THE much-loved Canberra Irish Club has become the latest Irish organisation to face a battle for survival.
The club, which was formed in 1975 and moved to its current home in Weston in 1982, has launched a crowd-funding campaign in an effort to raise $320,000 to try to cover immediate debt.
Club president Mary Collier said changing nature of the club industry and falling patron numbers had led to the financial problems. In the past, the club had borrowed money to keep operating, but had still not been profitable.
“We have … accumulated debt over many years,” she said. “In the environment today, people just don’t go to clubs like they used to. I think a lot of ethnically based clubs have found that.”
The club management is working on the two-fold challenge of paying off the debt to avoid insolvency and coming up with a new business plan to make the club profitable again. A Gofundme campaign was launched last month and so far more than $1400 has been donated. They are also forming a committee of volunteers to organise other fundraising activities throughout this year.
The most recent financial report for the 2016/17 financial year shows the need for urgent action. The club made a loss of more than $107,000 – the sixth year in a row it had recorded a loss.
In their report, the independent auditors noted that the “company’s liabilities
exceeded its current assets by $336,091”. The club also received a tax bill for more than $169,000 in January 2018.
Debts are now understood to stand at more than $660,000.
One of the rescue options is amalgamating with another, larger club.
While it is being considered, Mrs Collier said it would have to meet certain criteria, such as retaining the Canberra Irish Club name, and continuing their support of local community groups.
She said the club was a meeting place for more than 30 groups, both Irish and otherwise. It also runs Irish language, dance and music classes.
As for the future – if the debt gets paid off – the plan is to reinvent the Canberra Irish Club as an entertainment venue.
“We think the way to go is to try and make the club an entertainment venue rather than a traditional pub environment that has just has a bar and bistro and poker machines,” she said. “We have a great little entertainment area which holds around 100 to 130 people … We need to hold more regular Irish based and other entertainment. We are keen to become established as a great venue for live bands as well as functions.”
Mrs Collier, who took over as president last November, said the Canberra Irish Club had a “big heart” and around 5000 members.
“We’re not the flashiest or the most modern venue in town, but we’ve always had that special something money just can’t buy,” she said.
She hopes they can “find our way out by the end of the year”.
“I do believe we can save it … but we know we have a bit of a mountain to climb,” she told the Irish Echo.
A number of Irish clubs across Australia have struggled to trade profitably in recent years. The Irish Club of Western Australia has been hit by the downgrading of nearby Subiaco Oval. Melbourne’s Celtic Club decided to sell its premises after facing trading headwinds while the Queensland Irish Club was forced to close.
To make a donation go to www.gofundme.com/help-canberra-irish-club