Residents’ associations and social clubs can offer people living in retirement housing schemes and estates opportunities to get to know their neighbours, make new friends and participate in a range of activities.

Steve Woolley, a resident at Anchor’s Willow Glade retirement housing scheme in Surrey, founded their Willow Glade Social Club in 2012 and has enjoyed being involved ever since.

Last year Steve was shortlisted for The Living and Ageing Well in Surrey Awards and received a runners-up trophy and certificate in the Bringing the Community Together category.

Steve shares his experience of establishing a thriving social club and top tips for anyone considering setting one up where they live.

“I was asked to set up a social club at Willow Glade by the scheme manager as I had run very successful clubs at both my previous sheltered housing schemes. I also worked as a pub manager for over 20 years and therefore have a wealth of experience holding events and fundraising for charities.

“People often don’t know what to expect from a social club. At Willow Glade we hold regular events on a weekly and monthly basis as well as one off special activities. These range from coffee mornings, quizzes and bingo to barbeques, darts competitions, film nights and magic shows.

"Events and activities can be as varied as members want; if we want an evening of Line Dancing then we make it happen.

“A quarter of the money raised through our social club activities is donated to charities chosen by our members and the rest goes back into the club funds to pay for future events. If you live in an Anchor property funding is also available through Anchor’s Legacy Fund. The Willow Glade Social Club applied for Legacy Funding not too long ago and used it to buy a large electric movie screen and projector. We’ve also bought our own gazebo and barbeque.

“To keep people living here up to date and involved we produce a bi-monthly newsletter called Willowgram (check out our latest version here) which contains an update from our chairperson, an events calendar, articles from residents and funny stories.

“In my opinion, having run three social clubs in sheltered accommodation schemes, the majority of residents welcome them, even those who are reluctant to get involved in the early stages soon change their mind once things are up and running and there are parties to attend. Clubs like ours can provide people with much needed social interaction and transform the community spirit in a building, bringing neighbours together and generally making a scheme a friendlier place to live.

“My advice to anyone who is thinking about setting up their own residents' association or social club would be do it! I get a real buzz seeing the people who come along to our events laughing together and so obviously having a good time. People have said to me that the Willow Glade Social Club is a lifeline for them, it gives them a reason to get out of their flats, offers companionship and lots of fun.

“I was very proud to be nominated for a Living and Aging Well in Surrey Award last year, and have the work I have put into our social club acknowledged, at times it has been like a full time job but it is always worth it.”

Steve’s top tips for setting up a successful residents’ association or social club

  • Do your research. Take a survey of your fellow residents to find out how many would want to regularly participate in social events and what type of activities they would be interested in.
  • Build a strong committee. You’ll need a Chairperson, a Treasurer and a Social Secretary, along with other committee members to provide assistance, enthusiasm and ideas.
  • Form a constitution. This helps set out the aims and rules for your club and members, Anchor provides a handy template that can be used for this. You will also need to open a bank account for the association funds.
  • Avoid membership charges. If you want your social club or group to inclusive I would avoid charging a subscription for membership. The Willow Glade Social Club has a policy enshrined in our constitution that every resident of our scheme is automatically a member. Our income comes from the fund raising and activities we do.
  • Explore funding options. There may be grants your club qualifies for. Anchor’s Legacy Fund has helped our Social Club purchase a large electric movie screen and projector.
  • Be part of your local community. When planning your big events such as garden parties or summer fairs, think about whether you could open them up to the wider community. Inviting along other community groups can help your members integrate and meet new people.

Steve Woolley is currently the Secretary for Willow Glade’s Social Club in Surrey.

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