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What’s behind the revival of London’s private member’s club culture?

Once the exclusive domain of wealthy men dressed in tweed, private members’ clubs have a long chequered history in London. The gentlemen’s club circuit has, for years, been lampooned as a bastion of privilege, status and tradition. But now private establishments are enjoying something of a renaissance, shaking off their outdated reputation and attracting a new generation of career-driven Londoners.

Why? In part, it’s because of diversification. All clubs were once filled with cigar smoke, brandy, oak furniture and sexism. Today, you’ll find Apple Macs, macchiatos and, in some private clubs, women – an idea that would have been scoffed at in years gone by.

Rising rents, a culture of collaboration and the rise of flexible working have also contributed to the revival of the private members club, but is this another of London’s fleeting lifestyle trends or are the capital’s old social institutions here to stay?

How private members’ clubs made a comeback

Private members’ clubs have been forced to change. To remain financially viable, they must let in businesses, and that means diversifying their clientele. Where they were a place to escape the world of work, they are now hubs of networking and collaboration.

In turn, this has replaced status quo upper class Englishmen with a more diverse range of career-driven members. This group of people; hardworking, usually-liberally minded and economically influential, have been dubbed £‘London’s new club class’. The Standard put it succinctly; “No longer is the club a male-dominated haunt to drop into for a relaxing cocktail on the way home where anything as productive as a laptop would be looked at askance.”

Although this explains who is behind the rise of private members’ clubs, it doesn’t explain why. That hypothesis is put forward in £a piece in The Financial Times. It argued that “a significant shift in recent years in the way people do business has prompted the rise of work-friendly clubs.”

Exploring this shift in the very way business is conducted in the capital in 2017, explains the fortune of private members clubs, but also the challenges to the future of these clubs.

Private members’ clubs are attracting businesses, for now

The catalyst in the revival of London’s private members’ clubs can be found in the city’s offices, and the unaffordable rent they offer. In 2017, long leases, high rents and advancements in technology has made the traditional office obsolete for many companies. However, as office rent rises and the gig economy is in full swing, the need for entrepreneurs, influencers, and in some cases whole businesses, to meet is still of paramount importance. Rather than a packed coffee shop, or a sparse hotel lobby, what better places than a professional, comfortable, private environment?

Unsurprisingly, private members’ clubs have positioned themselves to try and entice this new clientele by blurring the lines between business and pleasure. £Shoreditch House is one such place, offering not only a rooftop pool and living room, but also workspaces, office rooms to rent, and super-fast broadband.

The change generally has been driven from the business world, and not from the private members’ clubs themselves. However, there are still threats to the future of private members clubs, who continue to be dogged by an outdated perception. One thing that hasn’t changed is the exclusiveness – you still have to sign up to be a member, pay a seismic fee to join, and often join lengthy waiting lists. A costly venture for the business minded.

As an alternative, many businesses are choosing to use coworking services, serviced offices, and other temporary offices to rent. These spaces come without the reputation of private members’ clubs and are considerably more affordable.

A report by Capital Economics found that the £UK’s serviced office industry could be worth as much as £126 billion by 2025. The popularity is led by businesses such as WeWork and Regus, the latter of which have more than 3000 offices that can be rented by the day. Another London based workspace provider, i2 Office, have £business lounges in central London to rent for just £60 per month, which includes complimentary coffee, and everything you need to do business in a relaxed and luxurious setting. If you compare that to Shoreditch House, where membership can set you back as much as £1,500, and that’s without the registration fee, the choice for many businesspeople is clear.

So what does the future hold for private members’ clubs? A move to the inclusive world of business or a retreat into the past. Some are still stuck in the dark ages, a time before new fangled ideas such as WiFi and gender equality. Take the members of £Covent Garden’s Garrick Club, who recently voted to keep a ban on women in place.

Brian Clivaz, who is credited with the reinvention of £The Arts Club in 2011, explained to the Evening Standard that in the 1880s there were 180 or so private clubs in London, compared to just 100 now. This is by no means a golden era. Many members’ clubs have had to adapt to survive, and therefore welcome businesses in. But with other options on the table for modern businesses, there is little doubt we will see more hybrid private clubs renting out office space in the capital.

This was posted in Bdaily's Members' News section by Caitlyn Stevens .

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