People power in Solihull

On a sister site appreciation was expressed for the valuable voluntary contributions of four young people to three local organisations, who could not have afforded their professional fees. Without such services their future would have been in doubt.  

The preservation of another fine community building, the Grade II* listed timber-framed Manor House in Solihull High Street, built circa 1495, is due entirely to the the borough’s people. 

 

Remarkably little is known about the history of this building and the story of its ‘rescue’ and preservation for the people of the borough is told thanks to another voluntary contribution, the writing of ‘The Solihull Manor House and its People 1900 to 2000’, by Fred Ritchie. 

The house is thought to have been built for a prosperous merchant and was purchased by Ansell’s brewery in 1938. Plans to convert it into a public house were shelved on the outbreak of the Second World War and the building was used as the local headquarters of the Home Guard. 

In 1945 it was bought by a trust with funds raised through public subscription from local people determined to save the Manor House and local volunteers have continued to maintain the property ever since. As Mr Ritchie wrote, if it had not been for their efforts the fine old house would have been demolished and replaced by a modern retail unit or office block. 

The Manor House has no council funding, as is the practice in Solihull. Though this makes the task of caring for its community centres demanding, when compared with the lavish support given in Birmingham, it does have the advantage of making them independent of sudden grant reductions. 

The writer became a ‘Friend’ of the Manor House many years ago, not only because of its charm but also because it had a telephone – this before mobile phones were in general use and a spate of vandalism was putting most public call boxes out of action. 

Drawing on the committee’s carefully recorded business papers and other sources, Fred Ritchie writes in great detail about work of volunteers over the years. 

Those involved did sterling work; this was both secretarial and ‘hands on’: cleaning, decorating, repairing and working in the garden, forming harmonious relationships over a period of years. 

The writer only met two of these volunteers, many years ago: Mario Bryanston, who set up Solihull Film Society, and Miss Joyce  Griffiths, who was, in her 80s, resisting the demolition of old houses in the town centre – including her own cottage – to make way for a supermarket. It was good to see that a room in the Manor House has been named after her – a well merited tribute.

Without labelling it as such, these volunteers and their counterparts all over the country have been realising the Cameron ‘Big Society’ vision.

 

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