How a club for lonely pensioners in Bury St Edmunds became a campaign group for the community

howard estate protests about a disused area'wanting it to be a health centre
howard estate protests about a disused area'wanting it to be a health centre
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They started out as a social group for lonely pensioners but soon developed into a campaign group fighting on behalf of their community.

The Howard over 60s club celebrated their 10th birthday last week with an lunch, cake and dance.

Members of the Howard Estate's Over 60s club are celebrating a new Mulley's bus service from the estate to Asda after months of campaigning.

Members of the Howard Estate's Over 60s club are celebrating a new Mulley's bus service from the estate to Asda after months of campaigning.

In that 10 years they have campaigned to improve the bus service, to bring Asda to Western Way, to turn the burnt out Merry Go Round pub into housing, and more.

The club was founded by Ernie Broom, Bill Shore, Brian Yallop, Pat Haywood, Fred Jeffries, Pauline Baker, Lily Southern, Shelia Welham and Ted Childs.

“It all started when I lost my wife in 2001,” said Ernie.

“I turned to the church – it served me alright for the Sunday but not the rest of the week.

Campaigners for an ASDA store in Western Way, Bury, are attending a meeting where plans should be given the go ahead.'Ernie Broom

Campaigners for an ASDA store in Western Way, Bury, are attending a meeting where plans should be given the go ahead.'Ernie Broom

“To be honest I felt lonely. I thought there must be a lot more people like that.”

Ernie had already run a junior champions club for children after moving to Bury from London in 1965.

“Someone said to me, you’ve done a lot for the kids, why don’t you do something for the older people on the estate.

“David Lockwood was mayor. I told him I was starting an over 60s club but I needed some help.
“He said ‘How much do you want?’

The Howard Estate Over 60's club celebrates its 10th birthday at the Newbury Community Centre in Bury.   Pictured is Ernie Broom, Cllr David Lockwood and Derrick Hardy (present Chairman).

The Howard Estate Over 60's club celebrates its 10th birthday at the Newbury Community Centre in Bury. Pictured is Ernie Broom, Cllr David Lockwood and Derrick Hardy (present Chairman).

“I slid a bit of paper over with £200 written on it – we needed a teapot and cups.

“He said not enough and gave us £2,000 out of his county council locality budget.”

Word got around and its first meeting saw 21 people turn up.

It was not long before the Howard over 60s were drawn into their first campaign, to get heating installed at the centre.

“The centre was like a dump, it was dripping wet. We were all sat here in our coats,” said Ernie.

Gradually the group turned their attentions to improving the area in and around the estate.

In 2006, they campaigned for the redevelopment of the former Merry Go Round pub, which had stood a burnt out shell after it was torched by teenagers five years earlier.

“We want to be able to have pride in our estate again, we don’t want it looking like a bomb site,” Vera Hughes told the Bury Free Press at the time.

Their campaigning eventually won through with Havebury Housing Association turning the site into affordable housing.

Just a year later the groups campaigned for Asda to be granted planning permission to revdevelop the former Coop in Western Way.

Council officers had recommended refusal but councillors voted in favour of the move after protestors including the Howard Over 60s stood with placards outside.

“It was wonderful. I don’t think they would have given permission without us,” said Sylvia Pitman.

Next the group took their banners, and placards to get a new bus service to run direct form the estate to the store, after changes by operator First.

“They rerouted the buses which meant there were no buses going up to ASDA. So we campaigned,” said Shirley Bruce.

Mulleys came to the rescue with a new service.

In its early days under treasurer Brian Yallop, the club was able to turn its intial 2,000 funding into a stable £14,000.

“The club has gone from strength to strength,” said Ernie.

“We now have 80 plus members and a waiting list as well.”

It meets once a week for socialising plus games including bingo and carpet bowls.

“It’s friendship,” said Ron Pitman. “We support each other.”

Just under two years ago the club also saw its first wedding when Nancy and Doug Gaught, who met through the club, tied the knot.

The club has also seen several engagements.

Ann Hardy and Margaret Frost take responsibility for sending out the birthday cards, get well cards or sorry you are leaving cards.

The club has regular holidays and last month went to Weston Super Mare for a week.

It also has turkey and tinsel and regular days out.

Last year it held its own over 60s Olympics.

“We are going to have another one this year because it was so good,” said chairman Derrick Hardy.

Meanwhile one battle they have yet to win is to get a doctors surgery on the estate.

But campaigning for that did see them secure a chemists instead.

“That came about by sheer fluke. I was banging on about the surgery and a consultant from West Suffolk Hospital said have you thought about a pharmacy and put me in contact with a company.

“But we are still pushing for the surgery,” said Ernie.

“At the moment I have to get two buses to get to my doctors,” said John Elliott.

“There are a lot of elderly people up here. It is very important,” said Babs Hinchcliffe.

It sounds like their campaigning days are not quite over yet.