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Burley Working Men’s Club Wathen-Bartlett ceases trading

MOUNTING utility debts and a wash-out summer coupled with the impact of the pandemic, have led to the demise of popular New Forest working men’s club.

The committee of Burley Working Men’s Club, known locally as the Wathen-Bartlett, held an extraordinary general meeting on Friday when it was agreed it should cease trading with immediate effect.

The building is opposite Burley Cross and has operated as a working men’s club for more than 100 years. However, committee members made the “difficult decision” that it should not continue operating into the winter months when utility bills increase further.

Wathen-Bartlett in Burley
Wathen-Bartlett in Burley

Longstanding committee member Phil Buckley said: “It is sad that we have been forced to cease trading but we cannot continue with mounting debts. The cost of utilities is the main factor, but a wash-out summer and the ongoing impacts of Covid are also part of the story.”

In 2019 the A&T revealed that the club was threatened with closure after several volunteers announced their plans to retire ahead of the AGM. However a new committee was formed and various initiatives, including extended opening hours and a low cost food menu, were introduced to keep the facility afloat.

However, Phil said despite everyone’s best efforts it was agreed that the situation was untenable and the club should cease trading resulting in the redundancy of the club’s stewardess and the loss of several casual members of staff.

The facility first opened around 1904 and was gifted to the working men of Burley on a 1,000-year lease in 1945 by Mrs Vanda Wathen-Bartlett. The bar was open to the public, with drink discounts for club members.

Wathen-Bartlett in Burley
Wathen-Bartlett in Burley

The original building is believed to date back to 1897, with an extension in the 1970s to create a large function room and new entrance.

An emergency meeting of the working men’s club committee is set to take place in the next fortnight when members will “brainstorm” ideas to save the Wathen-Bartlett.

Phil said: “If we have members with passion who are willing to put their energy and ideas into developing a strategy to save the club, it might not be the end, but it remains to be seen whether the will is there.”

“The closure is certainly a loss to the village – the Wathen-Bartlett has been part of the heritage of Burley for over a century, so whatever happens we hope that it will continue to be a community asset.”

If the working men’s club cannot restart, the building is likely to become a community asset such as a museum or heritage centre.

The parish council will discuss ideas for the future of the building at a forthcoming meeting. Those with ideas on how the facility could be used by the community is asked to contact the parish council directly. Email clerk@burleyparishcouncil.gov.uk

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