I’ve known the New Burley Club for a while. Since the Yorkshire Post Sports Club’s lovely private bar was burned down a decade ago, this has become our regular venue for committee meetings.
On this visit I was given the grand tour, and an insight into how private clubs continue to survive, even in areas where pubs have struggled and closed.
Let’s start with the name. The “New” is irrelevant as the club has been here for decades. Life membership is conferred on anyone who paid their annual subs for 20 years running; several members have achieved this accolade twice over.
Unlike Conservative Clubs, Working Men’s Clubs, Liberal Clubs and so on, this one has the words “Non-Political” written into its name and its constitution. Whether this means that all talk of Ukraine or UKIP is banned at the bar I’m not sure, but on my visit this week the conversation seemed to be more centred on football and rugby league.
In many ways it operates like a community pub, opening its doors to the locals and providing everything they need by way of entertainment. And with the World Cup starting today, the place is decked optimistically in England bunting, inside and out.
Without rent or brewery tie to worry about, the club turns over a healthy profit, though the demographic is drifting slowly upward. New – ideally younger – members are always welcome. “When non-members come in, we like them to be signed in,” says club secretary Eileen Robertshaw. “Once they start coming in regularly, we want them to join.” At just £5 a year, it’s hardly a major commitment and they get plenty for their money.
The social life here centres on the well-kept main bar: “We don’t do any real ales,” says Eileen, who is a regular YEP reader and knows where my preferences lie. I can easily forgive this shortcoming; when a club only has a couple of hundred members it makes more sense to stock products with a longer shelf life. A cask of real ale might not be so lovely after a few days languishing in the cellar and might have to be wasted, whereas keg beers typically last much longer.
I might take issue with the choice of those kegs though. Given the explosion in craft keg brewing in recent years, it might be worth steward Vicki Hardwick investing in something more interesting – perhaps from Kirkstall, Magic Rock or Wharfebank - rather than John Smith’s Smooth. It might be more expensive, but it would give the punters a wider choice. Certainly if the word got round that New Burley Club was doing craft keg, it would widen the club’s appeal still further.
Around the bar, rugby posters show some sporty leanings: “We’re just ten minutes’ walk from Headingley and we get a lot of fans in here before the games – and afterwards,” says Eileen.
Beyond this bar is a much larger concert room, where a lively programme of entertainment includes three-times-weekly bingo sessions, live music, tango classes, line-dancing, tea dances, country and western nights. This space, along with one or two other parts of this vast building, is available for private hire, catering for a range of events from birthday parties to funeral teas.
The stairway leads past a committee room into a games room dominated by two full-sized snooker tables, a pool table and dart board. Beyond here, would you believe, is another big room with its own bar.
Darts and doms teams, a fishing section, children’s parties, and charity events all keep people coming through the door, but like all private clubs, New Burley relies heavily on the efforts of its volunteers. Although modesty prevented anyone from actually saying, I got the impression that its day-to-day running depended on a clutch of committee members to serve buffets, call the bingo, organise the finances, and deal with all the menial little tasks for which a pub would pay its staff.
These people are heroes, frankly. Through their efforts this little piece of urban England survives.
Name: New Burley Club
Type: Lively social club
Host: Vicki Hardwick
Opening Hours: Mon and Fri 2-11pm, Tues-Thurs 4-11pm, 2-11:30pm Sat, noon-11pm Sun
Beers: John Smith’s Smooth (£2.30), Samuel Smith’s (£2.15), Theakston’s (£2.32), Toby Light (£2.25), Carling (£2.60), Foster’s (£2.55), Strongbow (£2.50), Guinness (£2.85)
Disabled: Easy access
Entertainment: Regular programme of live music and events, games machine, snooker tables, pool table, darts and dominoes, TV.
Beer Garden: Some outdoor tables and smoking shelter
Parking: Large area to side and front
Telephone: 0113 275 2108