raising the rest of the funds necessary for construction — selling the land it owned in High Street for housing. With planning permission granted and an agreement with the local Boy's Club, who had a hut on the land, that their lease would continue until it expired, the land — now known as Whiting Lane, was sold. With all the pieces in position and research undertaken, the Committee were finally able to instruct architects to design a building.
Although fund raising continued, the building was officially opened on 21st March 1987 by Lieutenant Colonel Walter Luttrell, Lord Lieutenant of Somerset. Following the award of grants in the 1990s, the East Wing, containing the Small Hall, was built and opened on 29th August 1991 by the Right Honourable Tom King, MP.
The Community Centre's roof is topped with a weather vane, presented to the town in 2004 to mark the 10th anniversary of its twinning with Céaucé in Normandy.
Despite the superb facilities we now enjoy, and despite the addition of the East Wing, one of the features on the original wish list remains outstanding — a full stage. Although the budget in the 1980s was insufficient to include a stage, provision was made in the concept design for the building to be extended at a later date to add one. All that remains now is to raise the funds...
Historical photos wanted
Do you have a good photo that might help to illustrate this article? Perhaps you saw the archaeological investigations? Or were you at one of the hog roasts? Maybe you went to the opening ceremony? Please contact the webmaster or talk to one of the committee members if you think you may be able to help!