READING RETIREMENT CENTRE    (registered charity No. 281830)

Firtree Newsletter                 October 2022                         Issue 522

FIRTREE at 50

Tuesday meetings (10:30am at Grange Church, 139 Southcote Lane, Reading RG30 3AJ) are follows:-

4th October                     Social gathering

11th October                   Firtree is 50! Welcome to Rachel Eden the Mayor of Reading

18th October                   Social gathering

25th October                   Birthday party sing song with Bert Randall

The Movement to Music group continues to meet at St Matthew’s church hall (opposite Coronation Square) at 10:30am on Wednesdays.
The Garden Circle will be meeting at Gloria’s house (phone 01189 412549) at 2:00pm on Monday 10th October.

Bowls in Prospect Park has just finished for the year – thanks to Richard Croker for making this possible. There are no more day trips planned for 2022, and the “Turkey and Tinsel” holiday (21st to 25th November) is fully booked. Most of the former members of the Firtree Songsters are now singing with the Silvertones at St Matthew’s – Mondays at 11:45am (further details from Val on 01189 432 555).

The membership fee for a full year is £35, but anyone joining from now until the end of 2022 pays a reduced fee of £20 for membership up until 31st March.

A history of FIRTREE    –   The Reading retirement Centre

The origins of FIRTREE go back to 1968 when the only facilities for the elderly were in Church clubs. These were welcome but only scratched the surface of the need. The Mayor then chaired a meeting of the Reading pre-retirement Association and during the next four years over three hundred members passed through the training programme. The organiser, Reg Gostage, saw a great need for a group to follow up on the course and in June 1972 eleven members met in Chain Street with a grant of £6.00.

Everything had to be done by the members and this is still the case. By September the numbers had grown to forty and the Members officially became Reading Retirement Centre, meeting three days a week with a variety of activities. In May 1973 our first AGM was held with 135 members present. Reg was elected Chairman. By then bowls, rambling and gardening groups had been established. All was funded and run by members under the guidance of Reg Gostage.

That year, a competition was held to give the club a name and it has since been known as the Friends In Retirement Taking Relaxation, Education and Exercise, or as its acronym – FIRTREE the Reading retirement Centre, the name by which we have been registered as a charity since 1980.

Life did not run too smoothly as we were never going to have a centre of our own. The Broad Street Chapel closed after seven years and in 1985 the YMCA became our main centre for 35 years. From May 2016 until March 2020 we met Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (the Mormon Chapel) in Tilehurst.

At one time we had nearly four hundred using our groups but as the University of the Third Age grew so our numbers dropped. We began outings and annual holidays in both summer and autumn but like so many groups we have been affected badly by the Covid lockdown. We have lost our place at the YMCA and the Chapel has not reopened for outside use. Also many of our members have moved, died or become too frail, and because of Covid we have not been able to attract new members.

We survived through Covid because we were able to meet by Zoom and because we have always maintained welfare contact with our members where possible. This newsletter was one of the first ways of keeping contact as you will see by the Issue number. The committee have all worked to maintain contact with our members.

The principle of self-management and self-funding has enabled us to survive and the generosity of the Grange United Reformed Church has given us a new home on Tuesdays. We are beginning to look at outings again but our membership has dropped to the point where external activities would no longer be financially viable, without some recent generous legacies.

Firtree was a dream of a centre in Reading to which all retired people could come and FIRTREE has always operated on the basis of funding itself (we have an annual subscription) and managing the club from within its membership. Also, it is open to anyone – we have no exceptions. We happily cooperate with others who work for the elderly and we have learned to be flexible as we have no centre in which we can establish ourselves. Reg Gostage’s dream of a Reading Retirement Centre remains a dream, but we have tried to meet the needs for over fifty years

In 1985 a Fir tree was planted in Caversham Court and it is still there, including a plaque to the memory of those who had the vision to start the Reading Retirement Centre.

Colin Ferguson – Editor         0118 9482557 (colindf@btinternet.com)

If you want to know more about Firtree, contact –
Mark Bowman on 0118 9677130
(markbowman_rfhc@hotmail.co.uk)
or Liz Prior on 0118 9422958

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