Clubs- Are in recession
THE celebrated working men's club circuit, a corner-stone of working class culture for over 145 years and famous for shaping young aspiring live entertainers, is under serious threat from recession and the smoking ban.
A recent BBC Survey suggested, one in five working men's clubs could close when the smoking ban comes into force in England on the 1st of July. Of the 560 clubs which responded to the survey, more than four out of five, also thought they would lose money when the smoking ban takes effect.
From July smoking as been banned in pubs, clubs and enclosed public spaces, even if the area is only available to private members. The government had originally supported allowing private members' clubs an exemption against the smoking ban, but the House of Commons voted to include clubs in the scope of the legislation.
The Club and Institute Union [CIU] was formed in 1862 to promote and support working men's clubs. In 1977 the CIU had over 4000 affiliated clubs but, such is the decline in recent years, membership has fallen to less than 2200 clubs, a fall of 45% in only 30 years.
Jim Kennedy, secretary of the Scottish branch of the CIU, confirmed not one of his 36 clubs had closed since the smoking ban became law in Scotland. However, income was down by between 11 and 15%. Mr Kennedy added, “My own club lost £23,000 in the first year of the smoking ban and I know of two clubs which have lost over £100,000 each in takings”.
Barry Slazberg, president of the South-East Midlands Branch of the CIU, said; “Clubs are in recession and the sector is on a knife edge. This smoking ban could tip many clubs over that edge”. “Clubs can adjust to the smoking ban, but they need financial help in the short term. I think the banks should offer a moratorium on bank charges for six months and breweries and other major club suppliers, should provide additional discounts, to help with this short period of adjustment.”
The largest concentration of working men's clubs are in the North West, Yorkshire and the North-East, many located in communities, near to the old traditional industries, such as textiles, coal and steel. The clubs are registered as non profit societies and managed as co-operatives, solely for the benefit of their members, which ensures bar prices are competitive.
Working Men's clubs offer a wide range of leisure options, from a pint with friends, a game of snooker, dominoes or darts, and on most week-ends, live entertainment and dancing to the latest sounds. Beer prices are low compared to pubs, with most working men's clubs offering a pint of beer from as low as £1:30.
Mick McGlasham, secretary of the County Durham branch in the CIU, which supports over 200 North-East clubs, agreed clubs are in recession and some clubs will need extra help. He said, “We should see the advantage of a cleaner and healthy club environment, which in time, will attract new members”. “I feel sorry for the old folk who are set in their ways. For some, their local club is the only way of getting any social contact”.
Bishopthorpe Sports and Social Club in York, with over 500 members, is a model of success. The club has added sports to its name and secured a better brewery deal and has invested in new soft furnishings and member facilities, such as Sports TV and top live entertainment. In the past 12 months, Bishopthorpe Club has bucked the club recession and increased its membership and bar takings.
John O'Brien, Bishopthorpe's ebullient club secretary, said; “We have made great progress. ”
He added however, “The smoking ban will hit clubs hard and, although our wholesaler has offered some assistance, the breweries response is, too little and too late. The brewers have only provided a glossy guide on the smoking ban, seminars on re-financing and a list of preferred suppliers of their branded awnings”.
David Jones, from for S&N, the UK's leading brewer and second most profitable brewer in Europe with reported profits in 2006 of £452M, up £55M on 2005, said,” We do not want to respond directly to the call for brewers to assist clubs with additional discounts”. “We feel the support we have put in place - which clubs can access via individually tailored finance packages should allow clubs to spread the costs and soften the short-term impact of the ban.
John Logie, from Barclay's Bank PLC, whose profit before tax rose by 35% in 2006 to £7,136m said, “Barclay's are available to discuss any change in circumstances that may impact on our clients' businesses”.
Although, CIU affiliated clubs in Scotland have seen a drop in their takings since the smoking ban came into force, nonetheless all 36 clubs are still in business. Bishopthorpe Sports and Social Club in York, believe modernizing the club and widening its member services, is the key to increasing membership and income.
There is no doubt, the fear of the smoking ban and its possible impact is causing alarm in some quarters of club land. But the evidence suggests there is hope for many clubs if they are prepared to modernize and adjust to a changing leisure industry.