Many villages and communities have halls or community centers but a “Reading Room” is perhaps a little more unusual. In many ways a village Reading Room captured the spirit of the Victorian age. We do not have all the evidence to support this, but it is likely that the Curdridge Reading Room was equipped with a library including newspapers where locals could sit and read. There may have been a small charge. Meeting neighbours and friends there would invariably become part of the experience. A supply of books would be maintained perhaps by donations from individuals.
Over time, the development of education and cheap books and newspapers followed society’s increasing mobility and the original role of Reading Rooms has changed. Many lost support and funding changed so the buildings were taken over by other bodies such as parish councils. This has not been the case with the Curdridge charity, which has steadfastly resisted any direct financial support from the council which might have compromised its independence. We have however been grateful for grants and other specific funding and the trustees are always pleased to consider partnerships.
The main purpose of the Reading Rooms now is to provide a resource for village activities. The adjacent recreation ground, also owned by the charity, represents one important aspect of that work. The cricket club is the most well known user of that area but other users include the primary school, the pre-school group, the children’s football club, runners, walkers and dog owners. The adjacent field (The Skinner Field) was purchased from the Skinner family several years ago to maintain the viability of the annual show by providing parking, and also to provide another area for community use. The charity welcomes all to use these facilities reasonably. (For example horses or motorbikes are not permitted as they would damage the surface).
The annual Curdridge Country Show provides a focus for the community and, just as importantly, money towards the upkeep of the buildings and land. The charity land requires our constant attention (trees, hedging, ditching, drainage, water) . The building with its unique, idiosyncratic layout, the result of additions and modifications over the years, presents maintenance and development requirements with ever rising costs (roofing, utilities, health and safety and provisions for groups).
The work of the charity in using its assets to the benefit of local people is now well into its second hundred years. A sense of our local history and our connection with the past is, in part, epitomised by the Reading Rooms. The activities such as drama club productions which have a long tradition on the Reading Room stage and the access for young people, as well as that most traditional English pastime of cricket, are well worth preserving because they build our community. The provision we provide for the activities for adults with learning difficulties is an important feature of the charity’s moral purpose. The Curdridge Reading Rooms Charity needs to move with the times because if “we want things to stay the same, things must change”. This is an opportunity to take part in living history.
The trustees are working hard to secure the future of the charity and welcome interest and support. There are competitive rates for using the resource and volunteers are welcome for general and specific work.
The views expressed in this article are personal and I apologise for any mistakes of omission or commission.