DURING a miserable British summer, a dark cloud hangs over the future of a great British tradition.
As Layton Institute prepares to close its doors on Sunday members from Marton Institute have expressed their sadness to hear the news.
After almost 100 years trading and entertaining, Institute committee members say that “substantial” financial problems have made it impossible to keep the club open.
Layton is the latest in a series of clubs to close in recent years, and other clubs aren’t far from the same fate say committee members at Marton.
Though the closure means Marton will now become Blackpool’s biggest private members’ club, there is no joy to be found from Layton’s closure, say regulars.
Club president Peter Collins, 77, said: ”I take no pleasure in Layton Institute closing.
“It’s been coming for a while. Life is tough for clubs.”
Across the Oxford Square venue members say times are difficult for all licensed premises, and it is a sad week for Blackpool’s history.
Committee member Mike Gallagher, 63, said: “I’m disappointed to hear of it.
“It’s a major facility for the town and renowned worldwide. It was in the same league as The Tower and the Empress Ballroom.
“But times are hard and trade is hard. I don’t think any club is that far away.”
Members at Marton remember fondly the heyday of the club on Westcliffe Drive, where the likes of Lily Savage and Joe Longthorne performed.
“Twenty years ago if you weren’t there by 6pm you wouldn’t get in,” said Karl Tunstall, vice chairman of Marton Institute.
Lifelong Layton member David Earl, 76, said: “They had some tremendous acts there, the likes of Colin Crompton and Frank Carson, all the comedians.”
“Its shows were fantastic,” agrees Mr Gallagher.
“They used to have the season show on. That was the beauty at Layton, and holidaymakers could turn up and go in.
“Blackpool has lost the numbers though.”
Though sales and memberships are gradually rising at Marton, the committee say they must work hard to keep their heads above water, assessing all finances carefully. Every bit of revenue is scrutinised by the committee.
But careful book keeping alone will not keep a large club like Marton going.
“We rely on people who want to come for a convivial pint or a game of bowls,” said Mr Collins, who is in his fifth term as president of the club.
He presides over 2,823 members but says that of the number only about a fifth would be considered “hardcore members”, coming in regularly. Upstairs, when The Gazette visits, only two of the five snooker tables are in use by members, young and old, on a quiet Monday evening.
Ken Barks, 55, has been a member at Marton for more than 30 years.
He plays against his 20-year-old son Chris, one of the club’s newer members.
He said: “It’s absolutely drastic that clubs are closing. The community thrives on a club. You have to support the club as a member.
“I come here four or five times a week, possibly more but never less.”
Marton is finding new members not just from current members’ families but in sponsoring and welcoming sports teams.
The Institute absorbed Layton’s ladies bowling team when their green was sold for development and they host a variety of sports teams, including darts as well as bowls.
It also sponsors its own football team meaning they welcome the group of younger men at least one evening a week.
“It’s a problem that young people don’t know what’s on offer,” added Mr Gallagher. “We’ve got all the facilities for them.
“It’s the camaraderie and the friendly atmosphere too, that’s how clubs have survived.”
While Marton say they would welcome former members of Layton to their club, they don’t wish to seem like “vultures”, feeding off its closure.
“Membership is open here, the ones who want to join, we wouldn’t turn them away. But this isn’t about us upping numbers,” stressed Mr Collins.
Gallagher is pragmatic about the possible prospect of a surge in memberships from people not necessarily from the surrounding area.
“Logistically, it wouldn’t work,” he said.
Ease of access to and from clubs is as much a contributory factor to demise as the increased price of alcohol or the smoking ban has been, said Gallagher.
If you spend leisure time at home, there is no worry about transport at the end of the night, he explains.
“We’re competing with Tesco and Asda too. That’s the whole problem, you can buy cans and you’ve got your home entertainment now,” he added.
Earl, who has been a member at Layton for 44 years, agrees. He added: “Times have led to people drinking at home because of costs.
“£10 doesn’t go anywhere these days. It’s a problem for a lot of venues and pubs, with the amount of increases from breweries and government duty.”
Earl believes the smoking ban has played a part in putting people off clubs and pubs too.
While he agrees that Layton’s closure marks the end of an era for a part of Blackpool’s entertainment industry, it is as much the job losses he worries about.
“It’s been a piece of the community, it’s the amount of job losses there too,” he said.
Around the walls of Marton Institute are noticeboards and LED display boards advertising upcoming events; quizzes, family days, karaoke, bowling and barbeques.
Gone are the days of old when a club was a mans place, and a mans place only.
Nowadays families, friends and children are welcomed to the club, for a small price.
“Some clubs can adapt,” says Mr Gallagher. “We tap into live entertainment and continue to pull in up to 200 people each week.”
The front of the club does not do justice to the size of the venue and wealth of facilities it holds.
At the back lies a pristine garden, recently nominated for a Blackpool In Bloom award, surrounding a bowling green.
As the night draws in a dozen or so men enjoy a game of bowls, hoping that the sun is not setting on Marton Institute too.