Clubs and Charities- a continuing Legacy from the Past
April p. 5 85 Years of the Club Scribes
It’s often said that charity begins at home. In the case of the Club and Institute Union (CIU) charity begins at your local club. Raising funds for a variety of causes and helping those less fortunate than ourselves, has been an essential activity that most clubs have been involved with since they were first set up.
Right from its early days, the CIU promoted benevolent and charitable works, often out of necessity because back in the mid- 19th there was a lot of poverty. The welfare state, old age pensions and the NHS were a long way off and the working men who formed clubs were committed to self-help and mutuality. It was written into the very constitution of many clubs that they would raise funds for members and their families who fell on hard times, such as during times of high unemployment and layoffs. They looked after their own and those related to them, whenever possible but it wasn’t long before the charitable works spread nationwide and even globally so that many others were assisted in different ways.
One of the big achievements very early on in the club movement was to raise enough money to open and sustain a convalescent home. Pegwell Bay was opened in 1894 and kept its doors open until 1969 when there was a damaging flood. During its lifetime of service to CIU members, it assisted 72,200 convalescent residents. *
Not long after it opened, an extension was planned for the Pegwell Bay home so that more men could benefit from its help. The CIU encouraged clubs to raise money and charted the progress of various clubs as a type of ‘race’ to see which one could raise the most money. On the front cover of the Club & Institute Journal October 1898, the finish of the ‘race’ was laid out in pictorial terms with a horse and jockey representing each club at the forefront of fundraising. St. James of Soho was the ‘winner’, just ahead of Mildmay Radical, also in London with Kettering Workingmen’s in third place. The headlines exclaimed The Extension Donation Race! Result! The End! Splendid Donations! The Whole Field a Credit! The “Home” takes over £500 by the Competition! This spirit of friendly competition between clubs in terms of fund-raising was encouraged to benefit the chosen cause and can still be seen today.
Additional convalescent homes were established so at one point there were 6, some short lived such as the one at Nantwich (1948-1954), others more long term such as Grange-over-Sands (1916-1989) which saw 83,028 convalescent residents pass through its doors. There was one specifically set up for women at Whitstable Bay and my own mother had occasion to stay there on several occasions, all funded by my father’s subscriptions to our local CIU club, the Canley Social. The importance of such facilities cannot be overstated even in the post-war period when many working class families could not afford to have holidays at the seaside. These convalescent stays were very much needed.
Now there is only one remaining home, Saltburn in the North East which is used partly as a convalescent home and partly as a holiday centre.
Raising money for such a cause was a form of charity but not a ‘hand out’ which many working men would have been too proud to accept. The funds were raised through the clubs themselves to set up a home where men recovering from illness and surgery could recuperate. There was nothing else quite like this back in the 19th century.
Another very early example of charitable work is The Club Scribes and Welfare of the Blind Association which began in 1901. It began simply as ‘The Scribes’, a group of club members in London who wanted to write about and publicise their club activities. The project grew with more London clubs becoming involved and it was decided that a small annual subscription would be paid which contributed to a fund for various good causes. ‘One of the first donations was to the Lusitania Fund, after the sinking of the American liner in 1917; another was to the Club Union to help with the cost of installing a lift at the Pegwell Bay Convalescent Home.’** This shows that the beneficiaries of the Union’s charity work were not only close to home but could be on the other side of the world.
Back in my home city of Coventry, clubs have an excellent record in fund-raising, as elsewhere in the country. Club committees and members put a lot of effort over the decades in raising money for local and national charities. Often they had their own favourite local charities but members were always ready to chip in their time and energy as well as money for a host of good causes. Sometimes it would be for a member’s child who needed specialist treatment which wasn’t provided for by the NHS or for a local charity in the community. Sometimes there were fund raising events such as sponsored walks, run or the shaving of heads and beards (!!) other times through concerts. The Radford Club, for example, had a much acclaimed Male Voice Choir, formed in 1946 by members who were on short-time working in the local factories. They told the Club and Institute Journal (Jan. 1968) that nothing gave them greater pleasure than when they were giving their services voluntarily to charitable organisations within shire.
As another example, the Cheylesmore Social, raised money for the family of a murdered young police officer in 1972. PC Guthrie was killed while on duty and the Cheylesmore members put their hands in their pockets to donate £80 to the fund.
In 1973, Coventry Working Men’s Club was held up as a shining example by the CIU national executive for other clubs throughout the country to follow for its strong support of the Union’s convalescent homes. Sadly, this club closed its doors for the final time at the beginning of August 2008. Charitable concerns remained strong right through into the 90s and beyond. In 1995, Hen Lane in Coventry raised £6000 for the national CIU appeal for Macmillan Nurses, making it the biggest contributor in the Union.
If you look around your local clubs, you will find that someone is involved in raising money for charity. It’s simply what club folk have always done and is part of the long, often unacknowledged, tradition of club life.
* Figures from CIU Annual Report 1997 p. 47
** Club and Institute Journal, Dec. 2001 p. 8 ‘Club Scribes reach 100’
Dr Ruth Cherrington, August 17th 2008
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