Many of us don’t appreciate the time and effort that volunteers put into running community centres and other public buildings we rely on.

We turn up for weekly or monthly events not realising how much work goes on behind the scenes.

As one observer wrote: “Community buildings are largely invisible. The contribution the people who manage them make to our society is often unrecognised and not celebrated.”

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This is made clear in a new book by Richard Bryant about the history of Bullingdon community centre in Peat Moors at Headington, Oxford, where he has been a volunteer for nearly 40 years.

With money short after the Second World War, the city council provided materials for local residents to build the centre, some scratching their names and initials on the bricks as they laid them.

It opened in the early 1950s and was soon a hub of activity, including bingo, dancing, a sewing class, ladies’ night, youth club, socials and jumble sales.

One early event was a Coronation party in 1953, with one young reveller later recalling: “The party was held in the new community centre which replaced the old air raid shelter, but most of the fun took place outdoors. We played on the grass. Everyone at the party knew each other. We all played together.”

Oxford Mail: Community centres faced increased competition in the 1960s with the growth of other leisure arenas such as cinemas and bingo halls, but Bullingdon remained successful with the introduction of new activities, including an annual summer fete.

Another innovation was the 7 O’Clock Club for children with learning difficulties, which has been meeting there for more than 50 years.

The 1970s were more challenging with some activities closing or being curtailed and problems with heating and leaking roofs.

It was suggested that the Bullingdon centre, by now “rather rundown”, should be renovated to serve a wider area, including the Wood Farm estate.

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Plans were drawn up to include changing rooms with showers, new heating, a hall, two meeting rooms, a bar/kitchen and an outdoor all-weather recreation area.

The sports area was completed and new heating installed in the 1980s, but there were constant delays to the other improvements.

The book describes in detail the hiccups along the way, the last of which was the Covid epidemic which put everything on hold.

The news in 2020 that the rebuild was to go ahead was greeted with a mixture of relief and celebration.

In February 2021, the city council approved a budget of £1.5m for the project. Work was completed in November that year. The keys to the new building were handed over at a ceremony in December.

As one trustee of the community centre commented: “Everyone was impressed with the design and quality. For those of us who campaigned long and hard for the new centre, there was a sense of excitement mixed with almost disbelief that our goal had been achieved.”

The book is available on the Bullingdon website - - and is also available to read at Headington, Cowley and Ruskin College libraries and the Oxfordshire History Centre.

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About the author 

Andy is the Trade and Tourism reporter for the Oxford Mail and you can sign up to his newsletters for free here. 

He joined the team more than 20 years ago and he covers community news across Oxfordshire.

His Trade and Tourism newsletter is released every Saturday morning. 

You can also read his weekly Traffic and Transport newsletter.