The History of Chalkwell Badminton Centre
The hall, in London Road, Leigh-on-Sea, which is now known as Chalkwell Badminton Centre, was originally built in 1934 by local badminton enthusiasts, but was sold in 1939 at the outbreak of war. It then became a grocery provisions warehouse and continued to be used for this purpose until it was purchased in 1969 by Leighway Badminton Club. This was achieved by the persistence of purpose and dedication of a few members, particularly Ken Frith, secretary of Leighway, and the chairman Mike Sentence. They were supported by J D Robertson (‘Robbie’), Secretary and Treasurer of Essex County Badminton Association (ECBA), and Gordon Porter a local accountant and prominent member of Westcliff Badminton Club. These four gentlemen were the first trustees appointed by the members of Leighway to manage the affairs of Chalkwell Sports Centre as it was first named when purchased in 1969.
Gordon Porter resigned in 1972 due to ill health and was replaced by Derek Matthews. Robbie eventually stood down in 1978 to be replaced by Brian Gillard. One of the main stalwarts of Chalkwell, Ken Frith, died in 1990 and it was then that Peter Emptage became a Trustee. Mike Sentence decided to retire in 1994 after more than 25 years as a Trustee and the members of Leighway appointed Roy Lord to succeed Mike. The first treasurer and booking secretary was Ken’s wife, Joyce Frith. Soon after Ken died Joyce decided to retire and it was then that Jill Matthews became the treasurer and booking secretary. In 2014 Derek Matthews retired as a trustee and the members of Leighway appointed Karina Bye to replace him.
To finance the purchase of Chalkwell a government grant was obtained together with loans from the Badminton Association of England, Essex County Badminton Association and club members. To aid everyday running costs the hall was sublet to local badminton clubs many of which, although playing in the Southend & District Badminton Association (S&DBA), were not affiliated to ECBA. The S&DBA were also not affiliated at that time. These clubs still use the hall today for club play and S&DBA league matches.
The major repayment of loans was achieved by a considerable amount of fundraising by members of Leighway under the name of ‘Club 400’. This fundraising included a sponsored walk (in conjunction with Redbridge Sports Centre), monthly prize draw, badminton exhibition matches, stop watch competition, tombola, 24 hour sponsored badminton and many dances. Over four or five years approximately £5,000 was raised which in the 1970’s would have probably been sufficient to buy a semi-detached house.
When the hall was purchased in 1969 a considerable amount of work needed to be done to prepare the hall for badminton. This included much repair work, complete new electrics and of course, cleaning, decorating and the painting of lines for the courts. All the work was done voluntarily by members and friends. This was completed adequately at the time, although would not have been suitable or allowed by today’s standards. There was no central heating or showers, these followed some years later. The seating in the lounge consisted of old seats and armchairs that members no longer required at home.
For some years Essex played County matches at Chalkwell. Exhibition matches referred to above included many international players who played without any monetary reward other than reasonable expenses. These players included English Internationals Ray Stevens, Nora Perry, and Barbara Giles all from Essex and Ray Sharp, Margaret Boxall and Paul and Sue Whetnall from Kent. On these occasions a “Hova” court (conveniently stored at Chalkwell on behalf of ECBA) was laid on the floor to make use of the maximum height of the hall along the whole length of the court. Seating was arranged either side of the court to provide suitable viewing for spectators. The seating was basic being mainly scaffold boards on breeze blocks but with cushions kindly loaned by Southend United FC.
The Hall has undergone several upgrades over the years with a new floor, much improved viewing lounge area, changing rooms, showers and kitchen. These facilities are still run by volunteers thereby making the hire fees competitive but at the same time providing courts that are the envy of every match playing club that visits. Little profit is gained from the hire of the hall but everything is ploughed back to maintain and improve.
Over the years some of the Clubs that have used the hall have dwindled in membership and found to continue, they needed to amalgamate. This is obviously very sad to see but support for the hall and its continued use by local Clubs as their venue of preference, as well as by other groups and casual bookings, has enabled Leighway and the Trustees to maintain it in a condition still the best playing venue in the area. It is in Leighway Badminton Club, the Trustees and everyone’s best interest to keep the hall in good condition to enable the playing of our beloved sport to continue.