History of the Greek Orthodox Community in Weston-super-Mare
The first signs of Greek immigrants arriving in Weston-super-Mare, stretches back more than 70 years.
Descendants from both Greece and Cyprus are recorded over the years with the first names registering in the early 1930s, Andreas Klerides from Achna and the brothers Christakis and Kyriacos and their sister Melia Kotsonis from Palaichori, settling in the Westcliffe area of Weston.
In 1938, Michael Antonouris from Koma tou Yialou arrived in Weston following his discharge from the army, who started working as a waiter at the Salisbury Hotel. The additions were Matheos Solomou from Avgorou in 1943 and the brother of Michael Antonouris, Andonis Antonouris in 1946, followed by Yerolimos Pattichos from Komi Kebir. The first family to come straight from Cyprus to Weston-super-Mare was that of Andonis Antonouris with his three children and his then pregnant wife.
Up until 1946, the Weston-super-Mare Greek community was composed mainly from Greek Cypriots and consisted of about 7-10 families. In a very short time, the number of Greek Cypriot families in Weston-super-Mare increased to approximately 20. This included Petros Terezos from Lefkoniko, 1948, Chambis Constantinou Vou from Avgorou, 1949, George Vou from Avgorou, 1950, Achilleas and Vasiliki Mena from Kaimakli, George Papageorgiou (Kapetanios) from Avgorou, 1952, Adam Vou from Avgorou, 1954, Adamos Michael from Ardana, 1955, Afxentis Michael from Ardana, 1956, Andreas Georgiou from Neon Choriou Kythreas, 1957, Andreas Flourenzou from Avgorou, 1957, Andreas Hadjiantoni from Trachoni Kythreas, 1957, Andreas Pitsillos from Neon Chorio Kythreas, 1957, Charalambous Orphanides from Ardana, 1960, Chambis Violaris from Xylophagou, 1960, Andreas Ktoris from Neon Chorio Kythreas, Charalambos Georgiou (Charlies) from Neon Chorio Kythreas, George Kafedgis from Xylophagou, Takis Demetriou from Xylophagou and Philipos Pandeli from Ardana.
The biggest problem that the community experienced during the early years was the teaching of the young children of the Greek language and Greek Orthodox religion. Families relied on helping one another and with the aid of books brought to the UK from either Greece or Cyprus, mothers were teaching their children the Greek language and the basics of the Greek Orthodox religion.
In 1959 and with the initiative of the then Archimandrite Ireneos Athanasiadis, the first Greek lessons were structured and the Greek School was born. The first lessons took place at the Kingsfair Restaurant in a room that was kindly donated by Charalambos Orphanides from Ardana and the lessons were taught by Father Ireneos. The number of families at this time was around 35-40. Father Ireneos (who is currently the Archbishop of Crete) refused to be remunerated for his efforts and also donated and expended some of his personal monies to ensure that the Greek School was successful. Following the departure of Father Ireneos back to Greece, the teaching at the Greek School of Weston-super-Mare, which became an extension of the Greek School in Bristol, was undertaken by the resident priest in Bristol with assistance from Vasiliki Mena at the Rosina Restaurant.
In 1962, Mr Adamos Michael offered a room in his restaurant, The Hardings, to teach the Greek children in Weston-super-Mare how to speak, read and write the Greek language by the resident priest in Bristol.
In the following 10-15 years, there was an influx of families moving from London and Birmingham to settle in Weston-super-Mare. In 1972, the families that resided in Weston were approximately 60.
Recognising the need for the religious, spiritual and cultural development of all the residents in the area, with the support of Father Lukas, the then priest in Bristol, the church services were taking place at the Anglican church of St. John the Baptist, near Weston-super-Mare College.
The first organised committee for Weston-super-Mare was set up in 1972, even though the community and school operated for a number of years before that.
The teaching of the Greek language however was a more difficult task so following an initiative from Father Lukas and the then cultural attaché to the Greek Embassy, Mr P. Vanezis, a meeting was set up at the Seaward Hotel at which it was decided that a 5-member committee be elected with the first president being Mr Afxentis Michael, secretary – Mr Philipos Pantele and members – George Vou, Takis Demetriou and Nicos Karanicola. One of the first tasks undertaken was to invite families to contribute an annual subscription of £100.00 towards setting up a school and providing the means to teach children the Greek language and culture.
As a temporary measure, a room was offered to the community by Mr Vasos Kimitri at the back of the Harbour Heights, which was converted into a classroom with funds donated by the community members. The Archdiocese of Thyateira and the then Archbishop Athenagoras, offered to support this move and provided a teacher who travelled from London to help with the Greek school. Unfortunately, this only lasted 2 years as the assignment of a teacher to travel from London was not economically feasible as well as there being no suitable volunteers to continue the lessons. For that reason, the owner of the property took over the premises and a new committee with president new Adamos Vou and members George Pitsillos, Charalambos Georgiou, Photis Photiou and Iacovos Chrisostomou, made it a priority to find premises to use as a community centre and also as a Greek school. The funds that were collected and available to buy premises were only £3,500 but eventually, a suitable building was found in Orchard Street and bought for £12,500 with a further £5,000 expended on renovations. The balance of the funds was provided by Midland Bank with guarantors being Adamos Vou, George Pitsillos and Charalambos Georgiou.
By the summer of 1982, the Greek families that lived in Weston-super-Mare were approximately 80. They were all involved in restaurants and hotels and around 90% of the businesses between the Grand Atlantic and Westcliffe were owned and run by Greek families. Such was the impact on the local community and the Weston-super-Mare council, that some of the councilors were of the opinion that the number of Greeks in town ran into 1,000’s when in fact, it was only 300-400 people.
The lack of a professional teacher, especially now that premises had been found, led to the committee encouraging one of the very few educated residents in town, Mr Philipos Pantele, who undertook the teaching of the Greek language without any remuneration. The teaching at the school was also supported and undertaken by Stavros Petrou and this is why some people in town still refer to him as “Daskalos” meaning “teacher” and also, Maria Milis. This was a very temporary measure and a professional teacher was desperately needed.
The committee approached the then cultural attaché at the Cypriot Embassy, Mr Aristodemou, who appointed a teacher from the Greek Cypriot Embassy to visit on Fridays and Saturdays to teach the children. The first teacher was, Mr. Andonis Kolopaedes and was assisted by Stavros Petrou and Maria Milis. With the unfortunate death of Archbishop Athenagoras in 1979, Archbishop Methodious was to replace him and soon after his enthronement, he visited Bristol to listen to the problems of the local committee. The representatives from Weston-super-Mare pointed out the fact that a teacher was desperately needed. He did oblige and ensured that the Greek Cypriot teacher was coming to Weston on a regular basis, teaching at least 5 subjects to over 60 children as well as teaching them Greek dances and Greek songs.
The supply of the Greek Cypriot teacher continues today, with the only exemption being, the first part of 2013/14. This was due to the fact there was a reduction in the costs and expenses available from the Cypriot government and additionally because the number of students at the Greek school in Weston-super-Mare has dropped to below 30. Encouragingly, these numbers are now increasing year on year.
The community committee, in looking to improve at all times, sold the premises in Orchard Street for premises in Whitecross Road in September 1986, which unfortunately proved to be not easily accessible by everyone and eventually were sold in July 1992 to move to the current location, 4 Orchard Place in December 1987. The serving committee with head, Mr Adamos Vou and supported by George Pitsilos and Charalambous Georgiou, formed the Greek Cypriot Community Association on the 27th November 1989, that operated from 4 Orchard Place. The Greek Cypriot Community Association also owned the flat at 29A Orchard Place, which was initially bought around 1989 and was eventually sold in December 1991.
The Greek Cypriot Community Association was eventually amalgamated in April 2006 with the Greek Orthodox Community of Weston-super-Mare, a registered charity No. 293042. This brought considerable financial benefits to the Greek community of Weston, as we no longer needed to pay corporation tax or council rates as well as other benefits.