Over a decades-long career working in Aussie clubs, Canberra Irish Club manager Paul Lander has cultivated a preference for smaller establishments.
He reckons that’s where you get the best view of the direct impact you and your team are having in the local community.
If there’s one downside, it’s operating in the shadow of the “big guys”. But once a year, the playing field is levelled out and quite often, the small fish take the spotlight.
That’s why he has nominated Canberra Irish Club for two 2023 ClubsACT Clubs & Community Awards.
Clubs of the ACT support more than 1000 community groups and the awards share their stories across the categories of Arts and Culture; Hospitality Innovation; Celebrating Diversity and Social Inclusion; Education, Learning and Development; Contribution to Sport, Community Development and Wellbeing; Sustainability and Environment; Emerging Talent – Employee of the Year; Individual Service to the Industry; and Heart of the Community.
The Irish Club is in the running for awards in the Arts and Culture, and Contribution to Sport, Community Development and Wellbeing categories – and Paul has high hopes for both.
He says the Irish Club, which assists its local community in a wide range of sporting, educational, social and charitable organisations through in-kind and monetary support, embodies what the ACT’s clubs are all about.
In 2022-23, it supported 19 community groups including in art, sport and philanthropic pursuits. Its support for the Woden Blues Sporting Club helped it grow from 28 male players and a single AFL team to one that now includes an AFL women’s team and 10 netball teams. The club now has more than 230 players, 70 per cent of which are female.
The Irish thread extends well beyond serving Irish sausages in the bistro. When it was established in 1975, one of three objectives enshrined in the constitution was to cultivate and foster Irish culture.
Over the years it has honoured that commitment through cultural events and activities including Irish language, Irish dancing, traditional music and celebrations of Irish occasions including its national day, eventually culminating in an annual program of Irish cultural events.
The club recently supported the Gaelscoil GAA, a new community-based program whose sole purpose is to promote the Irish language and culture through sport. This includes sessions delivered in English and Irish that teach children how to play Gaelic football and hurling/camogie.
“A large portion of our membership are regular locals, they don’t necessarily have Irish ties. But we still have a strong connection with the Irish diaspora, and we will always support that,” Paul says.
“When I tell people I work at the Irish Club, I’m always surprised how many tell me they used to come here for green faces and karaoke 20 or 30 years ago.
“We know our members value our work, but we hope to share that with the wider community. An award is something we can take to market and say ‘See, we’ve got something really good here, so if you haven’t been in a while, come around and we’ll show you’.”
ClubsACT CEO Craig Shannon says ACT clubs are an important part of the social fabric, and often “picks up the caseload” that might otherwise fall to government, or topple over entirely.
“The awards are an important reminder that these clubs are not just food and beverage outlets where the odd meeting takes place. They have fingerprints in a wide range of ventures at a community level,” he says. “We want to broadcast their significant efforts to support various organisations and local interests because this is often an untold story.
“I grew up in Canberra and clubs in the ACT have been ubiquitous in my lifetime. They’re everywhere, they become part of the furniture, but these awards present their efforts to people who might not normally see behind the veneer.”
Craig says the awards have pivoted in recent times to focus less on “the best chicken schnitty” and more on a club’s relationship with its members and local community.
“The sporting facilities provided around Canberra for community use, administered and funded by our clubs, play an important role in the liveability of our city. That’s just one example,” he says.
“So when we talk about our clubs, we think of them as members of the community. None of them are profiteering from their efforts, yet they bring a substantial benefit to ACT communities that nobody could replace.”
The Clubs ACT Awards take place on Monday 23 October from 6 pm at Ainslie Football & Social Club.