Social services

With good-quality affordable beer, comfortable surroundings and a friendly welcome, social clubs in Accrington and Warrington are up for a national Camra award

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Much of our region’s cultural heritage is tied in with social drinking clubs. So how great that two have made it through to the last four of the Campaign for Real Ale 2019 Club of the Year competition. Yet it would also be true to say the pair differ radically.

Accrington’s Canine Club, winner of the 2018 Camra Lancashire Club of the Year award, isn’t too enticing from the outside but the highly affordable quality beer, banter, cosy surroundings and atmosphere inside mean it can be a real wrench to go back out. It is open every day from noon.

Aged 91, Victor Atkinson joined the Canine over 35 years ago and still walks to the club

Based just outside Warrington, Appleton Thorn Village Hall was once a school. It has now been turned into the hub for local community activities, including a daily pre-school, a weekly mums and tots group, brownies and a dance school. On Thursday to Sunday nights at 7.30pm the venue becomes a popular social drinking club with a warm welcome guaranteed and real ales to make your mouth slaver. In 2008 it was joint winner of the Camra national club award.

No one appears to know how the Canine Club came by its name but it opened in 1903 and moved to its current town centre premises in 1963. Two decades ago the membership numbers and bar takings were low and club debts were rising. Local shop owner David Hindle, now aged 75 and affectionately nicknamed Shop, got together with other concerned drinkers and they swept the board at election time to take over the organising committee at the Canine.

Hindle has been the annually elected club secretary since and the Canine is thriving, with a largely working-class membership of close to 700, a third of whom are women. The club is financially secure.

Hindle calculates he spends around three hours each day voluntarily making sure everything runs smoothly in a club that contains a comfy lounge, and snooker and games room. Sky Sports is on the TV, there is a dartboard and a slot machine – top prize £100 – a library of books and money is raised for Help the Heroes. The new year’s raffle had 14 prizes, stretching from £100 down to £50.

There is also an upstairs function room. Members, who pay the princely sum of £4 annually, can hire the room for free for functions. They do though have to find their own buffet.

Hindle works closely with bar manager Phil Daniels, who comes from a family of licensees as his father and grandfather were both local landlords. Daniels manages a part-time staff of eight to 10 people and one full time employee.

It being late Sunday afternoon, Hindle is setting off back home after enjoying quite a few real ales. There is always a strong selection, with prices starting from as low as £2.30 a pint and rising to around £3.

“We take beer from Moorhouse’s in Pendle, Lancaster Brewery and Bank Top Brewery in Bolton. I could not state with any certainty how many different beers we have on sale annually because we swap them around so many times. My job is to keep excellent beer, retain happy customers and provide a warm and safe environment to relax in,” explains Daniels, who is only too happy to swap a joke or two, and, like Hindle, is relaxed about the possibility winning the Camra top prize.

Victor Atkinson, originally from Galway, is the oldest member I meet. Aged 91, he joined the Canine over 35 years ago and still walks to the club.
“It takes me 10 minutes and I prefer it to the local pubs as I feel safer in here. The atmosphere is always good and although these days I stick to drinking a mild bitter there is a great selection of beer.”

Appleton Thorn Village Hall club was also going downhill in the first few years of this century. Fewer people were visiting the club and the beer quality was poor.

Two local residents, Derek and Alison Massey, had sold their haulage business in 1998. Alison was working as a school secretary when the pair decided they’d like to return the club back to the thriving venue it had once been. They became joint licensees in 2004 and ran the business without taking a wage until relatively recently when their son, Chris, 29, who works in a brewery during the day, took on overall control for events on the four club nights and the Sunday afternoon session from 1-4pm. Chris draws a wage for his efforts.

“We made the prices affordable and ensured everything we served was great and that everyone who visited got a warm welcome. We presented local children using the premises with selection boxes from us and we took Christmas presents into local old people’s homes,” says Alison.

Their efforts were rewarded when Appleton won top prize in 2008. Other awards followed and the walls of the club, which consists of a carpeted lounge and a small hall with an attached pool room, are covered with them. There is no TV, slot machine or jukebox.

Appleton also made it through to the Camra 2018 final and was only just pipped to the winner’s post. This year it also faces competition from the other two finalists, the Real Ale Farm in Bargoed, South Wales and Egham United Services Club in Surrey, with the winner to be announced later this month.

“I would like to emulate my parents by winning the award. I have seven different hand-pump beers on daily. The prices are around £3 a pint,” says Chris.

“I try and keep one session beer, which is not too strong, one hoppy pale ale, an amber malty beer, a port stout or mild and an imperial pale ale. These days we have a massive selection of beers to choose from but we have found that Salamander Brewery from Bradford has consistently supplied us with a quality ale, so we have had one of their beers on every night for the last 14 years.”

On my visit to Appleton, which also serves a large range of ciders and gin, I have a (free) pint of Sepp Ratter from the Rat Brewery near Huddersfield. Priced at £3.40 a pint this golden ale goes down a treat. Drinking in the club is David Padch, who says: “I like the beer, people are very friendly and everyone speaks to one another. Alison and Derek did a great job in reviving the club by getting to know all their customers. Chris is continuing along the same route.”

Photo: Derek and Alison Massey have restored Appleton Thorn Village Hall club’s former glory (John Harvey)

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