The centre was built beside the Mark Brittain Warehouse (later Baldwin's Casuals), and had its main entrance on Viaduct Street. The building was owned by the council, and run by a committee with a Community Development Officer assigned as a full-time administrator. Ken Barlow filled this role from 1975 to 1983. Over the years, the centre was used for many wedding receptions, parties, meetings, a nursery, classes, flower shows, plays, youth clubs, pantomimes, and fetes.
The Coronation Street side of the centre was attached to a one-bedroomed flat which housed the building caretaker. Ena Sharples was the centre's senior caretaker and lived in the flat from 1971 until she left Weatherfield in 1980. After a number of short-term replacements, Percy Sugden took over the job and flat in 1983 and remained there until his forced retirement in 1988.
In 1989, the council sold the building to Maurice Jones, who demolished it as part of his re-development of the local area.
Planning and construction
The Community Centre was built on the site of the maisonettes, which were knocked down in February 1971 by order of the council after a fire exposed some structural faults in the building. The fire originated at 14 Coronation Street, triggered when Valerie Barlow was electrocuted and killed in her home, in the process knocking an electric fire into a packing case.
Part of the empty landspace was bought up by mail-order firm Mark Brittain, who set about building their new warehouse on the site. In planning their new community centre, the council did a land swap with the warehouse firm, meaning that the centre couldn't go ahead without the warehouse and they were built together. The centre plans were announced by councillor Len Fairclough on 15th February, and construction commenced in early March. Unlike the warehouse which the residents lobbied against, the centre was popular and the building went ahead without trouble.
For some residents, the centre was an opportunity for work; Ena Sharples for one was determined that the role of live-in caretaker was hers. The caretaker's accommodation was a ground-floor bedsit with the postal address of 16 Coronation Street - the exact spot where her beloved vestry at the Glad Tidings Mission Hall had once stood. Having been tipped off about the centre by Alf Roberts a week before the announcement, Ena used this information to secure an interview and blackmail Alf into voting for her. However, Ena still lost out by one vote to Hetty Thorpe. After being told who had beaten her, Ena moved into action by inviting Hetty to tea and regaling the timid and worrying lady with false stories of the vandalism and roughness of the area. Hetty resigned, and Ena was taken on in her place.
Building was finished by mid-May, and in early June an election night for the centre's committee was the first event to take place within its walls. The frontman for the role of committee chairman among the residents of Coronation Street was Ernest Bishop, but he faced stiff opposition from the dismissive and authoritarian Arnold Sheppard, who had the support of his fellow Victoria Street residents. Sheppard emerged victorious by a single vote, with Ernie joining the committee along and with Emily Nugent as secretary (unsurprisingly, Hilda Ogden's nomination of Stan for committee member failed to gain traction). The opening ceremony followed days later, conducted by the current Mayor of Weatherfield and dedicated to the memory of Alderman Thomas Walsh.
Events held by the centre
Among the many events held at the Community Centre between 1971 and 1989 were:
- Flower show (1971). The event went ahead despite Ena Sharples trying to get it cancelled due to her hayfever. The judges were: Annie Walker on cakes, Emily Nugent on wines, Alf Roberts on beer, and George Greenwood on flowers and veg. Albert Tatlock was praised for his Sweet Peas, Dahlias, Geraniums, Cabbages and won the challenge cup, while Emily got drunk on wine.
- The Bishops's engagement party (1971)
- Immigrant children class (1971). Ken Barlow taught the class about British history.
- Horticulture lecture (1971). Albert Tatlock gave a lecture to a select audience of gardening enthusiasts, but did not appreciate their helpful insights.
- Sea cadets class (1972). Jerry Booth attended this class to get advice on sailing.
- The Bishops' wedding reception (1972)
- Preston Guild excursion (1972). Co-caretaker Albert Tatlock organised the trip without his bosses' permission, upsetting Annie Walker who had to cancel a rival Rovers outing to avoid a clash.
- Creative writing class (1973)
- Manchester Festival celebration (1973). Coronation Street was decorated with hanging baskets, bunting for this outdoor celebration which included children’s rides, a barrel organ, a Strongman, candy floss and Miss Weatherfield having her pictures taken.
- Ballroom dancing class (1973). Hilda Ogden attended this class with Ted Loftus as a dancing partner.
- The Importance of Being Earnest (1974). Performed by the local residents. Produced by Emily Bishop.
- The Cookes' wedding reception (1974)
- Police headquarters (1975). The police used the building as their headquarters during the investigation into Lynn Johnson's murder.
- Bonfire show (1975). Ken Barlow organised this event as one of his first acts as Community Development Officer. Ken and Emily acted out the story of Guy Fawkes with the one boy who turned up.
- Youth section (1975). Run by Janice Berry until Ken found out she bullied and blackmailed the other kids and got Mary Broughton to replace her.
- Cinderella (1975). The residents performed the Christmas pantomime for the children.
- Art class (1976). Attended by Gail Potter, Tricia Hopkins, Hilda Ogden, Mavis Riley, Deirdre Langton, and Ken Barlow. Peter Milton was the teacher.
- Literary appreciation class (1976). Taught by Wendy Nightingale.
- Bank Holiday Street party (1976). Another brainchild of Ken Barlow's. Included clog dancers, a barrel organ and Punch and Judy.
- Nursery. In 1976, Eddie Yeats tried to plan an adventure playground for the children, but the parents made Ken sack Eddie due to his criminal record.
- Dance (1977). Deirdre Langton went into labour while Ray was at the dance alone.
- Glamorous Grannie Contest (1977). Elsie Howard and Vera Duckworth completed in the competition which was won by Dot Baker.
- Bonny Jubilee Baby Contest (1977). Tracy Langton won and was presented with a Jubilee crown piece.
- OAP party (1977).
- Keep fit class (1979). Ken organised this class at which Mavis Riley was the only attendee.
- Disco (1979).
- Yoda class (1981). Taught by Sonia Price.
- Beauty class (1981). Taught by Sonia Price.
- English Literature class (1982). Attended by Mavis Riley.
- Children's charity dance (1982)
- Autumn fayre (1983)
- Local history studies (1983). Attended by Mavis Riley.
- Children's party (1984)
- Valentine Dance (1985)
- Over 60s tea dance session (1987)
- Polling station (1987)
Weatherfield Council vs. Ena Sharples
As caretaker, Ena Sharples was proprietorial over the centre and her many years of experience in the field had been spent mostly bending people to her will. Her greatest asset was her sharp tongue, which was her weapon in the war against her critics at the council.
Just two months after the centre opened, Ena's temporary replacement Nancy Crossley did such a good job that the council considered sacking her. Len and Alf warned Ena, but she easily dispelled any notion that her work had been less than perfect by pointing out that her responsibilities had never been put to her formally.
In February 1972, Ena forgot to lock the centre and its colour TV was stolen. The council left Ena's fate up to the committee, who decided to hire an assistant - Albert Tatlock. Ena only accepted help on the condition that she was referred to as "Senior Caretaker".
The committee frequently received complaints about Ena from the centre's users and in December 1973 she was put on her final warning. Just before Christmas, Ena went away without realising she had the centre keys with her, resulting in the children not getting any presents. Ernie and Emily Bishop were ordered to fire Ena and give notice for her to vacate the flat. Furious at being sacked, Ena moved her things out immediately and let the neighbours think she'd been evicted on Christmas Eve, causing the residents to fall out with the Bishops.
Ena's replacement, Gertie Robson, was assigned in March 1974. Gertie lasted four months before taking a housekeeping job at The Flying Horse. After being beaten by Gertie in March, Hilda and Stan Ogden were set to replace her, and got as far as arranging the sale of 13 Coronation Street, but their record with the health inspector caused the council to change its mind at the last minute. Instead, Albert Tatlock was persuaded to take on the job full-time. In October of the following year, Albert gave up the job and Ena was re-hired by Alf Roberts, agreeing to move back into the flat rent-free and doing minor work at the centre while professional cleaners were hired.
Ena's position came under fire again in July 1977 when Councillor Tattersall found out that her responsibilities at the centre had been scaled back due to her age and lodged an official complaint about her. However, Alf Roberts found out that Tattersall only wanted rid of her so that his niece could be given the job, and got Tattersall to drop his opposition.
When Ena left the centre for the last time, it was by her own volition: tired of waiting for the builders to finish at the flat in early 1980, she went to stay with her friend Henry Foster in Lytham St Annes and never returned.
Decline and demolition
The Community Centre often struggled to keep up attendance figures, and it always fell to the Bishops to find projects to interest the local residents. In 1975, as a cost-cutting measure by the council the building doubled up as a health centre. Later that year, Ken Barlow was hired as Community Development Officer, and brought with him an enthusiasm for the job and the local community, spearheading a number of projects.
In 1980, the council invested money in the centre, modernising and installing a new brick frontage. At the same time, Ena Sharples left her position of caretaker. Emily Bishop considered taking on the job but dropped the idea as she was afraid of vandals. Instead, Alf gave the job and flat to Fred and Eunice Gee. The move attracted criticism from councillor Ben Critchley, who felt that Alf had given Fred the job as they were friends. To stop an official investigation, Alf gave the Gees notice.
The centre was without a full-time caretaker until Percy Sugden got the job and flat in August 1983. With his military experience, Percy treated his position like an army assignment, and the council was generally happy with his work. Percy took over just as Ken gave up the centre in favour of buying into the Weatherfield Recorder. Instead of replacing Ken, the council entrusted Percy with extra responsibilities.
By 1988, Percy had passed the retirement age and the council insisted that he give up the job and flat, claiming that a successor had been appointed. Feeling he was being put out to pasture, Percy refused to leave the flat and enlisted councillor Deirdre Barlow's help in his cause, but he was persuaded to leave when Paul Hindley from the council pulled strings to get him a ground-floor flat in Rosamund Street.
However, no successor took over the flat and by 1989 the council was looking at alternative ideas for the centre. One idea put forward was for the building to house a hostel for homeless youths, but this didn't go ahead as council secretary Wendy Crozier leaked the plans to Ken Barlow, who printed them in the Recorder, resulting in a public outcry. At the same time, Maurice Jones was buying up land from Arkwright Street to Coronation Street in preparation for a re-development of the entire area, and the last pieces of the puzzle were Baldwin's Casuals and the Community Centre. The sale of the centre to Jones was confirmed in early August of that year, and on 20th September, the residents awoke to see the centre being demolished before their eyes, bringing to an end 18 years of efficient community service.
Along with the Mark Brittain Warehouse, the community centre was added to the programme in 1971 as a replacement for the maisonettes. The new buildings were intended to boost the number of workplaces and meeting places for the characters. The Community Centre stood on the site of the Glad Tidings Mission Hall, and played a similar role, except that the centre was larger than the mission. The interior of the centre first appeared in Episode 1084.
The centre remained an integral part of Weatherfield life throughout the 1970s. In the 1980s, it was not seen as often, but maintained a marginal presence until 1987, where in Episode 2735 the interior made its final on-screen appearance. After Percy Sugden's retirement in 1988, no usage of the centre was referred to until the council discussions in 1989 which led to its demolition. The centre and factory were written out so that a greater number of houses and businesses could be built in the space, as the programme was about to launch its third weekly episode and expand its cast.
The name "Weatherfield Community Centre" was seen on a sign when the centre was used as a polling station in Episode 2724.