Agenda: How sport can awaken workplace solidarity once again

WORKING communities in the UK have a long, proud history of sport. At the dawn of the industrial revolution, millions of formerly rural workers migrated to the newly expanding cities in search of work in the mills, factories and docks. At the end of the working day, men needed ways to stay fit, relaxed and connected. Thus, sport alongside music and comedy, emerged as ideal ways to achieve this.

Some teams, like those formed by the workers of a munitions factory in Woolwich, went on to become more organised. Today, that club is known as Arsenal FC, one of the world’s most famous football institutions.

While most teams were community efforts and remained as such, they became no less important than Arsenal to the fabric of the local society. They provided a uniquely egalitarian, self-determinate group which – by definition – relied on mutual effort, teamwork and understanding to succeed.

Places like Twechar, Lochore and Easthouses had teams organised by the local workers’ associations, giving communities a chance to bond through friendly competition.

Bill Shankly, the manager of Liverpool, came from the mining town of Glenbuck near Muirkirk in Ayrshire. Those who knew him best say that Shankly’s ability to inspire his players and the entire city of Liverpool were forged in a community defined by its solidarity in work and sport.

Hundreds of towns across Scotland and the north of England were built on the back of the coal, steel and manufacturing industries. As these are now consigned to history it’s important that the community solidarity which bred Bill Shankly and his ilk is not lost too.

Our new campaign to get Table Tennis in The Workplace continues a proud working-class tradition. We will be offering businesses across Scotland the chance to order table tennis equipment at a reduced rate as a means of encouraging team-work, solidarity and mental sharpness.

Table tennis is a terrific way to stay sharp and maintain physical fitness and players can participate at their own pace as they pop in and play. This game has proven potential to improve hand-eye co-ordination; reduce joint pain; burn calories and improve the health of your brain.

As well as these benefits, it’s a social sport designed for making new friends and having a laugh. Just as their forerunners did in the past, our hope is that today’s workers can make time for each other to relax and bond.

In Scotland, 8% of the workforce are in manufacturing and a further 8% are in construction. In 1985 these industries employed 32% of the male work-force. Today, health and social care; retail and education have the largest work-forces at more than 23%.

Today’s working-classes are in hospitals, schools, shops and offices. Many of them are crying out for entertaining; unifying and engaging workplace pastimes.

Richard Yule, Chief Operations Officer of Table Tennis Scotland

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