Paul Whittle on Club and Community

27 Feb 2017

Paul knows a thing or two about St Andrew's and the community it serves. He became a member when he was 10, and has been manager for over 30 years. His family have lived in the area for over a century. He speaks passionately about how the Club is still a really important part of the ‘spirit’ and ‘soul’ of the local community.

Paul did not really want to be interviewed, but the thousands of members who know him know he can talk. So we listened. And this is what we heard.

Both of Paul’s parents spent all their lives in Westminster / Pimlico; members of large families that looked after each other. The area was poor, and Paul’s family was delighted to move from renting what is now a multi-million pound house to a newly built post-war council home. The area the Club served was tough but, even in what was known as ‘Bullet Town’ off Page Street, Paul remembers there was a real sense of belonging. In the late 1960s, aged 10, Paul joined St Andrew’s which had recently moved into its present premises. ‘It was a place we could all go to.’

The young member became the very young manager in his late 20s taking over from the long-serving Paul Reed. Since when he has been determined ‘not to screw up what Paul Reed left; a nurturing, caring place that provides all sorts of opportunities.’

Asked about his strongest memories, Paul talks about weekends at a youth centre in Buckinghamshire. The green countryside was a novelty for many, but the real shock was the pitch black of the night. ‘You won't have to go far around here to find others who will talk enthusiastically about the “Woodrow Weekends”.'

Although the “Woodrow Weekends” stopped some years back, the Club still has weekend activities. As well as the four football teams playing in leagues, other opportunities include the snow-sport scheme of which Paul is particularly proud. Each year, three or four members have been sponsored to learn skiing and snowboarding and gone on to become instructors. One recently won the “Apprentice of the Year “ and nearly all have jobs. For Paul, it is a vivid example of the sense of aspiration that he wants the Club to give members. He just hopes that this activity can continue given the current strain on funding.

Paul reflects on other things that have changed during his nearly 40 years with the Club. There are positives. There are more educational opportunities; housing has improved for those still able to rent; families have more money. But working parents have less time; families are less close-knit. Social life is becoming more digital; the Club is running sessions about social media bullying. Drugs are a challenge; social services are more involved. Which is why he gets so animated about the ethos of the Club. You keep hearing him talk about ‘respect, trust, ambition.’ He tells you about the inclusion and engagement of an autistic member with just as much pride as a member becoming a European karate champion.

He worries that more of the 700 + subscriptions to the Club are becoming what he would call ‘users’ rather than ‘members’ and that it is harder to recruit volunteers to help run activities. But he is chuffed at members – some 15 years after leaving – looking to him for references; that the Junior Club of 5-9 year olds has doubled in size in just two years; and that the Club remains a hub for the community, including the weekly pensioners’ dance session involving some who were members before Paul was born. It all bears out Paul’s reflection that the Club is ‘a rock on which members can stand throughout their life.’

An abiding memory for Paul is the great support he received in those early days from Alec Wizard, then Club President, who took a punt on his inexperience to run the Club. ‘I hope that he would feel I haven’t done a bad job of it!’

And as he leaves to help his team prepare the Club for another evening session of activities, he is clearly proud that ’..there are still members who would turn up to a hole in the road if you called it St Andrew’s.’

Alec Wizard would be proud.

Between Paul Reed and HRH Prince Phillip at St Andrew's Club opening in 1984.

Front row far left: With Rod Stewart and the St Andrew's Club football team, date unknown.

Hosting a fundraiser at the Club in 2001.

With Club members at a special reception held for the Club's 150 Anniversary by No 10 Downing Street on July 12th 2016.