A WORKING men's club which has become a focal point for village life is facing closure after a brewery started court proceedings to shut it down.

Time has been running out for the Oakenshaw Club, near Willington, since the Northern Clubs Federation Brewery applied to two county courts to wind it up and take over the building.

The club lies at the centre of the former pit community, acting as a venue for bingo, discos, parties and community meetings.

Secretary Tom Sharp, a freelance gardener, is contesting the closure plans.

In 1998, former club chairman Henry Tudor left £64,000 to the club and the village in his will.

Part of the legacy, amounting to £25,000, was spent on improving the interior of the building.

At the same time, £10,000 was paid to the brewery off the club's credit account.

Mr Sharp said: "This money was for the long life of the club, which obviously we were carrying out according to his will when we restored the club.

"We have a few assets in the club which we will use to keep going.

"The working men's club is the only thing in the village. We run the kids' Christmas party, bingo, discos, everything. It is part of our community."

The brewery applied to dissolve the club, claiming it owes rent arrears backdated for seven years.

But Mr Sharp says the rent has been increased without warning to £4,000 this year. Previously, the club had not paid any rent. The committee offered to pay £100 a year, which was not accepted.

Mr Sharp also says that the brewery has stopped the club's beer account and it now has to pay two days in advance.

The Federation Brewery says that the reduced rent applied only to one year, and has made two court applications to be heard in different towns on the same day, July 10.

A winding up order goes before Durham County Court and a possession order for the building is due to be heard at Bishop Auckland County Court.