I was drawn to the idea of writing about the subject after witnessing the demise of St Bernard’s Social club at the Community Centre, the (these days) not-so-popular Casino Calpe, and the Royal Gibraltar Regiment Association’s poorly attended premises in Irish town – not to mention the Hindu, Jewish, the Odd Fellows in Victualling Office Lane and other social clubs that have been long gone for many years now.
Outside the town area some of the ‘district’ or ‘community’ clubs are still standing… but only just: the very popular Astoria (off Flat Bastion Road) is now only opening two or three days a week, I’m told. Those in the North District – Varyl Begg, Glacis, Laguna and the Catalan Bay Social Club are still there with a couple of those seemingly doing quite well. The Senior Citizens Clubs are still there also. I popped in to the one in Town Range. It was mid-morning on a Tuesday and found it quite toned down in terms of numbers on the premises – four or five workmen having their morning coffee and a four-man table of seniors enjoying a game of cards or dominoes… and that was it! I was informed however, that the club was healthy in terms of membership with four individuals having signed up that very morning, so I must’ve visited at a bad time.
I remember when football teams in the 50s and 60s like the Prince of Wales, Britannia, Gibraltar United, Europa and some others had their own healthy social activity within their location. Nowadays, supporters’ clubs have taken over and some of those seem to be working well. We’ve also got long standing rowing clubs, the Calpe and the Mediterranean by the waterside and the Royal Yacht Club. Those have been there forever, with young enthusiasts using the facility for their sporting needs, and that helps.
I’m told summer is the time when these clubs come into their own with families for obvious reasons, as all of them have bathing facilities and the kitchens are kept busy, as they can be for Sunday lunches all year round. However, there are those individuals who remain members but perhaps don’t frequent as often as they did and others who have dropped out completely, but membership at the Yacht Club is apparently full to the brim, making it difficult to take on new members especially during those summer months.
Another member of a long-standing club – Sandpits Lawn Tennis – told me things were booming there with a very healthy social scene with many turning up for meals and drinks. The Customs (HMC) club at the old Mons Calpe wharf and the Gibraltar Services Police (GSP) club by their HQ at the old North Gate entrance are also reportedly both doing well.
Clearly, on reflection, it seems some continue to attract their members and others are just not doing so well. I walk past the RGR Association Club in Irish Town most days which attracted my snoopy nose to investigate further as I noticed the premises wasn’t as busy as it had been in the past and so met up with the club’s president Lt Col – now Hon Col of the regiment – Francis Brancato, who gave me his thoughts on the possible reasons for low attendance at the club.
The venue’s doors were opened, inviting retired members of the regiment in 1998 to join, and was very successful attracting a paid-up membership of about 800 at its peak. “Yes, we had a very good lady cook at the time offering great food with whatever profits to be had going towards the regiment’s funds. Members pay just £10 a year and attendance then, was quite healthy.” It’s true, sufficient members regularly attending any club provide a good atmosphere keeping the place busy and buzzing, which apart good food being served, also helps to encourage individuals to visit their favourite meeting place more often for a snack or drink and a chat with their contemporaries, reminiscing about the ‘old days’, no doubt!
“What’s also important,” the Colonel asserts, “is the need to attract younger ex-servicemen. Those in their late 40s and 50s from all services not just from the Royal Gibraltar Regiment and invite serving individuals, as the older members begin to stay away or pass on. Paid-up membership now stands at just about 300! I also think we need to come up with ideas, change ways of doing things, organise events offering more choice, maybe invite wives to come along with their partners.” Col Brancato explains. “Additionally, the club needs refurbishing to bring it up-to-date giving it a more welcoming ambience.” Probably true to point out as well, that unlike the sport driven clubs which do attract a younger membership to practice the sport they’ve chosen, would also naturally encourage other members of their families and friends to join.
Running a club which ostensibly only has an attraction for the older members of our community – as in Senior Citizens’ Clubs, retired servicemen’s clubs and again, St Bernard’s Social Club and the Casino Calpe – is a clear indication that, as the Col says, there’s a need to come up with fresh ideas in order to boost membership and draw in other persons of a younger age and offer them activities that grab their attention whilst not abandoning the spirit and the underlying principles of the club… maybe a difficult marriage to hold together but perhaps a compromise would be the answer!
It’s clear diversity is the name of the game and with all that’s on offer these days with games, gadgets, mobiles, tablets and Netflix encouraging you to stay in, coming up with the goods to deliver a pleasant evening in good company at your chosen social club in today’s environment – pandemics playing their negative part also – requires a lot of thinking and putting ‘shoulders to the wheel’, strung together by a willing group of committee members genuinely wanting to do it, no less.
Thus, to those in charge, give it a thought, allow Covid to draw to a close, and get stuck in!