Lilian Holdsworth set it up with Worthing Council of Social Service in October 1980 and carried it on independently when the charity took the decision to close several of its retirement clubs in the early 1990s.
In a lifetime of service, including being a JP at Worthing Magistrates’ Court and a West Sussex Deputy Lieutenant, Lilian, 83, says it is the retirement club that has in many ways given her the most pleasure.
She said: “Over the past 40 years, I have been so rewarded. It has all been done voluntarily but you couldn’t pay me enough to get the same satisfaction.
“We have about 200 members and it gives them a purpose, they look forward to it. I had a few years off as chairman when I was widowed but it was my baby and it has been tremendously successful. It is amazing when I think back.”
Lilian was working at the Citizens Advice Bureau when the charity, which later became Guild Care, was considering having a centre in Ferring, similar in style to its Methold House base in Worthing.
She said: “I was asked if I thought it was needed and I said I didn’t really think that it was, there were so many groups already. But I did a survey and, of course, people said yes.
“It is a very friendly village. At the time, there were all sorts of groups in Ferring, more than 40 of them, but there was nothing like a day centre.
“We launched it in the youth club hall on October 14, 1980. We met on Tuesdays and Thursdays and we were absolutely packed out. We had 60-odd people for lunch. I was 43 and they were what I fondly call wartime mums and dads, the over-60s.
“People started asking for somewhere to go at the weekend. I was a member of Worthing District Health Authority at the time and I managed to get a grant of £42,000 towards what we hoped would be our own clubroom.
“West Sussex County Council owned the building and we wanted to build a strip on the side. I wrote to every charity I could think of and raised the £110,000 needed, then I was left to it. I founded it and I just got on with it.
“In about 1994, just before the charity was relaunched, the decision was taken to close several retirement clubs. Ours was so well established, I got us our own charitable status and we carried on independently.
“It was ahead of its time but there have been so many social changes, the club has changed as well. It started out as a day centre, people would come in at nine, have lunch and stay until four. Then lunch fell away because people didn’t seem to want a meal at lunchtime any more. Even so, it meant so much to that particular group of about a dozen or so.
“Now, the club has all different sections, Zumba, exercises, dancing, bridge and a choir that is renowned.”
The club, in Greystoke Road, Ferring, had to close on March 22 for lockdown and opened again on October 6.
Lilian said: “The nonagenarians were the first to come back. It is the being with people, music and the exercises at the same time. They absolutely love it but we had only three sessions before it all had to close again.”
Lilian felt the second lockdown combined with the 40th anniversary offered ‘a natural break’, a good time for her to step down.
She said: “I will still be life president and I shall now be able to appreciate what the others have, somewhere to go and someone to talk to. I absolutely love the dancing group, and the bridge.
“And it will give me great pride to see the new people take it forward, in their own way. It has been so rewarding and the most satisfying thing I have done because I have seen how the people have benefited. They say to me they so love our club, it is their home.”
Valerie Simpson, who has taken over as chairman, said Lilian deserved to ‘go out in a blaze of glory’ after 40 years of devotion to the older residents of the village but sadly, the big celebratory event the committee had planned had to be cancelled.
Valerie said: “Lilian deserves public recognition for her huge contribution to the community. We are extremely disappointed that, after devoting herself to the residents of Ferring for 40 years, Lilian will not go out as we would have wished.
“Instead, she stood down at our virtual AGM on November 25 with only a handful of our members on Zoom.”
Lilian also set up the Friends of Ferring volunteer driving scheme and because she did not want to be chairman of that as well, her first husband, Bernard Phillips, became chairman. Sadly, he died in 1996, so he did not hold the position for long.
Lilian said: “The service is invaluable, offering a friendly face to collect you from your own front door and take you back and see you in.”