You are hereMore than just beer and bingo as author calls for social club revival.

More than just beer and bingo as author calls for social club revival.


A place of refuge for a gentleman in desperate need of a peaceful corner for his packet of peanuts and a pint.
But today, as numbers fall and fall again, working men’s clubs are battling to keep themselves from calling last and final orders.
“Many of these types of places are being forced to shut down due to lack of interest,” explains local author and club advocate Steve Christie.
“They are dying a slow death. They can’t replace the old patrons with anyone new.
“Perhaps there's a stigma attached to frequenting such places but the way the world’s economy is going at the moment surely people should be beating down the doors to get in?”
Steve is one of Edinburgh’s most recent offerings to the Tartan Noir crime writing scene and is a resolute believer in the community power of the social club.
After the release of his debut novel Good Deed a few months ago, a book written in the few hours he had spare in between his day job as a service support officer in Stenhouse, Steve decided upon the social club as a key place for his book signings.
“I used to spend a lot of time in clubs like these,” explains Steve. “They were the hub of the community. Even though they started off with a ‘men only’ policy they went on to be a place for families to go to.
“Now they just can’t get the members. That’s why I chose the Fenmore Sports and Social Club to have my last book signing. I want to bring people back to it – back to the original club culture.”
Having authors carry out book signings and talks is just one way that clubs in Edinburgh are trying to lure people back through their doors.
“We’ve been trying to do everything we can,” insists Rena Gibbs, President and Social Convener of the Fenmore Sports and Social Club in Moredun.
“We do everything possible to bring people in,” she says. “Our club stands right in the middle of the estate and it does kind of tick over but we’re not getting as many new members as we would like.
“Our bingo on a Monday night is the busiest night of the week and we actually get more men than woman in for that.
“They only agreed to let women join six years ago and it’s the best thing that ever happened to them," she says teasingly.
Chuckling, she adds: “They’re far better organised now. Men talk a lot but they can be slow to get things down.”
Taking up the post of president two years ago, Rena and the club have tried hard to organise events that will draw people back to them.
“We’re right in the heart of the community and it’s such a friendly place – we just wish the club could have even more active members,” explains Rena.
"We have around 100 members but it's difficult to get them to come out to events.
“We used to be really, really busy, but we’ve been putting on free cabaret on a Saturday and ladies nights to try and draw people back in. Having Steve come and do a book signing is a massive support for us.”
The Fenmore club’s story is a familiar one to working men’s clubs up and down the country, though some are taking an even more adventurous approach to attract their local members back into the fold.
Bethnal Green Working Men’s Club in London had experienced similar falling members until a radical approach turned their fortunes around.
With an extremely creative events line up such as holding a midnight hot dog eating contest, animation nights and even a temporary tattoo parlour, their public have swarmed back to their doors.
Their pop-up retro hairdresser has also proved extremely popular as have their ‘old school hip hop’ nights.
It’s a far cry from the working men’s clubs of old where the original theme was a 'home away from home' for the British man - complete with darts board and that warm feeling that accompanies the knowledge that you’re in a room where everybody knows your name.
At their peak in the early 1970s, there were just over 4,000 official clubs across the country with as many as four million club members - and thousands more parked on waiting lists.
Billiards, cribbage, dominoes and skittles were popular pursuits in post-war cities as something called ‘entertainment’ started to happen.
Many well-known names came up through the clubs such as Dame Vera Lynn who first sang, aged seven, at the Dagenham Working Men’s Club in 1924.
But today's decline is marked. The number of clubs still in existence have halved since the 1970s and the Working Men's Club and Institute Union has estimated that if membership continues to dwindle at the same rate, clubs will be virtually extinct by 2025.
“A lot of pubs are closing and we don’t want to go down that route,” insists Rena determinedly.
“Money is tight and people are socialising in their houses a lot more I think, but the club is a great family friendly place to be and hopefully the events we're running will show that.
“I love it. I love all the people. That’s why I’m a part of it. They’re just so friendly and when they thank you for helping out or running an event, it makes it all worthwhile. Sometimes I get a little card through the door to say thanks and that makes it for me.
“It’s just a great wee club as far as I’m concerned and we'd love to see you there if you'd like to pop in. Everyone is welcome.”
For more information on the events of the Fenmore Sports and Social Club you can visit their online site and if you have any memories or photographs from your own social club please send them in at local@stv.tv.
STV
By Laura Piper 9 January 2013

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