By David Hennessy
A group of Chorlton Irish Club members have put forward a proposal to save the iconic venue. Working with the developer, Hillcrest Homes, the members have offered to buy the site to use for much needed housing while still retaining the club.
However, the offer has got no reaction from the club’s trustees who have communicated little with the club’s members for over a year.
The only communication to have come from the trustees since June 2019 is a statement in early April, when the club was put up for sale without consulting its members, which said they had no other option but to sell due to debts.
The group of members and the developer believe they have a plan which would clear the club’s debts and retain the club building but the club’s trustees have still resisted all attempts to enter a dialogue with them. Local MP Jeff Smith has even offered to mediate but the trustees have also ignored him.
As the club has the status of being an ‘Asset of Community Value’, the trustees can currently only sell to a community organisation but this status ends next month.
The group Friends of Chorlton Irish fear the trustees are simply waiting for 15 October when they will be free to sell to whomever they choose.
A spokesperson for the Friends of Chorlton Irish campaign group told The Irish World: “This is a viable proposal that warrants serious consideration. It offers the chance for the venue to be revived, with the possibility of other funding sources being available to a not-for-profit community venture. The trustees claimed that they were ‘reluctantly’ selling in order to clear the debts: this proposal does that and a lot more, so why won’t they even discuss it? The obvious concern is that the trustees are going to sit tight until 15 October and then accept another offer for the entire site, with the club being demolished.
“The decision to put the site up for sale at the start of the pandemic, with no prior announcement nor consultation, was shocking. There is now a viable alternative on the table which clears the club’s debts, so this is a big test for the trustees as to whether they are going to act in the best interests of the club’s members and the Irish community.
“The trustees have not communicated directly with the membership since June 2019, and have ignored numerous attempts to communicate with them since then. After they put the club up for sale in April this year, and in response to press interest, they issued a single announcement via Facebook. Nothing else in the five months since then. The local MP has been attempting to arrange a meeting with them during the summer, but with no success as yet.
“We call upon them to halt the sale until the club’s members have the chance to be fully informed of this proposal. The matter should then be put to a members’ vote. To do otherwise would be indefensible.”
In January the Irish World reported that there were renewed concerns over the future of the club when Friends of Chorlton Irish said they had been made aware of a document suggesting the club may be sold without consulting with its members who are supposed to own it.
Those fears were confirmed in April with the advertising of the building as a redevelopment property with estate agents Colliers International.
The south Manchester club was founded in the 1950s as a meeting place for the Irish community and counted Sir Matt Busby among its members.
Last year the club was in danger of closing permanently and in March 2019 the venue known as Irish Association Social Club ceased trading and a new club The Chorlton Irish Club began trading on 1 April after four trustees took control of the club’s day to day running. This move was welcomed by members at the time. The trustees said they would hand back day-to-day control to the members but this did not happen.
Initial optimism saw a huge rise in membership applications as the local community showed their support for the club.
However, the trustees kept control and hopes drained away as they ceased to communicate with members and popular events left the venue.
It is understood that there have been numerous bids for the site from private developers. In an effort to offer a viable alternative a group of club members formed a Community Interest Company in May and planned to retain the club building with a smaller car park, with the remainder of the site given over to high quality family housing.
The group have met with council planners who have indicated they would look favourably on the scheme, given that it would retain the popular community asset. The group believe the plan would yield a sum large enough to clear the club’s debts with over £1 million left over.
Ownership of the venue would transfer to the Community Interest Company and would be run on a not-for-profit basis with an ‘asset lock’ ensuring that the premises are used for the benefit of the community.
It is understood that this is the only proposal which retains the Irish Club venue, with all the other bids requiring demolition of the premises.
Friends of Chorlton Irish continued: “Thanks to the foresight of its founders, the venue has provided a home to the Irish community in South Manchester for 60 years. Its loss would be a huge blow and would close the door on generations to come and their possibilities to get involved with Irish culture.
“The old model of an Irish club may have had its day, but an alternative future as a community venture is possible. It is worth noting that the three local Manchester constituencies are in the top 15 nationwide for Irish-born residents. Add in the huge number of 2nd/3rd generation Irish in the area and you have a massive pool of potential support.”
The trustees contacted the Irish World with this statement in response: “The Trustees have authorised Colliers to deal with all matters relating to the IASC. The Friends of Chorlton Irish have been invited to submit a formal proposal on numerous occasions but have yet to do so. They were granted access to survey the property which other interested parties have not been privy to, and the Friends of Chorlton Irish frequently contact Colliers for information, which goes against the ethical nature of the bid process.
“The Trustees are not obliged to meet or talk to any interested parties. Colliers is representing the IASC and await the formal proposal from The Friends of Irish Chorlton, which is to be submitted in the same manner as all other interested parties to date, ensuring the process is fully transparent. No other interested party has spoken to or met with The Trustees.”