Harwell has had a youth club since the end of the Second World War. Like all clubs it has had its ups and downs, and many leaders, but perhaps uniquely in the area it boasts a special name: it is not just Harwell Village Youth Club, it is the Winterbrook Youth Club. The Club got its name from Winterbrook House in the High Street. It was here, in 1946, that a boys’ club took shape under the guidance of Mr P.B. Freeman. Mr Freeman had a long-standing interest in youth club development and with help from his wife, Mrs M.B. Freeman, and other villagers, ran club meetings in his study. In 1948 the Club moved to occupy a Nissen hut purchased from the R.A.F. and erected by members’ parents in the grounds of the Village Hall.
The Club used this hut for many years and opened its doors to both boys and girls two or three evenings a week for a variety of activities. Dennis Wilkes – who had grown up with the Club – was one of the main driving forces and Club Leader for a long period running well into the 1960s. He raised some £1600 to replace the by now decaying Nissen hut. Around 1964 planning permission was obtained for a new building, but unfortunately there were difficulties in obtaining a grant to supplement the money raised by the Club. It was very clear by the late 1960s that the Club needed a new meeting place and that renewed efforts would have to be made with the Area Youth Officer to obtain grants.
To help with this, a new Committee was formed in 1969; by now Club meetings were being held weekly in the Village Hall. The new Committee attempted to raise an estimated £3,000 for a new building; after some delay, grants were offered from the Ministry of Education and the County, but they did not meet the escalating costs, and this and legal requirements forced the Committee to reject the grants. Despair of ever seeing a new Club building was fortunately dispelled by a generous gift of £1,000 from Mrs Freeman and a grant of £2,400 from the Parish Council. So finally in 1972 the new building, named the Freeman Hall, rose proudly behind the Village Hall to herald in the latest era of the Winterbrook Youth Club. Club members, leaders, Committee members and their families all helped to complete and furnish the building and it opened with a special ceremony on 17th September, 1972.
Left to right: Bernard Honeysett, Benny Hams, Norman Ponting, Ann Ritson, Ray Howard, Ralph Dicker, ‘Bimbo’ Birmingham, Tony Hughes, Dennis Wilkes, Mary Freeman, Tony Gibson, Jimmy Hill, John Francis, Mary Turner, Gerald Cuzens, Bill Woollen, Trevor Packer, Bob Otlet.
For the first few years in the Freeman Hall the Club opened twice a week; the general format, with table tennis, darts, snooker, television, refreshments, discos, competitions and outings has remained much the same since, though old leaders have faded away and new ones have been found, sometimes with difficulty. Over the last few years the Club has been very popular and particularly successful in local competitions.
True to the line “change and decay in all around I see” the Freeman Hall showed signs of wear and tear in the early 1980s and was given an external and internal facelift with the aid of grants from the Vale of the White Horse District Council and the Harwell Feast Committee. Inside the Hall the Winterbrook Youth Club continued, noisily at times, but always providing activities for the youth of the village.