Lisa Herden visited the UCD Common Room Club and spoke to members, voluntary staff and full-time staff.
THE Common Room Club is located behind unassuming wooden doors on the first floor in the Newman building. If it wasn’t for the sign on the door that states ‘members only’, you could walk straight past it. But the smell of coffee and the clattering of plates and cutlery tell you that you’re in the right place even before you’ve seen the sign.
“The origin of the club, which was founded as a staff initiative, dates back to the early 1970s”
Behind the door, a long room stretches out. There is a bar on one side and the broad windows on the other side, offering a great view across the lake towards O’Reilly Hall. The room is furnished with light coloured wooden chairs and tables, crème coloured sofas and a few beige lamps. The red curtains that you can see from outside, as well as the brown-red coloured carpet tiles add to the room’s cosy feel. At the far end of the room a selection of newspapers and magazines is presented and many different artworks are displayed on the walls. The Coffee Dock across the corridor also belongs to the club and is similarly furnished.
The origin of the club, which was founded as a staff initiative, dates back to the early 1970s, after UCD had moved from Earlsfort Terrace to Belfield. The original motivation for the club was that pubs had been around the university’s former location, but not so in Belfield. Current and former staff members are eligible for membership, as well as PhD students and post-doctoral researchers.
This wasn’t always the case, as John O’Dowd, chair of the Common Room Club, explains: “In the 1980s there was an enormous debate about whether non-academic staff should be let in. And in the end they decided, yes, it was elitist really to have only academics. So we’ve a really good mix of technical staff, all kinds of people.” Now about 40% of UCD staff are members.
‘“It’s one of the things that visitors to UCD from other universities are very complimentary about, our Common Room Club”
This mix of people is what many members of the club enjoy. Caroline Barrett works in UCD Registry and as a member of the Common Room Club committee, which looks after membership. What she likes best about the Common Room Club is “the spirit of it. What I mean by that is, it’s cross-university staff from all areas, you get to meet people … all ages, different roles, academic, professional, administrative, everybody.”
Joanne Reilly, Study Abroad Officer at UCD, feels the same way. “It’s a great place to catch up with colleagues without having to leave the workplace.”
The Common Room Club offers a space for members to relax and to socialise. During its opening hours it serves tea and coffee, a light lunch and drinks in the evening. Functions include receptions after certain lectures, book launches and retirement events. It also hosts two main parties each year, the Spring Garden Party and the Christmas Party. These are organised by the voluntary members of the committee, who are elected during the annual general meeting. The annual membership fee is €65 for those based on Belfield campus and €55 for part-time staff, retirees and those not based in Belfield.
“It’s cross-university staff from all areas, all ages, different roles, academic, professional, administrative, everybody”
Throughout its history the club has experienced a few changes. “We’ve noticed probably [that] it’s less busy in the evenings now than it used to be … pubs generally, I suppose, are losing business,” John O’Dowd explains. “If there is any new element in the evenings, I think you do see large groups of post docs.”
Not only has the Common Room’s use changed, but also the way it is run. “In the early years there wasn’t even a professional barman. But from about the late 1970s onwards they began to employ a barman. And the barman is the linchpin of the whole thing.”
This linchpin is Declan Hyland, who has been working in the Common Room Club for about two years full-time. His duties are the day-to-day running, which includes “ordering in food, drinks, take care of functions, book launches, cash handling, cash lodgements.” He enjoys his work for the same reason that the members like to come to the Common Room. “You meet a variety of different people from different countries, people from different faculties, so there’s always different topics talked about within the Common Room. So, that’s interesting.”
“It’s less busy in the evenings now than it used to be”
With the planning of the new University Club, which is going to include a fully serviced restaurant, the future of the current Common Room is up for debate. John O’Dowd points out that President Deeks is very much in support of the Common Room Club. “I think he genuinely does want to sort of raise the level of it and make it a bigger and more successful, more flourishing kind of enterprise. But I suppose it’d be fair to say that our existing membership are very comfortable the way things are”, John O’Dowd says. “It’s one of the things that visitors to UCD from other universities are very complimentary about, our Common Room Club. So we would like to think that we would have an opportunity to continue, but it remains to be seen.”