One-quarter of South Yorkshire’s working men’s clubs lost in last decade

Bellhouse Road WMC.
Bellhouse Road WMC.
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One in four of South Yorkshire’s working men clubs have closed in the last decade - with fears more may shut in the near future.

In Sheffield in the last two years alone, five former working men club’s have been changed into buildings for other uses such as a car salesroom, a nursery, housing and a church.

Woodhouse Mill WMC.

Woodhouse Mill WMC.

Ken Green, secretary of the South Yorkshire branch of the Club & Institute Union, said in 2005 there were 115 clubs in Sheffield, Barnsley and Rotherham - a number which has now fallen to 87.

He said changing social trends and increasing costs are forcing many clubs which used to be the pillar of their communities out of existence.

Mr Green said: “People don’t realise when they are gone, that will be it and they won’t come back.”

Among those to be lost in Sheffield in the past two years are Handsworth, Woodhouse Mill, Ecclesfield, Bellhouse in Shiregreen and Darnall Liberal WMC.

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Mr Green said it was part of a wider pattern across the country, with the number of working men’s clubs falling from around 4,000 in their 1970s heyday to about 1,500 today.

“The main reason is changing social attitudes,” he said.

“People are spending £100 a month on Sky, they are not going out to be entertained because they can’t afford it.”

Mr Green said he believed clubs will survive but more will still close in the near future.

“I strongly believe the well-run clubs will not closed, they will still be here forever. But the closures will hit a plateau and I don’t think we have reached that yet.”

He said that as well as falling footfall, clubs are also having to deal with the increasing cost of alcohol and rising prices to book comedians and bands.

Mr Green, who is secretary of the Darfield Road club in Cudworth, Barnsley, said his club recently hired a band for £500 and had taking on the evening of £1,700 - but needed to make £2,500 to make putting on the gig worthwhile.

Mr Green said entertainers such as comedian Bobby Knutt and opera singer Russell Watson learnt their trade by playing in clubs but fewer performers are now willing to do this.

“All the top acts used to do their apprenticeships and come through working men’s clubs. Now a lot of entertainers don’t want to do an apprenticeship, don’t want to hone their craft but do demand top money.

“Brewers increase their costs every year but don’t increase it to everybody. They make probably half a pence a can on the stuff sold through supermarkets but if they didn’t sell through supermarkets they would have to close as a brewery. We end up paying a premium because they need to make a profit.

“I have been 41 years in my club. We didn’t need to look after the money in the past, the money looked after itself.

“My club was taking £16,000 to £17,000 per week. We are now taking £4,000 to £5,000 per week. The times of plenty are not there anymore.

Mr Green said it was important the tradition of working men’s clubs are maintained

“We are unique in the world. Nowhere else in the world has clubs like we have clubs.

“I’m 65 in August. My 18th birthday present was club membership from my dad. That is how it used to go

“Nowadays you are finding people are either renting houses or buying property they can’t afford. They can’t afford to spend on leisure.

“Social interaction doesn’t register like it used to.

“If someone could come up with the answer, they would be millionaires.”