Home Family & Relationship Labour PPC Kirsty Mcneill Calls for Ambitious Plan for Clubs: “Social Clubs Should Be Part of National Infrastructure”

Labour PPC Kirsty Mcneill Calls for Ambitious Plan for Clubs: “Social Clubs Should Be Part of National Infrastructure”

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In an essay for the Social Market Foundation, Kirsty McNeill, the Scottish Labour and Co-operative candidate for Midlothian, has put forth an ambitious plan to reverse the decline of social clubs in working-class communities. “Working-class social and welfare clubs are the beating heart of our communities and deserve the same standing in public policy as other bits of key infrastructure,” McNeill said.

Social clubs, such as working men’s clubs and miners welfare clubs, are places where people congregate to enjoy shared activities and events. They are generally run as either member-owned co-operatives or membership-based charities, meaning they are run by the community.

Social clubs have been under pressure for decades and are rapidly declining. 50 years ago, the Club & Institute Union (CIU), the central co-op supporting clubs, used to issue more than seven million membership cards a year. That figure is now one million and declining year-on-year. With the pandemic and the cost-of-living crisis worsening socialising levels and prompting a connection and loneliness epidemic, it is vital that social clubs are revived to reignite the sense of “security of knowing we are part of a wider network of respect and fellow feeling,” McNeill said.

Existing clubs perform multiple functions for communities and, crucially, at low or no cost to attendees. As heating bills spiralled, 2.5 million visits were paid to “warm hubs”, and organisers found that “people came for the warmth but stayed for the welcome.” There is also high public support for places where different communities and generations can “meet and mix” to help social cohesion, and they are a strong indicator of community health. An ambitious new plan for clubs should be part of the Labour Party’s offer to left-behind communities, given that working-class clubs are “the heart of Labour heritage”, McNeill said.

The essay is the third in a new collection from the social market foundation, “Class of 2024: Future MPs on the social market”. Over the coming weeks, the SMF will publish pieces on a range of policy issues, showcasing the ideas of some of the most interesting thinkers across the major parties, hoping to be elected to parliament following the next election. The SMF has already published essays from PPCs Andrew Pakes and Chris Curtis on food security and New Towns (respectively), as part of the collection.

McNeill urges the next government to revive clubs by offering the ones that are falling into disuse or disrepair the “community right to buy”. This could be underpinned by the UK-wide community ownership fund, which has already supported the purchase of community assets in each of the nations, McNeill said.

In her essay for the SMF, McNeill sets out her 21st century clubs’ charter, with a call for the government to:

Use its convening power to catalyse private funding

Labour is already planning to convene trusts, foundations, and philanthropists to support local arts and heritage infrastructure, and clubs should be treated in the same way. The government can issue policy directives (as can devolved governments in each nation) to the effect that National Lottery money can be spent preserving and enhancing clubs as both core community assets (under the National Lottery Community Fund) and heritage sites (under the National Lottery Heritage Fund).

Work with broadcasters to offer better TV sports deals

Work with paid-for broadcasters to ensure social clubs are charged an affordable rate to screen live sports.

Create new apprenticeships

Explore the creation of a club management apprenticeship.

Streamline training and support

Develop a tailored learning offer that allows club committees to share best practices and, crucially, innovation to stay ahead of new trends and better meet the expectations of younger and more diverse audiences.

Explore channelling existing funds into clubs

The government could help rejuvenate the role many clubs played in working-class education by brokering partnerships with the relevant skills funding agency in each nation to ensure clubs are considered priority partners for hosting green skills training.

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