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Penn Club thrives again with a helping hand from the Royal Foundation of St Katharine

29 April 2022

Royal Foundation of St Katharine

St Katharine’s Royal Foundation, Butcher Row, in Limehouse

St Katharine’s Royal Foundation, Butcher Row, in Limehouse

THE 100-year-old Penn Club is thriving — a year after announcing its closure, its former general manager said earlier this month.

The Penn Club, a not-for-profit 43-room residential club in London founded by Quakers in 1920, was forced to close its doors last year as a result of financial pressures. The Club, which moved to Bedford Place from its original home in Tavistock Square, in Bloomsbury, in 1938, marked its centenary and underwent significant refurbishment just before the pandemic.

“The arrival of Covid-19 and the first two lockdowns seriously challenged our financial reserves,” a statement from the Club said at the time. “Lockdown three proved one too many, and it is with deep sadness and regret we must conclude that the Penn Club’s situation is no longer tenable.”

A short item about the closure in the Church Times (News, 5 February 2021), however, led to an offer of a new home at the Royal Foundation of St Katharine, in Limehouse (News, 19 March 2021).

“Roger Preece, the Master of St Katharine’s, saw the article and reached out to us to see if they could help,” said Fergal Crossan, the former general manager, who remains on the Penn Club’s social committee as a volunteer.

Penn Club members can now stay at St Katharine’s at a special rate, just as they used to stay in Bloomsbury; and they enjoy many of the same benefits as before, including a programme of social events.

The problems arose when the membership dropped dramatically as a result of the pandemic, and it became impossible for the Club to pay its rent. All 15 members of staff were made redundant. When the axe fell, the Club wondered whether it might be able to continue virtually, but these were only “vague notions”, Mr Crossan said. The approach from St Katharine’s was discussed with the membership at an extraordinary general meeting, on Zoom.

“The thought that we could survive in some format was very well received,” he said. “It’s not quite the same, being in a different venue, but the fact that we still exist at all is amazing.”

The Royal Foundation of St Katharine had been “so welcoming”, he said, even adopting the Penn Club’s shared dining table from Bloomsbury, so that people on their own could connect with each other.

“We feel very much at home, and, a year on, we couldn’t be happier. We’re hoping that the Penn Club will now continue to thrive.”

Thanks to the lifeline and the return of overseas visitors, membership is beginning to recover. There are plans for a celebratory weekend in July, and other social events. “Now the restrictions have eased, we can finally celebrate our centenary,” Mr Crossan said. “It’s like a miracle, really.”


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