Sue and Jean look back on golden days

Susan Thornburn (left) with her Aunt Jean Hodgson outside of Owton Manor Community Centre
Susan Thornburn (left) with her Aunt Jean Hodgson outside of Owton Manor Community Centre

THE golden moment is almost here. A community centre’s 50th anniversary celebrations will be held later this month.In the final two-part focus on people who have helped to shape Owton Manor Community Centre, CHRIS CORDNER caught up with two relatives of the former live-in caretakers.

MEMORIES are priceless and Sue Thornburn, nee Kingston, has them in abundance.

We could hardly have asked for anything better than the reminiscences of former Hartlepool woman Sue. She responded to our appeal for information on Owton Manor Community Centre down the years.

She had them by the bucketload because her mum and dad, Albert and Marjorie Kingston, were the caretakers at the centre from the day it opened in 1963.

The whole family lived in the flat above.

Sue said: “I grew up at the centre from when I was about 18 months to ten years old.”

The centre was a popular venue for weddings and Sue added: “I remember there was a head waitress called Renee who I think is about 90 and still alive. There was another waitress called Elsie Moon and a lady called Joyce Kitchen who worked in the kitchen.

“I can recall silly things like watching Joyce with a giant bowl, mashing up mounds and mounds of potatoes.

“And I can remember, when I got a little bit older, me and my brother Peter, used to sneak out the flat.

“We would go to the projector room which was through a door next to the flat.

“We could look through a slit in the projector room, down on to the dinner dances.”

On other occasions, Sue would help Mr and Mrs Lockey – the people who ran the bar – by stacking bottles. In return, she got money to spend on chocolates at the local newsagents.

Sue, 51, is a retired NHS IT manager and lives with husband Robert, 56, also an NHS IT manager, in Middlesbrough.

Her auntie, Jean Hodgson, now 82, was the sister of Marjorie Kingston and helped with the functions at the centre throughout Albert and Marjorie’s time there.

Jean said: “The centre started off with small weddings which my sister and I did all of the catering for. We had some lovely weddings there.

“Later, it got busier with bigger weddings. Albert built up a team of waitresses after that.”

Next came the dinner dances and functions for organisations such as the Freda Compton Dance School, the police, the Burn Road Harriers, Yuills and “many more.”

Marjorie added: “They used to book up months ahead to get good dates near to Christmas. There was a big New Year’s dance which was run by Annie and Charlie McTurnin. A dance band called Kip Heron played regularly for the dinner dances.”

The caretaker family also made sure everything went well at other functions such as baby clubs and dances with cover bands for groups like the Beetles.

“The young people loved that,” said Jean. “They were very happy days. Sadly my sister and brother in-law have now both passed away.”