The concept of The Third Place is not a new one. In 1989 urban sociologist Ray Oldenburg wrote about how the ‘First Place’ is one’s home and family, the ‘Second Place’ is the workplace where many of us spend the majority of our waking hours, and the ‘Third Place’ is the social surroundings where you spend time away from the first two.
Examples of The Third Place are coffee shops (some even market themselves as such) community centres, pubs, bingo, etc., in other words places anyone can go to regardless of social status where you can be comfortable, chat with friends, where food and drink are available and which are accessible and relatively inexpensive. Sound familiar?
Before the 2015 Rugby World Cup the RFU’s facility strategy changed from one that was solely aimed at playing; changing rooms, pitches, floodlights, etc.; to encompass social spaces too with the intention of improving clubhouses to make them more attractive places to watch rugby. The hope was that as England progressed through the competition more people would think about watching the games at their local rugby club, and after experiencing the unique atmosphere in updated surroundings a new cohort of supporters would become club members.
A good plan on paper but it did rely on England at least making the quarter finals!
But with or without a World Cup as a catalyst, rugby clubs should be aiming to be the third place in their community, not just for players but for parents, supporters and potential new members too. Clubs with a mini section should try to encourage parents to stay in the clubhouse on a Sunday morning by offering hot drinks (a commercial coffee machine should be able to pay for itself), internet access and comfortable armchairs or sofas if space allows. A large screen TV on the wall helps to keep people engaged, although subscriptions costs for clubs to Sky or BT Sport are such that only the bigger clubs can justify the expense.
The same applies to midweek training be it adult or youth, but if the clubhouse is open anyway, is it not feasible to try to get some of the local residents to come for a social beer? The trick is to get the right kind of marketing campaign that shows the club as friendly and welcoming, perhaps starting with an open evening. A free glass of wine with a few nibbles may be enough to get some through the door; the rest is up to the people skills of the club’s volunteers.
This season’s NatWest RugbyForce programme is encouraging clubs to try the crowdfunding route where projects are funded by the wider community. Maybe it’s worth a putting together a Third Place project for your club that upgrades the social space, pays for some new furniture, upgrades the internet signal and funds a screen with a satellite TV subscription for a year.
Most, though not all, clubs are in a position to market themselves as the Third place in their community. All it needs is some imagination, determination, patience and the whole club behind the concept.