“I don't even know if working class man has the faintest idea what he is any more, what he's supposed to do. What is my purpose? As a working-class male, what is my function? We don't really make anything anymore. We don't need to go down the pits, we don't have steelworks to go to, all the potbanks have gone...” H - Man Up Participant
Usually, before Restoke embark on a new project, the performance venue is known. Inspired by the location, the architecture, the history and the space, the building becomes part of the creative process from the start.
However, Man Up was different. For several months the project had no home. Despite Stoke-on-Trent having numerous potential buildings and spaces, none of them seemed right.
From the moment Clare and Paul stepped into the Concert Room of Goldenhill Working Men's Club (WMC), they knew it had great potential. Built and opened to the public in 1971 the club remains a cornerstone for its local community. Every Sunday the concert room serves lunches and entertains with its 'Sunday Club' – games, music and the chance to win the bingo jackpot prize. The club’s steward Mick, who also lives above the WMC told us “eight years ago, if you weren’t here at 12.30pm on a Sunday, you’d struggle to find a seat”. Although weekends are still the club’s busiest days, the numbers have dropped. Mick believes this is due to changes in the workplace; “more shift work, more regulations, the fear of losing your job if you turned up for working smelling of the beer from the day before”. Along with cheap booze in shops, the smoking ban and changing social attitudes the WMC has suffered several knocks in its 57 year history.
The Working Men's Club movement began in the middle of the 19th Century; a place for men to unwind after work. "In the 70s and 80s the bar room was the tradesman’s office", Mick adds that “people used to do business here, plumbers, builders, plasterers exchanging work”. Today the club has 400 members, each one contributing £5 per year, and is used by men women and children. In essence the club is a co-operative, owned by its members, “every member is my boss” adds Mick, “we have a good mix of members, young and old. A lot of the older members come here for company, they’ve been coming for years”.
There are discussions about rebuilding the club, “to keep up with the times”. It’s felt that more modern facilitates will help to retain and bring in new members. Details are yet to be finalised but some members are against the proposal – “they have a strong connection to this building” adds Mick. What is certain is that the community needs the club, “they would be devastated if it went”.
The 'Up Men' (Man Up participants) have also emotionally and physically connected to the space – dancing Northern Soul on the well-worn parquet flooring, singing on the stage and admiring its 1970’s décor. Some had existing memories of the club and family connections. Artistic Director Clare says " It’s been a change for us to work in a building that is still in use and has its own life. Getting to know the staff and club members, have children from the club join in the workshops, and the ever present ‘China’ the resident dog have all added to the experience of Man Up and is bringing new audiences to our work. We’re giving members of the club free tickets to see the show, to say thank you for welcoming us into their place and being so generous and open-minded as we’ve developed this ambitious performance.”