My partner and I run a camera club in a small town in east Lancashire. We are not alone in seeing a fall in membership over the last few years, and many similar clubs have closed completely in the local area over that time.
Britain has a long and proud history of public social and special interest groups. For many years, people have been organising and attending clubs with hugely diverse subjects, but over the last few years, the numbers attending have fallen considerably, due to many factors.
One is that across the demographic, the average age of members has risen, and many are now reaching a point where they can no longer attend. It is becoming much harder to attract younger members: many don’t share the interests of the limited clubs available locally, and the internet has provided a way to interact with people of similar interests. It is now possible to learn new skills online, in the comfort of one’s home, rather than having to go out to attend a club. Covid-19 also had a part to play, as many people simply got out of the habit of attending during the clubs’ suspension.
The upshot is that many such clubs have had to close permanently, and many more are struggling to remain afloat. This also means that people may have to travel further to find the clubs and therefore may be less willing to bother, and it can be soul-destroying for the enthusiasts and organisers, who put a lot of effort in for diminishing returns.
Some clubs have had to commit partially or fully to continuing online only, which can work for some subjects, but many others still benefit from a ‘hands on’ approach, with teach-in nights and demonstrations, plus practical sessions with help from more experienced members available. This can be invaluable as the subtleties and nuances may not be obvious with a Zoom talk or a YouTube video, and it makes the members feel more included if they are involved in the process.
From a photographic club standpoint, it is ironic that photography has never been more accessible, yet camera club membership is dwindling. Almost everyone now carries a quality digital camera on their mobile phone in their pocket, and cheaper digital cameras enable many people to own a separate camera system too, although not all know how to operate it effectively. Another irony is that many people now consider themselves ‘good photographers’ because their images look good on a phone screen, without realising that the device contains algorithms to optimise, and in some cases artificially improve the image. Someone genuinely interested in improving would benefit from learning more about the wider subject of photography, and even their phone pictures would likely improve. One good way to do this is to join a camera club.
Earby and District Camera Club is one such organisation. Opened in the early 1980s in Barnoldswick, but now based in Earby, we are a small but friendly and enthusiastic club run by a team of experienced photographers. For instance, the President, Nick Cooper, has over 40 years’ experience in commercial photography, running several clubs around the UK, and he has run one-to-ones and workshops. Nick is a published photographer and sells work independently. The Secretary, Natalie Hough, also has a number of years’ experience and is also widely published. She has found good use for the skills she has improved with us over the last few years. We try to organise a syllabus that includes diverse genres, such as guest speakers, Zoom talks, practical evenings, trips out, plus competitions and critique evenings. We even have a fully functional darkroom, and still include film and alternative photography throughout the year. We also embrace digital processing, and encourage members to print their work, and currently hold a couple of exhibitions of members’ work each year, at the local library.
Members’ abilities range from virtual beginners to very experienced, so nobody should feel that they are going to be left out. There is help available if required, and even courses that can be tailored to the individual’s needs. All a new member needs is a camera (film or digital) and a willingness to join in, to benefit from what we can offer, including meeting like-minded people and learning new skills. Obviously, experienced photographers are also welcome.
We are self-funding and not affiliated to any regional body and receive no support from the Arts Council, but we are able to organise ourselves as we see fit, and our annual fees are considerably lower than other clubs around Yorkshire and Lancashire. We rely on membership subscriptions and a small weekly contribution enables us to book speakers and events throughout the year. Thus, the more members we have that attend, the more we can afford, and the better service we can provide. We also welcome donations of unused photographic equipment. We are fully insured and can cater for disabilities. For more information, please contact the club Secretary, details can be found below.
In an image-driven world, the skills learned will not become redundant, and it is something everyone can enjoy. Membership numbers have fluctuated over the years, and we have seen similar cycles before, but we always want to encourage new people to join and embrace a wonderful hobby. This is not exclusive to Earby, or any photographic club, but it would be good if all social and interest clubs could increase their memberships. It can be good to meet new people and engage in a hobby, it can be satisfying to master new skills, and it can even improve mental wellbeing and mindfulness. There is a wealth of enthusiastic organisers, participants and subject experts out there, but the number of people ready to take their place for the next generation is dwindling. So, if you have ever thought of joining a club, learning a new skill or improving one you already have, give it a try – you might enjoy it! After all, if this amazing resource is lost, it will never be replaced.
Please feel free to get in touch through our Facebook Page: Earby District Camera Club
For the attention of our Secretary Natalie E Hough