The social club was once the epicentre of the community, a place for people to engage and interact with one another. But in 2019, the idea of the social club couldn’t be further away from its humble origins – we’re no longer restricting ourselves to one place, we want to get out and try new experiences.

UnSUBURBIA has investigated how the social club became such a prominent part of community living, and why there’s been a shift in ideologies and design to suit the needs of modern day society.

The boom of the social club philosophy

Interacting with one another in a communal environment has been ingrained in our culture for longer than you’d think. The working men’s club (WMC) originates back to the Victorian era, providing the ‘working man’ with a controlled environment in which to socialise and drink. But as time passed, the social club became much more and turned into the heart of the community, a place for all the family to go and be a part of.

These institutions became a hotbed of activity and entertainment for locals. Members signed up in their thousands to enjoy the concerts and comedians the clubs booked to perform, the masses attended Thursday night bingo games, it was the go-to place for a post-work drink. They provided relief from the despair of strikes, economic woes and political unrest the UK was being subjected to, becoming a place of escape, a place where you could let your hair down. These clubs weren’t just part of the community, they were the community. They brought people together, creating a sense of family amongst housing estates and villages.

The prominence of traditional WMCs and social clubs is now dwindling. Over the last three decades, the number of these institutes has more halved from 4,000 to 2,000, with recent figures suggesting this could drop to as low as 1,500 in the coming years – a worrying development for the social club as it heads towards its 160th birthday.

Some see the generational change as being a key instigator in its decline, others see the ability to purchase cheaper alcohol from supermarkets as the catalyst for the move away from the social hub, with people being unwilling to pay ‘pub prices’. Yet the main reason is that these once iconic institutions just don’t offer what we want in 2019, they don’t epitomise how we want to socialise anymore. Despite its former glories, the WMC and social club is struggling to find a place in contemporary, modern-day Britain.

Brudenell Social Club, Leeds

Brudenell Social Club, Leeds, is one of the more successful modern day social clubs. Credit – Sam Saunders

A 21st century attitude to socialising

The ethos of having ‘social’ clubs is still prevalent today, but how we approach it has changed immeasurably. In the bygone eras, we enjoyed going to the same WMC or social club, interacting and engaging with others from the local community within a communal facility. In 2019, social clubs are no longer just about one place – it’s become a much wider idea that still embodies the same principles.

We’re more conscious about our health and wellbeing than ever before, so much so it now plays a major role in our social lifestyle. Cycling and running groups, yoga classes and discussion groups are the new ways of interacting with like-minded people – we want to be in a social club with people we want to be sociable with, as well as engaging with the local community’s facilities and green spaces.

The development in our amenities has also played a major part in the shift of thoughts towards the social club. We’ve become more adventurous as a society over the last three decades, with the want to try new things becoming an integral part of a social life. Sitting in the same social club doesn’t appeal to the masses anymore, we want to be social and try new experiences that are diverse and culturally different.

Thanks to fast and efficient transport connections, we can access city centres easier than ever before – from Kirkstall Forge, you can be in the heart of Leeds within six minutes, meaning there’s a plethora of choice on your doorstep.

The new ethos of social living

It’s not just the amenities that have breathed new life into our social interactions. To meet the demand of modern needs, apartment blocks are now being developed with communal spaces for residents to engage with one another – its brought the idea of the social club into our very homes. This, in return, is helping combat the rising issues of loneliness in society, especially amongst those who are of the millennial generation, by allowing residents to have easy access to a social sanctuary within their living quarters.

A different by design model is being adopted to mould how we live in our residential developments, with cafes and eateries becoming entwined with our everyday lives. The market square, a prominent feature on the continent, is becoming the new social space for communities to interact, taking the place of the WMC. Shared spaces and mixed-use developments are promoting a new way of living – something Kirkstall Forge is at the forefront of.

We’ve taken the concept of an integrated community facility and evolved into meet and fit the needs of 21st century living – we don’t want to be cooped up indoors all the time, there’s a desire to be able to live sociable outdoors in green spaces and communal areas.

The ethos remains, the principles change

As a society, the urge to be social will never waiver. We want to interact and engage with one another and our local communities, and this ideology is something that dates back over a century to the original birth of the social club and beyond. But how we approach the idea of the social club is far different now than ever before. We aren’t confined to one ‘club’ – our towns, cities and communities have become an extended social club, allowing us to get new experiences in new places with new people.