Great Bedwyn's British Legion club house is for sale - to a developer?
It stands on the village High Street and backs onto the village's extensive allotments - Great Bedwyn's Royal British Legion (RBL) extensive and well-fitted club house is for sale. There is, however, a campaign underway to buy it for the community - and in so doing prevent the possibility of it being knocked down for a housing development.
The "Public notice of proposed disposition of charity land" was posted on March 25, last year. It invited 'representations concerning the proposed disposal' and initiated a consultation.
Since then villagers have been told that there are developers interested - if not in the building then in the site. And the Carter Jonas website does describe it as a 'Freehold Development plot' of approximately 6,281 square feet with 'four reception rooms' - and as being 'detached'.
The village's RBL branch closed two years ago - and the building has been lying vacant. You might think that if a club house was built and paid for by the community, then the community might have first call on its use.
It has not turned out quite like that. Long before the branch closed, ownership had passed to the national RBL. And when a group of Bedwyn villagers got a Community Asset Order for the building, the RBL appealed the decision - and lost.
But these Orders do not give the community first call on taking possession of a building - they just give the community six months to find the funds to buy it. In this case the six months runs out on April 20.
Great Bedwyn is not alone in this predicament. The number of surviving Second World War veterans (for whom many RBL club houses were built by their communities) is falling fast. Taken together with that demise of the Second World War generation, cheap supermarket drink, television sport, 'home cinema' and the smoking ban have not helped stem the decline in RBL's local and active membership.
Over the past eight years the number of RBL branches with premises - clubs are often referred to simply as 'The Legion' - has dropped by a third to 482. The RBL's national organisation has already sold off 300 premises.
RBL's case was weakened after they got into a complex mess over the use of the funds raised by these sales. They found that in many cases they were flouting charity law.
However, over the years, the RBL has not been entirely supportive of local branches as it managed the decline in members and premises. In the 1980s ownership of Great Bedwyn's 'Legion' was passed from the village to the national RBL - for £1 - and the branch then rented it back for £1 a year.
This inflated peppercorn rent did not last - and the rent was later raised to £6,000 a year. As membership shrank this became unsustainable - much to the anger of surviving Bedwyn members.
The campaign in the village to keep the club house as a community asset included a public meeting and questionnaire. The latter produced a tally of organisations that would use the club house on a daily, weekly or monthly basis. In addition there was talk of starting a community café.
It was pointed out that several of the pledged users would not be able to use the village hall as it is booked for a Monday-Friday play group. That hall is not as central to the village as the RBL club house. It lies across the railway and the canal - and is considered by some to be 'not safely accessible unless one has a car'.
The campaigners admitted that saving the club house would be difficult: "The only way this will happen is to ask the community to dig deep." Several thousand pounds has been collected on a return-if-not-used basis.
Ideally, the village is looking for a major philanthropist.