Four Sheffield community stalwarts facing financial ruin

Steven Cooke outside Sheffield Crown Court

Steven Cooke outside Sheffield Crown Court

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Four community stalwarts who stepped in to save their beloved Sheffield working men’s club from closure found themselves facing financial ruin, slapped with a £40,000 bill and risked losing their homes.

The friends – Steven Cooke, aged 56, Joseph Betts, 70, and Geoffrey Gelsthorpe, 84, and Lindon Billard, 55 – were regulars at Sheffield Foundry Working Men’s Club on the Manor estate, and joined forces to keep it going when it began to hit the rocks.

arsonCL''the former Foundry Working Mens Club, which was hit by a double arson attack over the weekend - Sept 2011'PicL Tim Ansell

arsonCL''the former Foundry Working Mens Club, which was hit by a double arson attack over the weekend - Sept 2011'PicL Tim Ansell

But they were devastated when the club started to fall into disrepair, was targeted by arsonists, and later had to be demolished – and they were landed with the bill.

Today Mr Cooke, a grandad who has spent his working life volunteering on the Manor estate, said: “All we wanted to do was save our club. We are the fall guys and it is us who will have to pay the bills, it is us who will have to find that money, and it’s money we haven’t got.”

Mr Betts added: “We thought we were doing a good thing for the community and the residents – and we’ve ended up in court.”

The four men have already had to pay crippling legal costs by taking out loans, borrowing from relatives and selling off sentimental family jewellery.

Steven Cooke outside Sheffield Crown Court

Steven Cooke outside Sheffield Crown Court

They had stepped in to save the club on Beaumont Road North after Barclays Bank issued a loan to improve the building in 2008.

The bank said four new trustees were needed because the previous trustees had died.

The popular club provided live music, community events and day trips to the seaside for poverty-stricken families on the estate, and had around 700 members.

The four new trustees signed up in the mistaken belief they were not liable for the club’s debts – but found themselves embroiled in a two-year legal battle after it closed.

The Foundry Working Men's club was set alight twice in 24 hours in 2011

The Foundry Working Men's club was set alight twice in 24 hours in 2011

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The club was demolished by Sheffield Council in 2012 so the site could be used for housing, and landowner Coppen Estates was forced to pay the demolition bill.

Coppen sued the trustees in court to claw back its costs – but yesterday the case was adjourned after the four friends were offered an out of court settlement, the terms of which are still to be agreed.

Mr Cooke, who lives on Beaumont Road near the club, said: “This has caused a great deal of stress and upset for us and our families.

“We feel like criminals but we’ve done nothing wrong.

“We were a group of friends who just wanted to keep the facility open for their community.”

Mr Betts, a former steelworker and miner of White’s Lane, Wybourn, wept as he told The Star: “I’m just devastated. The whole thing has been a nightmare.

“I have suffered angina attacks since this began and it has just about killed me off.”

The great-grandfather said he thought he would lose his home – and revealed he’d had to sell his wife’s jewellery including her engagement ring to pay his legal fees.

Eighty-four-year-old Mr Gelsthorpe, who relies on a mobility scooter to get around, was not able to attend court.

Sheffield Central MP Paul Blomfield, who has supported the friends said: “Here are four blokes who stepped forward from the community to help keep a local club going at no financial benefit to themselves and they face financial ruin as a result.”

After the hearing the trustees’ lawyer, Dax Keeling, said: “The case has been adjourned and the parties are in negotiation in respect of an out of court settlement.”

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