About 18 months ago, things weren’t looking good for the Canberra Irish Club. After six years of losses their financial position was looking dire.
In fact, it was so dire, the Club that has been operating out of its Weston Creek premises since 1986 was, according to President Mary Collier, on the brink of folding.
“We were very close to closing our doors,” remembers Mary. “Other clubs were circling, looking to take it over.”
It was at this point that the board decided on a course of action that would reinvigorate the club.
They opted to return to the origins of why the club was established in the first place – as Canberra’s home of Irish culture, fostering Irish/Australian relations. It effectively gave the club a point of difference with Irish film nights, Irish dances, Irish music and an Irish cultural festival. This became the focus to get people back to the club for very grounded reasons.
“We’re different from other clubs. We want people to get an Irish experience,” says Mary.
The result has been a significant turnaround in the fortunes of the Irish Club. “We had losses for seven straight years and this financial year we made a profit. People who drifted away are now coming back.”
Vice-president Shauna Lodding, now in her third year on the board, says it’s great to have a profit for the first time in eight years.
“I wouldn’t say we are totally out of the woods. We still have debt to pay off but we are heading in the right direction.”
Shauna, a third-generation Australian of Irish heritage, says the board is made up of people who are passionate about the community.
She says she became involved after a long association with the club. “Our family have been members for many years. It’s our local community club. When I saw things weren’t going well, I wanted to help turn things around.”
Another point of difference at the Irish Club is the number of women on the board with six of the nine board members being women, which is unusual in an industry usually dominated by men.
“It’s about having a passion. Whether you are male or female, it doesn’t matter,” says Shauna, who acknowledges that “traditionally in the club industry there haven’t been a lot of women involved”.
It would appear as though this combination of a board prepared to make tough decisions, an astute manager, and a desire within the community for a unique experience has turned around the fortunes of the club.