Reading Central Club in London Street was used by thousands of people as a community centre, music venue and place to meet friends and family until it was closed by the council in 2006 due to financial cost-cutting.
The prominent building – instantly recognisable for its iconic mural celebrating Black trailblazers – has now stood empty for nearly two decades.
Reflecting on its closure and the impact it’s had on the Black community this Black History Month, Reading resident and publisher Yvonne Yew described it as “such a shame”.
The 63 year old, who runs Reading Caribbean Express News, said: “It was such a good community centre. People [now] don’t have anywhere to go to.
“At the time of the closure the council said they would be allocated funding for another club and have somewhere where our community could group together.
“There was a sum of money that was allocated to that social club that seems to have gone under the radar.”
She continued: “Unfortunately, we were the only group in Reading with nowhere to go.”
The council said it has pledged £220,000 towards refurbishing the building as long as the Reading African Caribbean Community Association (ACCG) could match the funding, which it wasn’t able to do.
This summer, the authority’s planning committee approved plans submitted by developer Red Line to turn the club into 17 flats, provided the Black History Mural would be protected and restored.
Ms Yew said she hopes the mural, which features Olaudah Equiano, Marcus Garvey and Malcolm X and local residents Jeff Alamby and Davie Archibald, will be restored in consultation with the original artist.
A spokesperson for the council said: “The council had a long history spanning many years of working with the community and the voluntary sector to attempt to bring the old Central Club back into community use, after it was closed in 2006.
“In 2010 the council pledged £220,000 towards refurbishment of the building on the condition that the Reading African Caribbean Community Association (ACCG) raised the remaining balance needed to bring the building back into use. This commitment of funding remained in place for a number of years.”
The spokesman added that the group was allowed to use council meeting rooms for a period too.
They continued: “The timeframe was also extended until the end of 2013 for the ACCG to raise the necessary funding, but the group was ultimately unsuccessful in what was a difficult financial climate at the time.”
Ms Yew raised concerns that the mural will be obscured from view while building works take place.
She said: “How long are they going to keep it boarded up? It is part of our heritage so I feel that we need to know.”
Reflecting on the absence of a dedicated place for the Afro-Caribbean community in Reading, Ms Yew said: “We need to have somewhere we can belong in. Caribbean young people have nowhere to go, they don’t feel like they belong.”
She added that a lack of youth centres and provisions for young people meant there was nowhere for people to turn to.
Ms Yew added the club provided a good place for community cohesion and de-escalating conflicts.
She said: “If there was tension, at the Central Club elderly members would have calmed people down, and tell them ‘that isn’t the right way.’
“It stopped issues arising. And it wasn’t just Afro-Caribbeans coming there, lots of people went because the food from Perry’s was so good.”
Perry’s moved to the High Street between Kings Road and Market Place after the closure of the club.
Ms Yew added: “The Central Club was for everybody.
“In Reading we are a community, we have known each other since we were little, we socialised together.
“What would make the future really good is to have somewhere to call our own.
“What the African-Caribbean community is missing is somewhere they can go to get nurtured and grow.
“I’m a local girl. Our community need to have somewhere where we can meet and share information that is important to our lives.
“If we can have funding perhaps we can find that space and have our own base.”