Rediscovering Community: The Power of the Working Men's Club


In an age of individualism, Tom Lindley discusses how the Working Men's Club, a once-beloved staple of the community, should make a comeback.

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Image by Jonathan Kington

By Tom Lindley

It’s Friday evening and you’ve just finished work. Some will head to the gym to unwind after a busy week. Others will order a takeaway and eat their way out of the stress. For the rest of us, the ‘after work’ pint beckons. The only question now is, where do you sup this pint?

In the world we live in, the options seem very bleak. The social drinker looking to unwind has only two options: staying at home and inviting some friends around or going to town in search of a bar.

The quiet night may sound appealing at first, but it’s not without its issues. Primarily used as a starting point before going out later in the evening, the kitchen table where you started drinking your shop-bought can is exchanged for the sticky floors of the town’s local bar. Even if after a few warm-up drinks you still don’t fancy a big night out, there doesn’t seem to be any progress made in terms of socialising. People will continue to stay in their bubble and not socialise further. How could they? Nobody else is coming unless they’re invited.

Suppose you’ve braved the bright lights of town and chosen to go to a bar. You will unfortunately be met with a sense of dread when you realise what you’ve gotten yourself into. This sense of realisation usually hits when you’ve handed over an arm and a leg to some posing hipster with a flannel shirt and stretched ear lobes, who proceeds to hand you back a mediocre pint of beer you’ve never heard of before. It hardly seems like an improvement on the big night in, considering you also can’t get a word in over the ear-pounding sounds of early 2000s dance tracks.

Whilst many have come to accept these options as the way of life for the 21st century social drinker , I believe there is an untapped solution with wider societal benefits: the Working Men’s Club (WMC).

Originally opened in the 19th century as a place for working class men and their families to socialise, the WMC has seen a significant decline in popularity. Since 1960, the number of WMCs has fallen by roughly a third. New members are attending events less frequently than ever and the institution is at risk as time goes on. Now is a better time than any to turn this around.

More importantly, it isn’t just about offering alternatives to disassociated drinkers, the WMC offers a unique sense of community. It does us all some good to go out and socialise with people, so where else would be a better place to do this than what is essentially a community centre with a licence to serve booze?

American author Robert Putnam wrote in his book, Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community, that there has been a significant decline in civic participation, community involvement, and social trust. This “decline in social capital”, as he describes it, has been brought on by a decline in group activities, in favour of individualism. This comes from enabling tools such as ‘doom-scrolling’ social media or ignoring the person sitting on the sofa next to you in favour of whatever’s on telly. In the case of our social drinker here in the UK, this individualism is allowed to grow by drinking at home or in environments that do not foster conversation.

So, what can the WMC offer that the other establishments can’t? There are three factors that make a good club appealing: light fun encouraged by cheap drinks; enforced social interaction; and a sense of belonging.

To incentivise the modern social drinker away from the unsociable bars, there has to be a cost-based incentive. As most clubs have partnerships with breweries, they receive discounted drinks unlike many other bars. Because of this, there is less of a financial gap for you to bridge between staying in for a pint and heading down to the club.

They’ve lured you in through the doors with the promise of reasonably priced John Smiths (for readers living outside of Yorkshire or under the age of 60, this is a better version of Guinness). Once you’re there, you’ll bump into people you recognise from the area. These may not have been the people you would’ve chosen to socialise with, but the beauty of the WMC is that it harbours a culture that encourages this type of bonding.

Before you know it, you’re talking to Joe Bloggs from down the road about the state of the potholes on your street, and how the local football team is in a bit of a dry spell on the goalscoring front. What started off as engagement with other members from your community has now created a genuine sense of belonging in which you can complain and reminisce about anything and everything.

Gone are the days of the WMC being a place for miners, millworkers, and manufacturers. If we are to reclaim some pride in our communities, we need to look beyond this outdated stereotype and revitalise how we perceive clubs. It’s a place for everyone to meet and discuss the state of the world and, more importantly, wind down on a Friday night. The French had Salons, the toffs have Private Members Clubs – for the rest of us, it's time we rediscover communities and blow the froth off a beer down at your local Working Men’s Club.