It was more than 50 years ago, back in 1962, that Brighton Lions Club opened Lion House. This was a large house which the club had bought and turned into flats to be let to elderly people at affordable rents.
Two years later, there was some almost unbelievable news for the club. Ken Carlisle was the manager
of Martins Bank in Brighton and, a keen Lion, he always made a point of wearing the Lions’ badge in his lapel. One of his wealthy customers spotted the badge and expressed interest in the activities of the Lions Club. Ken explained something of what the club had achieved, mentioning Lion House in
particular, and went on to say that the Lions were keen to buy another property to use as affordable housing for the elderly.
The customer, who insisted on complete anonymity, was so impressed with the activities of the club that she offered a donation of £15,000 to help build a block of flats if the club could find a suitable site.
By the early summer of 1965 a suitable site had been identified. The Corporation owned the site and a two-pronged approach was made. First, there was the question of whether the Corporation would be prepared to lease the site to Brighton Lions Housing Society, and second, would they grant a loan to enable the Society to build a block of twenty to twenty-five flats.
In December came the news that the Corporation were willing to lease the Manor Way site to the Housing Society for a period of ninety-five years at a ground rent of £5 a year. Approval had to be obtained from the Ministry of Housing, which was at first unwilling to agree, pointing out that the market rent for the site would be £480 and that the Corporation would therefore be subsidising the Lions Housing Society. However, a Lion blessed with a silver tongue explained to the Ministry that the Housing Society would be relieving the Council of the need to subsidise the housing of several elderly people and would actually be saving the Council money. The Ministry eventually gave way.
The anonymous Martins Bank customer increased her donation and, with a loan of £8000 from the Council, the Society considered it had sufficient funds to build a block of twelve flats. The flats were finished by February 1968.
It had been a condition of the lease that a further block of flats had to be constructed within five years and by 1971 the Housing Society was getting perilously close to the time limit for starting the second block. Although reserves had been built up by saving each year’s surplus, there was nowhere near sufficient money to build another block of flats. However, the Corporation agreed to grant a mortgage and construction of the second block, this one consisting of eighteen flats, started in 1971. It was opened in 1972 and the whole complex was known as Lions Court.
A very substantial mortgage was raised in 1992 to enable the Society to buy a partly built block of 37 flats in the Deneway, Westdene, Brighton. These were completed in 1993 and named Lions Dene. Included in the development is a doctors' surgery and a large residents' lounge which is used by Brighton Lions Club for its business meetings.
A further block of 42 flats in Rowan Avenue, Hangleton, known as Lions Gate was officially opened by Dr Tai-Sup Lee, the Lions' International President, in April 2004.
And on top of that, we have been negotiating for six years (!) with the Council to buy the freehold of that land we are leasing. At long last it looks as though we might be getting somewhere.