Alive and thriving: How Chesterfield’s working men’s clubs have battled through adversity and become more popular than ever

After the sad news about the closure of the Old Whittington Club, we wanted to see how other working men’s and miners welfare clubs around Chesterfield were responding to their own challenges.

Tuesday, 24th May 2022, 11:22 am
Updated Tuesday, 24th May 2022, 11:25 am

Only two months ago, the Arkwright Town Miners Welfare Club was also facing the very real possibility of closure. The entire board of trustees had resigned from their roles, and Emma Johnson, current trustee, said the club was weeks away from shutting for good.

“Back in March, the previous trustees called a meeting to advise that they would all be stepping down at the end of April.

“As Arkwright Miners Welfare is essentially run as a charity, we cannot operate without trustees – if no one came forward, the doors would have closed on April 30.

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Many of the clubs in and around Chesterfield are thriving. Credit: Sean Barnett (Bottom Right)

“Myself and five others have all stepped up to the plate and took on the role to keep the doors of Arkwright Miners Welfare open and keep the club running. We’ve got quite a range of new trustees involved in the day-to-day running – I’m the youngest at 34, and we go up to early 60s.”

Having secured the club’s short-term future, Emma said the focus was now on making sure that they appeal to as broad a range of people as possible.

“We want to keep the heart of the older traditions, but some things just aren’t possible. For example, it’s not a given thing that people will pay for a babysitter when they come out now, so you have got to cater for families.

“We’ve got mini-pool and air hockey tables, so if children come in, they’ve got a safe space. We’re looking to create a dedicated children’s area so families can come, parents can play bingo or have a chat while the kids are entertained and not running around, so there’s still that environment where adults can come out and enjoy the club.

Hasland Working Men’s Club rents out its facilities to community groups.

“Arkwright was very much a mining village, but there’s a lot of new people moving in, so we want it to appeal to families and people who don’t necessarily know the history of Arkwright – we want it to be an open environment that is welcoming to everybody.”

Emma said that, while it is still early days, they have noticed more people coming to the club.

“We’re noticing a bit of footfall coming through already. We’re starting a new auction night which we hope will bring in a few new people, we have a big jubilee event planned and we’re organising pool tournaments and games nights.

“We’re trying to get it all off the ground and offer different things for different people – some of what we try might not work, but hopefully we get some positive feedback from it.”

The Arkwright Miners Welfare trustees: Craig Johnson, Emma Johnson, Linda Hopkinson, Shirley Watts and Graham Watts (L-R).

Richard Marriott, secretary at the Grassmoor Working Men’s Club, echoed Emma, and said that their club had also experienced a period in which their future was uncertain.

“The club has been through some dark days. When we came out of lockdown in May last year, it was a struggle, and we were doubting whether we’d survive.

“People just weren’t coming out in the numbers they used to, they were still frightened of going out.”

The team at Grassmoor, however, did not simply sit still during lockdown. They decided to use it to their advantage, and completely renovated the club – something that Richard said was desperately needed.

The Grassmoor club after an extensive renovation during the pandemic. Credit: Sean Barnett

“Lockdown knocked us back, obviously – we were closed and doing nothing. In a way, however, it did do us a massive favour. We got some grants from the government which helped a tremendous amount, and we used the time and money wisely to revamp the club right through.

“It was tired – when you walked into the club, you were walking back into the 1970s – as it is at a lot of working men’s clubs.

“Everything but the new windows was done voluntarily by members, and we were really pleased with what we’d done with it – so were the members, which is more important.”

Richard said that the club then decided to send a leaflet to every home in the village, showcasing the newly-renovated club, and since then, they have barely looked back.

“Just after lockdown, we had a photographer from the village called Sean Barnett come in and take some pictures of what we had done to the club. We sent out a leaflet to every house in the village, and we got a lot of positive feedback from that.

“Now we’ve got something going on every night, where as before, we had two or three dead days where people just weren’t coming in. In 2020 we had dwindled down to 165 paying members, we’ve now got just over 500.

Liam Beckett, Tom Kirkland, Mike Mann, Clive Harvey and Andy Mallender at the Hasland Club.

“Our takings have almost doubled from when we first opened up last May – you can never predict the future, and this business is so fickle, but it’s all positive from us at the moment. It was a lot of hard work, but it’’s really paid dividends for us.”

Richard added that now, the club has seen a shift in both entertainment and customers, and said that these changes were necessary to keep the doors open.

“We’re attracting more and more families, which is an absolute bonus. It’s not just bingo, bingo and more bingo – we run quizzes, karaoke nights, exercise classes – there’s different things on every night to attract different people.

“It’s a large club in a small village. When you used to have the pit, the coking plant, the works at Clay Cross and the heavy industry in Chesterfield, all we had to do was open the doors and people would flood in.

“Now, you have to work for it, but we have an excellent committee. We’d have gone under if we’d have just kept up with the same old stuff and done nothing about it.”

Andrew Mallender, a committee member at the Hasland Working Men’s Club, said that the club was forced to adapt after seeing a decline in membership.

“I joined the committee about five years ago, when we were really struggling – the membership was down to about 360-400.

“We used to be a ‘Stones, Smiths, Carling and Fosters’ type place – we’ve just tried to change the way we think about things and the sort of stuff we do.”

Roy Ackrill, club president, said that the club has made an effort to engage with people from beyond Hasland.

“When I first came onto the committee, you had to be in the immediate area to be a member – that’s gone out of the window down to pure necessity and logic.

“We’ve got members from all over the area, there’s people that come from North Wingfield and Alfreton to play pool and snooker here.”

“Because we’re a club, there’s not a lot of profit in what we do – everything gets reinvested back into the club, and members can always make suggestions as to what they want to see in terms of improvements.”

Andy said that the club has also diversified its offering – focusing on real ales, community events and their role as a local hub.

“We open part of the building from 9am to 5pm as a community hub, and we take a percentage of the rents. We’ve got a big dance floor, so we have dance groups coming in, and it’s all private, so it doesn’t interfere with the running of the club itself – you’ve not got people walking through the bar to get to their dance class.

“We have a good relationship with our supplier, Molson Coors, and we’re the Chesterfield CAMRA club of the year, which we’ve put a lot of effort into – hopefully we’ll get nominated for that again. We also have a range of big tribute bands on – people have travelled from Devon and all sorts to come here and see them.

As with Grassmoor and Arkwright, Andy said that the future for Hasland’s club was bright, with membership now into the thousands.

“We have Christmas and Easter parties, where you can get 150 people down. People get to come in and see the facility, they realise that you’re made welcome, and they become members or have their own parties here as well.

“Now our membership is at about 1300, and a lot of that is from having these community events.”

Business is booming again at Grassmoor Working Men’s Club. Credit: Sean Barnett