Having dedicated over 40 years to running a senior citizens’ club in north Belfast, Norman Lewis will be heartbroken when the club holds its final get together next month.
The lives of Norman and his wife Lily had revolved around Midland Senior Citizens’ Club, but after Lily’s death last year and with the years catching up with Norman – now 86 – his family and friends have advised him that the time has come to close down the club.
His niece Elizabeth Coughlin said: “There is no one who could dedicate their time and energy to the club to the same degree as my aunt and uncle.
“My aunt passed away last year having battled dementia. She went into a nursing home for just over a year and the entire time she remained in that home my uncle spent every single day with her, but at night continued to keep the club doors open with many social nights, bus outings and celebration nights.
“It was their life for over 40 years but the strain and stress has had great effect on his health and it is with a heavy heart the club is to now close.”
The Midland Social and Recreational Club was formed in the 1970s and used to meet above Knox’s shop at the opposite end of Cultra Street to where the club is located now.
Kay Hutchinson’s mother Mary Knox was one of the founding members along with Sammy and Violet Reid, and Norman and Lily Lewis.
Kay said: “Myself and my three sisters did tap dancing. Sammy played the accordion. We used to rehearse in the shop, so there was always a strain of entertainment.
“The club was set up as somewhere pensioners could get together to be entertained. There were social nights in the shop where cabaret artists were brought in and there would be bus trips as well. In those days pensioners were at a loss for places to go to.
“Everybody mucked in, paid their dues – it was more or less self-funded until the funding system came in.”
The club soon outgrew the room above the shop and moved to a building known as the Beanstalk, half of which was occupied by the Midland Boxing club.
Peter Sloan, who had been involved with the boxing club where Carl Frampton started out, became the social club’s entertainments coordinator when it moved in to share the Beanstalk.
He said: “We ran arts clubs, games nights and social nights when we put on shows like Sister Act and ABBA.”
In recent years numbers have fallen and it has become more difficult to secure funding. Kay commented: “I think today’s generation of older people are much less social. They do most of their interaction on their phones rather than in person. They’ve lost the art of conversation.
“There’s also a very different club scene. If there was a wee bar in the corner things could be different.”
Peter said: “Looking back I’m privileged to have been involved. For Norman and Lily, their lives revolved around the club.”
Norman, who worked for the Harbour Commissioners, is an MBE recipient for services to the community.
Peter said: “When Lily passed away it left a big hole. Norman was very reluctant to give it up but there’s only so far you can go. When it comes to an end it will break his heart.
“The last Monday night (March 26) will be a sad night for us all.”