The Eyot Centre on the Wargrave Road is 75 years old and on Friday evening they celebrated this special anniversary with a barbecue and some very fun alternative games including water balloon volleyball and canoe slalom relay not on water but on land!
Today, The Eyot Centre offers non-residential water based outdoor activities and is home to The Henley Canoe Club, Henley Dragon Boat Club, Henley Duke of Edinburgh Activity centre and water rescue service. The clubs offer weekly activities to members.
Originally, the Thamesfield House grounds on which The Eyot Centre stands on was purchased with money bequeathed by Viscount Hambleden for the young people of the Henley area. Following the purchase, The Thamesfield Youth Association was formed in 1943 to manage the Trust. One of the original Trustees was Ernest Makower, the grandfather of the present Senior Trustee, Oliver Makower. Thamesfield and its grounds then became Henley Youth Club for a number of years.
The building became an onerous burden on the Trust and an agreement was reached with Oxfordshire County Council to run the house as a residential Youth Centre in exchange for a purpose-built Youth Club in Deanfield Avenue (which opened in 1961 and closed in Jan 2015) and the retention of the freehold land home to TS Guardian, the Henley Sea Cadet headquarters. A 100 year lease was also set up on the land on which the current Eyot Centre stands and Thamesfield House is now a retirement home. In the early 1960s, a building was erected on the land and was known as the Riverside Boat Centre.
By the late 1990’s, the original Riverside Boat Centre building was in a poor condition. In need of replacement, as it did not meet the modern requirements of its users, a major fund raising exercise began to fund a replacement building. For 15 years, members of the Centre worked tirelessly to raise funds for the rebuilding. Despite two unsuccessful lottery applications, members and supporters of the club managed to raise over £100,000. In addition to the funds raised by the members, grants were made from Sport England, South Oxfordshire District Council and Henley Town Council. After obtaining planning approval from Wokingham District Council, work at last began on rebuilding a new clubhouse and was opened by HRH the Duke of Kent on 20 May 2008.
The Eyot Centre charity was set up in 2003 with Thamesfield Youth Association continuing to hold the lease from Oxfordshire County Council. The emphasis has, from the beginning of the original bequest, been on activities for young people and this continues with the current plans for the future of the Centre.
Richard Parham, Secretary at The Eyot Centre said, “To continue to build on the success of the last 75 years, we are delighted to announce that we have just received confirmation of a grant from SODC of £52,984 (half of the total) for a new 135 metre new waterfront. The Centre along with a kind donation of £35,000 from a Thamesfield Youth Association will make up the other half of the money. After many years of regularly mending the slipway and the concrete landing stage, we have got the funding and planning approval from Wokingham District Council to start the redevelopment. .”
On Friday, Jill Dodds a trustee of Thamesfield Youth Association and her husband Malcolm were pleased to be invited to the celebration barbecue. Jill said, “We’re very pleased to be in a position to help with this thriving facility.”
The waterfront development will include a new slipway that will provide a new launch point for Berkshire Fire Brigade Water Rescue Service, improving response time in Henley as well as giving local clubs easier access for water-based activities. A new hoist will be fitted too which will allow transfer into craft on the river by those who currently have physical limitations.