What is the future for Sun Clubs?
This is a personal reflection by Duncan Heenan
In the last few years we have seen a number of Sun Clubs closing down or ‘going textile’. At the same time, there have been virtually no new landed Sun Clubs opening, so the ‘stock’ of Sun Clubs in this country is slowly dwindling.
There are a variety of circumstances in which Sun Clubs have closed, but often it is because the naturist owners die or retire, and no-one with the same commitment to naturism is found to accept the low financial returns which running a sun club seems to lead to, when compared with the money to be made out of alternative uses. Spiralling property values have been a major driver of this trend. When site values are so high now, what rational investor is going to run it as a sun club when they could earn more on their money by leaving it in the bank, with no risk or effort?
Alternative uses, either in textile leisure use, or to be built over, is only half the story though . Why are the financial returns as a Sun Club so low? One reason is that it is a small ‘market’, populated by people who seem not to want to pay commercial prices for what they get. The origins of most Clubs is as members’ owned self-help groupings. These attracted the type of people who were happy to spend much of their leisure time actually working at the club, in return for low prices and pride of ownership. Community spirit was the norm. The resulting culture within clubs restricts their appeal to others who may be naturists but don’t want this kind thing. On the whole, Members Clubs are surviving better, and it is the proprietary ones which are closing. Their owners accept the low use, low returns regime expected by Sun Club users whilst run by un-commercial dedicated naturists, but when others move in, or the wolf is at the door, money talks.
Of course the British weather doesn’t help. Unlike the large commercial resorts on the Continent, taking a holiday in Britain is always a meteorological gamble, and let’s face it, when the Sun doesn’t shine, what is there in a Sun Club to do? So that’s another restriction on the market.
However, even the Members Clubs are showing declining membership numbers and aging demography. So it seems that even when commercial pressures are not in play, many clubs are struggling to keep going. So what has changed over the last few decades to lead to this? My own feeling is that society has changed, but the Clubs have not changed with it. Community spirit seems less evident in the younger generations. I see people nowadays less inclined to ‘pitch in’ and be one of the crowd in common do-it-yourself endeavours, and much more inclined to want to ‘pay and play’ at things without continuing commitments. Naturism itself is being viewed differently by many also. The traditional club mindset is a ‘hobby’ approach which requires you to go somewhere private to ‘do’ naturism in the company of other people, with whom you may actually have nothing else in common. Having seen the relaxed attitude on many continental beaches, today’s young want to be with their everyday friends, doing what they like and wearing, or not, what they want. Children too rarely make their own amusements nowadays. Beyond the very low ages, children now expect to be kept occupied, and are used to the sophisticated life outside the club. The sand pit while Mum & Dad sunbathe is no longer enough.
This is not to say I dislike Sun Clubs. On the contrary, I have been a member of one for nearly 30 years, and very much enjoy them for the very reason that the majority of society doesn’t. I love the undeveloped naturalness and tranquillity. I actually enjoy the ‘work days’. But I know I am unusual, and becoming the moreso as society moves ever onwards in its pursuit of sophistication and consumption.
So wither naturism in this trend? I don’t see Sun Clubs dying out altogether. Even if society became universally clothes optional (I wish!), there would still be a place for Country Clubs to be havens of nature and peace. But the majority of people would not want to hide away from their daily life simply to get naked. They would want to get on with life, but wearing what they like, including nudity when that’s what they wanted. And how could such a utopia come about? It would take a complex and maybe slow process of effecting attitude and legal changes. The exact mechanism is not currently clear. However, lurking smugly in the almost secret world of Sun Clubs will not change anything. It requires proactive campaigning on big issues like Genuine Body Acceptance. Sadly I see mostly reactive ‘campaigning’, usually defending threats to existing naturist beaches & swims, from most groups. The Sun Clubs have served us well, and will continue to have a role, but we should recognise that they are not the future of naturism for those who consider naturism a lifestyle choice rather than a hobby.