Working men's clubs are a type of private social club first created in the 19th century in industrialised areas of the United Kingdom, particularly the North of England, the Midlands, Scotland and many parts of the South Wales Valleys, to provide recreation and education for working class men and their families. They also began at this time in Australia, with a small number in Ireland, primarily Dublin.
Despite the original educational ambitions, most working men's clubs are now mainly recreational. Typically, a club would have a room, often referred to (especially in Northern England) as a vault, with a bar for the sale and consumption of alcohol, snooker, pool or bar billiards tables, as well as televisions for sport entertainment; many provide food. A much larger room would be connected, often called the concert or entertainment room, with a stage and a layout of tables, stools and backrest sofas. They often provide night time entertainment, mainly on the weekends such as bingo, raffles, live music cabaret and comedy, playing popular music. They are also known for their charitable works.
In recent years, declining membership has seen many clubs close down and others struggle to remain open. Some groups try to raise the profile of clubs, pointing to their historical legacies and their community roles.
Meanwhile, the 19th and early 20th century educational ambitions of working men's clubs have now returned in new organisations such as the men's shed movement that started in Australasia and has spread to Europe  and appeals to much the same community as working men's clubs. Similarly the growing hackerspace movement appeals mostly to younger working men and women, who forty years ago would have worked on their interests in their garden shed or garage and then met others of like mind at their local working men's club. However, with the rise in housing costs few younger people have access to such spaces, instead were being forced to use public spaces such as cafes prior to the introduction of shared facilities such as hackerspaces and men's sheds.
A working men's club is a non-profit organisation run by members through a committee, usually elected annually. Each club has rules that tend to be vigorously enforced. The committee will discipline members (common punishments being a warning, or a ban for a period) for violations. Despite the name, women are allowed to be members in many clubs, and virtually all clubs allow entry to women. Non-members are not allowed entry unless signed in by a member.
A dispute at Wakefield City Workingmen's Club in 1978 led to a national campaign for equal membership rights for women. Sheila Capstick, whose husband was an activist in the NUM, had been a regular snooker player at the club before a ban was instituted on women playing snooker. Her protest A Woman's Right to Cues developed into a nationwide campaign for equal rights ERICCA - Equal Rights in Clubs Campaign for Action. In April 2007, after the resolution had been consistently rejected over years, the Club and Institutes Union accepted equal membership rights for women.
Most clubs affiliate to the Working Men's Club and Institute Union (commonly known as the CIU or C&IU). The CIU is affiliated to the Committee of Registered Clubs Associations or CORCA. A member of one affiliated club is entitled to use the facilities of other clubs. There are 2,200 affiliated working men's clubs in the UK.
The CIU has two purposes: to provide a national voice for clubs, and to provide discounted products and services for clubs.
Until 2004, clubs ran a brewery at Dunston, Tyne and Wear, which brewed ales and lagers under the Federation brand. The brewery and brands were sold to Scottish & Newcastle for £16.2 million, although CIU clubs still receive discounted beer. These discounts are passed on to members.
In December 2007 a poll by the British Institute of Innkeeping and the Federation of Licensed Victuallers Associations found that overall revenue was 7.3 per cent down as more men opted to drink at home, where they could also smoke.
Ken Brown, the Cumbria secretary for the Working Men's Club and Institute Union (CIU), said: 'Ten years ago there were more than fifty clubs affiliated to the CIU Cumbria, now we have 33.'
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