Gillian has been part of the Centre since its inception in 1972 up until 1994. She served as coordinator of (then) Telegraph Hill Neighbourhood Centre from 1972-77. She played a pivotal role in the early days of the Centre, introducing many of the groups that made the Centre what it is today. Gillian became the Chair of the Centre from 1989-92 and Vice Chair from 1992-94. Thank you Gillian for your dedication to the community, St Catherine’s and Telegraph Hill Centre.
The following interview was conducted by Jake Nicholls in 2022 as part of the THC 50th Anniversary Celebrations.
Gillian Reeve: Memories of the first THC Coordinator, 1972-77
Structure of the THC team and Telegraph Hill Neighbourhood Council (THNC)
You have to remember that I was technically employed by THNC, which had quite a considerable number of staff than, based at 170 New Cross Road, including detached youth workers and community development workers.
The Somerville Adventure Playground workers were also part of the team with Bonfire Night on 5th November always a date in everyone’s diary.
THNC was governed by an Executive Committee which met monthly in the Centre. I was always pitied by my colleagues as having ‘the white elephant on top of the hill’.
It was a large group as there were members elected at the AGM, reps from the church and reps from many of the groups involved. I always felt I had to ‘gear myself up’ for the meetings. In spite of having an agreed agenda, items seemed to ‘crop up.’ Two local councillors, a married couple, were also members are remember them being an absolute pain. They seemed to arrive late and tried to dominate the meeting.
I remember when traffic resections were carried out on Drakefell Road, they ended up just outside their house and they were livid. I remember that after each meeting, a drink at the pub down the road was essential. I remember Gary Churchill as Chair – but don’t remember anyone else – although Pat Pettier did do a lot of work, particularly in the bar. I don’t remember Gerry being particularly concerned with the day to day running of the Centre. I think I was left pretty well to myself – which is why having a colleague like Mary Wood was so precious.
Funding came predominantly from Lewisham Council in its programme of grants to the voluntary sector, until such time as heavy cuts were made to these grants and finally heavy cuts were made to the Council budget by the then government.
In 1972 I was working as a Youth and Community Worker at a church on the outskirts of Liverpool when my mother, who, then, lived in Forest Hill, sent me an advert from, I think, the Church Times, advertising the post of coordinator of the newly built Telegraph Hill Neighbourhood Centre, physically attached to St. Catherine’s church. I applied for the job and got it.
Accommodation (to rent) came with the post but, as I didn’t want to live right on the job, I elected to live at 61 Erlanger Road (a property previously owned by St. Catherine’s) at the same time as the Revd. Clive Everett-Allen and Cynthia also moved in. John Miles (caretaker), his wife Doris and Sheba the dog lived in the top flat in the Centre.
I remember that soon after I started, there was a somewhat heated discussion at a management committee meeting as to whether the Centre should be named the St. Catherine’s centre or Telegraph Hill Neighbourhood centre. The latter prevailed and so it has been for many years.
Canon Alan Auckland invested a lot of time and resources in the design of the Centre, into the overall design of the church. This included particularly the design of the ‘wall’ between the centre, Narthex and the church. A highlight is the narrow windows which went right from the ground floor up to the top ceiling. This meant that wherever you were in those rooms in the centre you would relate to the church and what it stood for.
Canon Auckland also wanted the centre to be used by as many groups as possible, hence you have as disparate groups as a very popular under 5’s group, the Rodney cycling club, Joy proctor dance classes, Gamblers Anonymous, the Kitto players and even PHAB (an inclusive group for physically disabled and able bodied children – CHECK
I really enjoyed working with this group – they were so positive. From the beginning money was a problem and I remember Olive Palmer and Gladys Phillips running a bingo club each week to raise funding to give to the church, which was than ploughed back into the centre.
I remember too initiating along with Revd. Malcom Johnson, the Black/ West Indian Parents Group which originally had as its focus the way in which their children were perceived by local schools, but which became a social group with trips and event weekends away.
A lovely colleague was Mary Wood who was once employed by Lewisham Council to work with the elderly. One of the nice things about Mary was that she would never let you accept a gift of, say, chocolate, saying ‘it would come in useful at Christmas.’
And, Christmas itself became quite a tradition.
Christmas Eve was busy setting everything up and I always remember coming out of Midnight Mass and being struck with how beautiful everything looked. No shortage of volunteers either as, perhaps sadly, many young people, in particular, preferred to be doing something rather than sat at home. And I can still see Ben Haines sitting there with the self- imposed task of preparing a sackful of sprouts for lunch.
A lovely lunch was cooked and served by volunteers – always to a full house: Father Christmas came to deliver all the things that Mary had denied us; and then went home exhausted. And of course, the kitchen was always busy in the week with the daily lunches being cooked for older people.
A further place in the Centre of highlight was under the stairs where there was always a queue for welfare foods whenever it was open.
The Centre Bar came into being a year after the centre was open, 1972, with all the dynamics of a close nit group.
A local lady who was to become a real ‘link’ was Joan Bond, a member of St. Thomas the
Apostle RC Church , Nunhead. She ran a Girl’s Guide company (CONFIRM IF GIRLS GUIDE) in the centre for a while but also built up a relationship between the churches in the local area, celebrating the week of prayer for Christian Unity, Passover and the Walk of Witness in Holy Week. This included going back to St. Thomas’ for tea/coffee after a short serve on Nunhead Green, when carrying the cross was a surprise for all the shops open on Good Friday morning!
And one can’t forgot Tom Lorrigan who was the Youth Worker in the centre. He was also quite a character, for example, regularly hiring a vehicle to take someone the young people to provide soup, etc, to people living on the streets – and the coffee bar was always full of young people.
Glenda Jackson opened the Centre and Princess Margaret came to visit. What more could one want!
Looking back, I hope Allen Auckland would feel that his vision had been realised and that it was worth all that money and physical effort. Maybe 50 years on it is time to re-vision again.
They were good times ‘on the hill’ with memories of many lovely people.