A brief history of Crawley Camera Club

The beginnings of Crawley Camera Club go back to 1961 it was then known as the ‘Ifield and District Camera Club’. The original meeting places were in the Ifield Community centre and later in a school hut. Some time later a Nissen Hut in Tilgate forest (vacated by the Canadian forces after the war), was made available by Crawley Council. The club rented one of these.

Meeting in the old hut

A darkroom was installed and studio activities were a regular feature. One night during a photo session the heater which ran on paraffin, exploded, covering the model with sooty spots! However, the club continued to thrive and in April 1981 moved to one half of a bigger Nissen Hut on the same site.

In early 1987 the club expanded into the other half of the hut to enlarge the studio area. The dividing wall was removed and construction of the new studio was just getting under way when disaster struck. The great storm of 1987 hit the south of England. Most of the huts, being around trees, were damaged and some were totally destroyed. The Camera Club hut escaped with no serious damage, but the electricity to the huts was supplied by overhead cables which were demolished by falling trees, and as the trees fell the roots destroyed the water supply and the drainage system. The site was totally closed until trees could be cleared and the site made safe but this was not a high priority. At this time the club membership was 99.

Studio evening at the old hut

After much debate the Council decided to replace the Nissen Huts with purpose built huts at an estimated cost of £500,000 (all 30 or so huts were occupied by hobby groups and clubs of all kinds). The Tilgate Forest Recreation Centre, of which the huts are a major part is a unique venture by Crawley Council and one of which they are rightly proud.

During the next two years we were without our permanent premises.

During this time we met in various halls around the town and suffered the unusual (for us) problems of caretakers flashing the lights at precisely 10pm, double booked halls and last minute cancellations. This affected our membership which fell to less than 20.

The plans for redevelopment were eventually revealed. We were excited at the prospect of a brand new hut, and even with our reduced membership we were confident enough to commit ourselves to taking on one of the bigger huts. We had to wait while they were built, which involved much moving of equipment between huts as clearance and demolition took place. Our old hut was used as a temporary store for weight lifting kit belonging to the Bar Bell Club, until it too was demolished, and when our present hut was built it was used as a workman’s hut for a while.

We moved in at last in April 1989. We now have premises which are unique in the locality. The overall size is about 20 metres by 8 metres. When we moved in it was a mainly a bare shell. Our members worked hard and built a kitchen, darkroom, changing room and lighting store. Our darkroom is equipped for colour and black and white work, and our studio has available a good selection of lighting equipment.

Some time after we had settled in we installed a false ceiling to cover the open rafters. Two thirds of the hut is used mainly for regular meetings and the remainder is a studio area, although we can and do use the whole area as a studio at times. In addition members can use the darkroom or studio at any time.

We meet twice a week throughout the year (because we can !). We are affiliated to both the Sussex and Surrey federation as we are on the borders of both counties. Since 1993 we have held an annual exhibition of members’ work in public locations around Crawley. In recent years it has been a regular event at “the Hawth”.

Club members can keep in contact via Facebook, Twitter and Flickr online groups. And our website provides access to current and historical information for an international audience.

In March 2020 the Covid pandemic meant that the Club (along with most of the UK) could not meet together at the Hut – and we introduced an online programme to keep our members involved in photographic challenges, competitions and talks from speakers from across the UK. The use of Zoom and our online photo competition platforms was a success in keeping in contact and attracting new members over the difficult period – and is now a part of Club programmes – with a mix of Hut meetings and online events to keep our activities fresh and convenient.