Nostalgia: Looking back at stricken community centre’s history

The dedication plaque on the Walker Welfare Centre
The dedication plaque on the Walker Welfare Centre

Today campaigners fighting to save a community centre threatened with demolition will meet with council chiefs to discuss the building’s future.

The 200-year-old Walker Welfare Centre in Thornhill is under threat after it fell into disrepair.

The Edge Lane centre has been empty since 2006 and the estimated cost of repair is from £200,000 to £400,000. Members of Save Walker Welfare (Again) will meet Coun David Sheard and other officials to discuss its future today.

Ahead of the meeting, group member and amateur genealogist John Dunning, who grew up in Thornhill, has been researching the history of the building.

Mr Dunning, 47, left Thornhill almost 30 years ago when he was 18, but still remembers it vividly.

He told the Reporter: “I have a lot of good memories of Thornhill, and am almost ashamed to say that I walked past the centre many times but never went in.

“My mother, as a district nurse, practically lived there, visiting elderly people. I had been looking into my own family tree and whn you do that you begin to appreciate what we’ve got in this area - and what is at risk of being destroyed.”

Mr Dunning went on to research the history of Richard Walker, who donated the building to the people of Thornhill.

He said: “If you start looking into the Walker family, and Thornhill from around 1600 to 1800, you find that almost everybody in the area was called Walker or connected to a Walker. It’s an enormous task to find out who is related to who.”

By examining 100 years of Thornhill Parish Records for births and baptisms, Mr Dunning has started making a family tree.

And he’s even had to design a computer programme to help him with the task.

He said: “It’s been a labour of love but I’ve been inspired by this building to do it.”

Mr Dunning, and Save Walker Welfare (Again), have shared with us a history of the building and some photographs.

He said: “Some of the pictures are only ten to 15 years old and the centre itself looks wonderful. It’s a disgrace to think of what it is like now.”

In his history of the building, Mr Dunning wrote: “The Walker Welfare building in Thornhill was not always derelict. In fact, it was not that long ago that this building was a magnificent building that proudly stood up to its heritage and provided for the needs of the community of Thornhill.

“First gifted to the people of Thornhill by Richard Walker in 1813, this building provided free education to those people who were not able to pay for their own schooling - the first free school in Thornhill.

“Bequeathed by a local farmer and business man who realised that the school would need a source of revenue for maintenance and to provide the services for which it was gifted, Richard Walker also gifted a number of properties that generated rental revenue.

“The rental income from these properties would pay for the upkeep and continued service of the building.

“Just over 100 years later, the trusteeship of the land and building was transferred to the Local Education Authority and local council.

“As we moved into the 21st Century, some 200 years later, the building still stood proud and was being used by the elderly community of Thornhill, who raised money through various activities to raise the ceiling, replace the windows, install central heating and decorate the building.

“It became a regular stomping ground for the local district nurses, numbering amongst them my own mother - Sister Muriel Dunning. Overall the building became a focal point for the people of Thornhill and remained just as vital as it was on the first day that it was gifted.

“What happened in the final seven years of the life of this magnificent building is something that local council should be ashamed of - if not prosecuted for.

“On the 200th anniversary of the building, which should be a time of celebration, Kirklees Council have just applied for an emergency demolition order to destroy this historic building.

“As you walk past this building and look at the ruins, remember the happy pictures that are not even ten years old and remember that this could have been saved.”

- See next week’s Reporter for an update on the Centre,