Getting Organized in Britain

Clubs are a big thing in Britain. Introduce two people with an obsession in common and they’ll form a club. Introduce two people who find no meeting ground and they’ll form a Random Interests Club.

In our village, we have a camera club, a surf/lifesaving club, a table tennis (that’s ping pong) club, a tennis club, a crafts group, an allotment society, a fair-weather walking group (motto: “We’re not too proud to cancel”), a club of people over fifty who rent a bus once a month and go on day trips, the Women’s Institute (a branch of a national group), a very local women’s discussion group, an allotment society, and I’m not sure how many other clubs. Someone will let me know as soon as this goes online. Plus a proposed biking club that may or may not have taken off, and yoga and art classes. In a village of some 600 people.

Wild Thing and I were at a party last month and the talk turned to wild swimming, which is swimming outdoors, regardless of whether there’s a lifeguard or a beach or anything other than clean(ish) water.  J. said she enjoyed it. T. asked if she was going to form a club.

“Right,” J. said. “Like I need officers and a constitution to throw myself in the water.”

Semi-Relevant Photo, by Rufus Nunus

Semi-Relevant Photo, by Rufus Nunus

She had a point. Clubs get formal very quickly here. Officers get elected. Minutes get taken and are read at the start of the next meeting. Dues are set and collected. Bank accounts are set up and need signatures and countersignatures and approval and disapproval and gossip.

I’m part of a countywide group that just organized to defend the National Health Service against privatization, and we immediately elected officers, adopted a constitution, and wrote a manifesto setting out our goals. All of which are good things to do and will help keep us on track, although I tend toward more chaotic approaches myself. What tipped me over the edge was when R. suggested we might want to adopt standing orders.

Standing what? I thought that was what the regulars had at the pub. You know: You come in the door and the bartender sets your drink on the bar before you ask. But no, it’s a set of procedures: The chair will consult with the secretary about the agenda; every meeting will open with the members singing “I Left My Heart in San Francisco” to the tune of “The Twelve Days of Christmas.” Things like that, which everyone can agree are a good idea.

We decided against standing orders, but after two meetings we are well constitutioned and manifestoed. Now all we have to do is defeat privatization and get enough funding for the NHS to do its job. It should be a cinch.

17 thoughts on “Getting Organized in Britain

  1. Oh, deary me. This is why I don’t join anything. Even our young-adult Bible study group became more of an organisation than a group. Shortly after the wife and I left the group they named themselves the Cool Kidz and gave each other code names. I love those people dearly but can’t help thinking I dodged a bullet.

    P.S. Thanks. Now I also know what “standing orders” mean ;-)


    • What do you get when you join? Onions. Maybe peas, or runner beans. Definitely callouses.

      Allotment societies are groups of gardeners, growing fruit and vegetables, sometimes chickens (they’re not in the ground, I understand; please no corrections needed on this point), and occasionally flowers, for themselves and their families, as opposed to commercially. The society will have a plot of land, divide it up among the members, and set up whatever rules they need to keep things running smoothly. Or bureaucratically, as the case may be. If you’ve ever taken a train through England, you’ve seen them–oddly divided bits of garden, with sheds and fences.


      • So it’s kind of like our community gardens, a rapidly growing phenomenon. I’ve never belonged as we have plenty of space to garden and I’ll let the neighbors keep the chickens, thank you very much. However, I have heard of the turf wars, control struggles and practical as well as ideological feuds over what gets grown. Once Americans get together on such projects, they behave in ways similar to what you describe, although if it gets bad you can bet your britches that a lawyer will get into the act. The tendency to take problems to lawyers is one of the ways that Americans make themselves crazy, and less likely to retire anytime soon.


      • Now that I would join. Living in an apartment for the past five years I’m yearning for a garden again, so much so that I’d endure sharing it and listen to minutes being read ;-)


  2. I’d like it minuted that T was joking and finds the whole club obsession as bizarre as you do.

    It is a bizarre predilection, although there are benefits. For all the problems the National Trust cause, it only takes a quick glance up and down our coast to see the benefit of that ‘club’. The WI have been positively influential in many ways. The tennis court here probably wouldn’t exist without the club structure. And where would we be without all the back-biting, passive aggressive nonsense that comes with every committee?

    Sometimes, though, just sometimes, it’s OK to get a few people together off-the-cuff and do things for the sheer joy of it. If other people join in, great. If they don’t, that’s fine. You don’t need a constitution to have fun (although evidence suggests many struggle with that concept). I don’t understand the need to formalise enjoyment.

    Anyway, I don’t care to belong to a club that accepts people like me as members. etc. etc.


  3. The comments on Facebook and via email have been too good not to post:

    1. What about the ladies choir, plus another informal singing group, two women’s discussion groups, the old time dancing club, the Craven Players, horticultural committee, silver band, let alone cubs, brownies, guides, rainbows? And I haven’t really given it much thought!

    2. In all your parks and all your cities
    You’ll find no statues of committees.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Just found you through your guest post on timethiefs blog.

    Being a Brit, I think I shall enjoy your take on our oddities–after all we have always been able to laugh at ourselves, or I certainly have. Eccentricity is a top quality I think. Already signed up and followed your blog.


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