Josephine Macalister Brew – Why clubs at all?

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In this (1943) piece Josephine Macalister Brew and others explore the rationale for club work. Clubs are viewed as societies of growing persons and as places where people can learn to play their part in communities. There is strong plea for a concern with the spirit and of leaders understanding their role as that of guide, philosopher and friend.

contents: preface · why clubs at all? · how to cite this piece · This piece is part of the girls and youth clubs collection

Josephine Macalister Brew. Picture reproduced with the permission of UK Youth.The book from which this chapter is taken was prepared to help the large numbers of people that came forward during the war ‘in the service of youth’. Edited by Josephine Macalister Brew the book drew upon the expertise some very significant figures including Miss E. M. Batten (formerly Secretary of the British Association of Residential Settlements), H. Justin Evans (National Association of Boys Clubs) and W. M. Evans, Pearl Jephcott, Leslie Sewell, and Eileen Younghusband (from the National Association of Girls Clubs).One of the notable passages from this chapter discusses the need for leaders to attend to the needs of the spirit:How can the desire for truth be awakened, the love of beauty stimulated, the passion for righteousness quickened, in the club of growing boys and girls? The writers then go on to argue for the need for leaders to help to interpret the ideas and ideals young people discover and to ‘act as guide, philosopher and friend’ (the quote is from Alexander Pope’s Essay on Man. Epistle iv. Line 390). It was a phrase that was later used with some force in the McNair Report (1944) Teachers and Youth Leaders. links: Josephine Macalister Brew

True desire for society

Human beings everywhere seek tile society of others. It is true that there are solitary individuals who shun the company of their fellows, and there are those who withdraw themselves from the world in order to pursue in isolation sonic end they desire; but these are the exceptions. Most people seek companionship.

The family is the natural community, but, as the child grows older the need of a wider group is felt. The group may be a circle of congenial friends, yet in order to make friends and to maintain contact with those of like interests, individuals join, or create, clubs.

Some of these are purely social clubs. Others exist in order that the members may pursue together some common interest, for example, a tennis club, or, a naturalists’ association. Not a few groups come into being for a definite purpose, as, for instance, an organisation to promote some social reform.

An individual may well belong to a variety of such associations, finding through them a diversity of social relationships and a rich pattern of interests and purposes.

It is important to realise that it is not a crowd that human beings desire. To be in a crowd may be inspiring, but it is often lonely and depressing. One individual cannot easily make friends with a large number of others, nor can many persons pursue a common purpose all together. Thus, large groups which are formed for more than temporary social [page 13] ends usually divide into smaller units, so that in them the need for society may be realised.

Society and personality

Human beings not only desire society, they need it. In solitude the individual may read and! meditate, and! pursue hobbies, finding a poise and detachment independent of persons and! things, but it is in the interplay of social relationships that real and full individuality is attained.

This desire for, and need of, society are the primary reasons for clubs. The adult is able to chose such variety of associations as may appear desirable, but the growing adult needs guidance and help.

Clubs for adolescent girls

A survey of existing clubs for the fourteen to twenty age group might well cause the enquirer to question the exact reasons for their existence. As in the examples given of the varied forms of clubs and associations, so, a variety of clubs would be found. Some would appear to be little more than groups meeting together for social ends. Others would seem to be associations of young things of like interests engaging in activities such as physical training, drama and crafts. In a few there would be real evidence of some aim or object of a more explicit character. Yet, even the least ambitious club would claim that it had a purpose much wider and deeper than its activities might suggest, although both leaders and members might find difficulty in expressing exactly what the club was for, and what it hoped to achieve.

What then do we mean by a Club and what are the more specific reasons for organising one?

The adolescent in society

People aged fourteen to twenty years are emerging from childhood into full adult life. Adolescence is a period of  [page 14] instability and quickly changing interests and enthusiasms. Young people need colour, adventure and aim expanding horizon of ideas. They need to try many timings and to experiment in a variety of activities. Further, this age is one of idealism and of quick response to new ways of thought and action.

They are the citizens of tomorrow, and to them the community has a double responsibility. Firstly, to provide each one of them with the possibilities of full and harmonious development, and secondly, to try to ensure that they are fitted to be members of the community of the future.

The club and the school

The more fortunate of them proceed at the age of fourteen years to public schools. Whatever may be said for or against the public-school system, the aim of such schools is to provide a broad-based system of education in which time individual may grow and achieve social responsibility. In addition to learning school subjects, opportunities are provided for games and hobbies, interests and leisure-time associations, all forming part of the society of the school, which has also certain traditions, standards of conduct and more or less explicit ideals.

Some secondary schools and senior schools seek to offer a similar kind of education.

Unfortunately, the majority leave school at the age of fourteen years. However good the society of the school may have been, membership of it ceases just at these most formative years.

It is hoped that, before long, the school-leaving age will be raised and that there may be provision for at least the part-time education of all adolescents up to the age of eighteen years. Even then, in many cases the day-school will not meet all the needs of the growing girl for society and clubs will be necessary for leisure hours. [page 15]

Meanwhile, a few of these fourteen-year-old school-leavers continue their education in evening institutes and technical colleges. in some cases these provide a society in which a many-sided development is possible, but in others this education consists of attendance at a number of classes, most of which are of a vocational character.

Therefore, for the many of fourteen years and the few of sixteen years, who now leave school and attend no educational institution, the club may well provide just that society which is required.

For those who continue their education in some way, more is needed than a series of classes, and a club in connection with the evening institute or as a separate organisation in the neighbourhood may meet the situation.

From school to work

On leaving school most children go straight into a factory, or to the village shop, domestic service, or work on the land, or office or some unregulated trade. Compared to school days, the hours of work are long and may, indeed, be very long if the maximum is worked. All at once, the standards and habits of school are over, and life has to be learned first-hand from older folk. Enlightened management of factory or firm may ease this rapid change. A kindly foreman or forewoman, an understanding employer, an experienced labour manager, may, and frequently do, help much. If the young timing is a member of a club at this stage, intelligent leadership can explain the shocks of the new experiences, interpret the changing standards and ideals, and see that there are the right kind of opportunities of rest and recreation. A club can help to prevent the loss of many things which the school has given to the child and which may so easily slip away during the first few years of work. [page 16]

The club as a society of growing persons

If the reason for the existence of clubs is that they may be societies in which the growing adult may develop her potentialities to the utmost and learn to be responsible citizens what kind of clubs should they be?

There must be a diverse membership, so that the small community may reflect the nature of the large. Rich and poor, good and bad, clever and stupid, skilled and unskilled must all find their place. There must be no patronage on the part of a few and no feelings of inferiority in the hearts of others. The clerk and the shop assistant, the domestic worker and the factory worker, the student and the dressmaker must all be able, in the club, to give and receive, knowledge, sympathy and understanding. That many clubs have not yet learned to the full the meaning of a rich pattern of social relationships is true, but that does not alter the fact that such diversity of membership is desirable.

The club must provide for the widest possible range of potentialities and powers. The fundamental need of the members to be able to meet together and to talk to one another in comfort will be supplemented by all kinds of social activity. As the members grow older they will not only desire friendship with those of their own sex, but will want the companionship of boys rather older than themselves and girls rather younger than themselves. Opportunities for girls and boys to grow to understand one another and work together are few. The purpose of the club cannot be fully attained unless girls and boys learn together to enter upon the individual and social responsibilities of adult life.

The powers of body and mind of the members demand healthy activities and training. There must, therefore, be physical recreation and outdoor games, dancing and hiking, camping and holidays, classes and discussion groups, study circles and debates. The combination of these will vary from  [page 17] club to club according to need, as also will the subjects to be learned in the classes and the topics for debate.

The provision by the club for the needs of the spirit must, of necessity, be of the utmost importance during these formative and idealistic years. Yet, it is here that those who plan clubs tend to falter. How can the desire for truth be awakened, the love of beauty stimulated, the passion for righteousness quickened, in the club of growing boys and girls? The club must make the endeavour if the life of the members is not to be poorer than it ought to be. They must be wisely introduced to, and guided to appreciate, music and drama, literature and the arts. They must learn to express themselves in the creation of beautiful things with their hands. They must have opportunities of making music, acting in plays and painting pictures. Out of these endeavours, ideas and ideals will become explicit to them and the leader must help to interpret these and act as guide, philosopher and friend until the unstable youngster has become a self-determining person. Yet awakened spirits do not necessarily or easily become integrated personalities. They must discover for themselves the idea or ideal which unifies. The club does less than the best for its members if it fails to show them that the ultimate spiritual values are one, amid if it does not evoke from them the desire to worship the highest when they see it. For some that “highest” may be a conception of the “good life,” for others it will be the love of God.

The leadership of the club must be skilled. Each is of unique value, and his contribution has its own importance. The fullest development of each individual and the harmonious growth of all together demands, not only creative leadership, but an increasing sense of responsibility on the part of everyone. All the opportunities outlined above must be provided as they come to be appreciated and demanded by a self-governing group. Thus idealism must be translated into action, and honesty, justice and loyalty be learned as practical [page 18] virtues in the every day dealings of the members one with another.

The club and the community

By learning self-government in the club the members are also prepared to take their part in the wider community as responsible citizens. In addition, there will be many opportunities of social service individually or in groups. Everyone must be encouraged to join a Church, trade union branch, political party and tile like. They must acquire an increasing knowledge of social, national and international affairs.

The conditions under which the members live and work must be discovered and understood. There is much social injustice and many intolerable circumstances. In the club there must grow in each member, and in the group as a whole, that desire to reform the social order which lies at the basis of all true citizenship.

The club leader, on whom the community depends for tile training of the members, must act as an interpreter to that community of the circumstances and needs of the members. If young people are to become fully alive to their own powers and capable of being responsible members of society, social conditions must not exist which make that almost impossible. Thus the club leader must constantly seek to persuade the wider community to fit itself to be the kind of society in which these young people can grow up to enter into full citizenship.

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How to cite this piece:  Brew, J. Macalister and others (1943) Clubs and Club Making, London: University of London Press. Available in the informal education archives:

This piece has been reproduced here with the kind permission of UK Youth. First placed in the archives: May 2003. Updated June 2019