Let me tell you a story: the law of unintended consequences

The Cargill Club, and the associated Cargill House eatery, have been a welcome institution in Lanark since the dawn of time – well, at least as far back as this octogenarian can remember.

Institution is perhaps the wrong word to use in describing the Cargill Club, being a word that instantly conjures up images of Dickens, Scrooge and Oliver Twist. Perhaps describing it as an oasis would be more appropriate and would conjure up images of hope, comfort, ease and satisfaction, since this is exactly what the Cargill Club provides to so very many of its local patrons.

In the dim and distant past the Cargill Club was a stand-alone, a wholly independent and thriving charity and was fiscally in the black. It owned and managed its own property in St Leonard Street, adjacent to the original Memorial Hall. It was ably surviving the twin ravages of ever-changing models of local government and the tidal wave of twenty-first century technical ‘advances’ like the internet (Cargill clientele being more comfortable with things like letters, newspapers and semaphore).

But one cannot prevent the march of progress forever and, with cash and laudable ambition aplenty, South Lanarkshire Council sought to refurbish our somewhat dated War Memorial, also in St Leonard Street, and in the process provide Lanark with the magnificent theatre come multi-function facility that it now has.

So far, so good!

But to achieve this, South Lanarkshire Council needed more internal space and more external frontage on the street and so a deal was struck with the Cargill Club. The Cargill premises would be absorbed into the enlarged Memorial Hall and the Cargill Club premises would be refurbished also, with the same space as they originally had provided anew inside the refurbished Memorial Hall building.

A win-win situation with everybody happy.

The Cargill Club settled into their new home very nicely. With brand new facilities and serving the best cup of milky-coffee to be had in the northern hemisphere (more ostentatious premises call it ‘latte’ and charge about triple the price) the cafeteria turnover boomed. Their new function hall, now upstairs, was occupied day and night, providing a welcome and much-needed income. The Club even established a computer-training facility upstairs to wean many elderly members into the 21st century!

So far, so good!

But then came Fred the Shred, austerity, a fall in sterling value, a freeze in council rate increases for 10 years and, surprise surprise, a skint council emerged with an urgent desire - and need - to cut costs. And cut costs they did, not the least of which were applied in the stand-alone South Lanarkshire Leisure and Culture company. Sunday use of the Hall was ended and the entire Hall remains closed in the evening unless some portion has been booked.

This is when the ‘Law of Unintended Consequences’ kicked in with a vengeance! Costs rose significantly for one-off periodical bookings, like the Lanimer Committee holding meetings in the Jerviswood Room (the Lesser Memorial Hall to you). The Lanimer Committee moved rapidly to the Harry Smith Centre.

The Panto Club had a good relationship and a yearly contract with the Memo, their home for 56 years. This contract had ensured no-cost rehearsal time in the evenings and Sundays which was very welcome indeed. But thanks to the impact of the closures, the Panto Club now flit about Lanark like demented munchkins rehearsing in any place with a roof, before returning to the Memo for the shows.

So far, so very expensive!

But the council cost-cutting hit the Cargill Club worst of all by far! They can no longer even use their own premises in the evening. The Cargill function hall upstairs is well-equipped and much the same size as the Jerviswood Room. Ideal for performing arts groups, dance studios, chess and similar clubs - even wedding parties.

Before the cost-cutting sanctions were imposed by SLLC, this space was very well used by a wide variety of clubs and disciplines and it was the revenue from the leases thereof that was largely responsible for the Cargill Club managing to keep itself afloat financially. But, because of this enforced closure and the accompanying loss of revenue, the Cargill is steadily moving ever closer to that fatal red-line in the audit book, the crossing of which will see the club disappear into the abyss.  If we are to see this much-loved -and very much needed - facility in our town disappear, something must change now.

In theory, it would be possible for the Cargill Trust to open their hall in the evening, or even on a Sunday, but only of they had a volunteers to open it, man it and close it. The ageing volunteer (the Cargill don’t do young!) would not only have to open and control entry at both entrances, but would automatically be entirely responsible for the entire Memorial Hall.

SLLC may be short on front-line staff to ensure their facility is open, but they have a plethora of very expensive lawyers. I’m sure the lawyers and estate managers would go apoplectic at the very notion of ordinary people being left in charge of their estate on their own (ignoring the fact that this particular ‘estate’ belongs to the RBL in the first place).

In the meantime, while better minds than mine strive to resolve this unintended consequence of council cost-cutting, our much-loved Cargill Club, diligently struggling on to maintain a social hub that continues to provide comfort, hot food, a rendezvous and some purpose to the lives of so many locally, is quietly sinking into that financial abyss.

No doubt, as ever, when the Cargill Club is finally and inevitably forced to shut its doors, the cry from many will be “Do you ken whit ye should have done?”

For God and the Cargill Club’s sake, don’t wait – tell them now!



Frank Gunning shares his views on various local issues in his Let's Be Frank column.