A dream comes true for an island
Saturday 27th October 1973
We are very lucky that Reg Stevens’ daughter Nicky Pontius still has a copy of the programme from the opening of ‘The Paddocks’ in 1973, copy of which can be found in the gallery below. Nicky also had a newspaper cutting from the event which I have transcribed for easy reading.
Canvey Island — devastated by floods 20 years ago — realised a 40-year dream on Saturday. The day Canvey’s first community centre, ThePaddocks, was opened, was a day islanders will never forget.
Town planners from throughout South East Essex were there, and some admitted; “It’s a fantastic place.” Canvey Council have planned the £¼m project for nearly 40 years. Most of that time the ambitious plans have had to be shelved because of cost, but on Saturday the dream finally became reality.
The £1,500 extravaganza opening ceremony had been criticised by Coun. Tom Fletcher as a “glorified booze-up,” and as pledged, he boycotted the event. But numerous tributes were paid to the men responsible for getting The Paddocks off the ground, and the Lord Lieutenant of Essex, Sir John Ruggles-Brise, paid a tribute to the entire island.
Sir John said The Paddocks seemed “the most ideal building, in the most ideal place, on the most ideal island, in the most ideal country.” He added: “Canvey has something to be proud of. This island has the greatest population growth in the country, and it’s plain to see that Canvey lives again. “It is more flourishing than ever before. This is the one and only island in Britain I ever visit, and that’s because it has a character of its own. This building is a fine example of what the council can do for their residents.”
South-East Essex MP Bernard Braine paid his tribute. He said; “Only 20 years ago Canvey suffered more devastation than anywhere else on the east coast of Britain because of flooding. People had serious doubts about whether Canvey would ever recover, let alone grow. This is the best community centre for miles around and it provides the framework for helping people to express themselves. Canvey spirit is marvellous. The Paddocks will give a tremendous boost to community life and this is a magnificent milestone in its history.”
Canvey Chairman, Ron Allen told the packed main hall; “This project has been my dream and the dream of many other councillors for very many years. Canvey is rapidly moving forward and it has got pride. The Paddocks is the third rung in the ladder of progress. First we had the Winter Gardens Road and then the new access roads from Benfleet. The new town centre project and the Waterside Farm sports complex are also underway. I think it is fitting that this building should be opened exactly 20 years after the floods.”
During the luncheon, the designer of the community centre, Canvey’s engineer Reg Stevens, was presented with a silver fruit bowl set.
Council vice-chairman, Coun. Bert Tibbles, said; “We tried every way we could to present Mr. Stevens with a cheque, but the powers that be said no. So we took some money from the chairman’s allowance and bought him a silver fruit bowl, ladle and goblets as a mark of our appreciation to him.”
Mr. Stevens said the builders had “pulled out all the stops to finish this job in time. We’ve suffered problems and it has been a headache.” He apologised for The Paddocks not being as spick and span as he would have liked. In fact, during the lunch workmen were still putting the finishing touches to the back of the building.
At the opening ceremony music was played by the Band of the Blues and Royals of the Royal Horse Guards and 1st Dragoons.
Up to 200 Canvey oil refinery fighters had planned a demonstration outside the centre, but when Sir John Ruggles-Brise was leaving he was confronted by a peaceful task force of 30 men and women.