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Clubbing together: How London’s members-only scene has changed

London's private members' clubs, once the dark and smoky preserves of rich and powerful men, have been opening themselves to new locations and more diverse members.

One new player to burst on to scene has been the Devonshire Club. Fresh from a £25 million build-out, the venue is targeting the City of London rather than swanky Mayfair.

According to Director, Brian Clivaz, "The City of London has a number of clubs but they tend to be very traditional…oak walls and that sort of thing whereas this is much more mid-century glamor."

And who do the club's founders particularly hope to attract? Women.

Clivaz explained, "In the City of London there's very little for women and there are a lot of very successful women – the 30 Percent Club for instance (an organization pushing for 30 percent women on FTSE100 boards), has transformed the boards of FTSE companies but the food and beverage offering hasn't changed that much."

Yet with an annual membership fee set at £2,400 and women still notably lagging men in high profile and high paid City positions, this may be a challenge.

As of 2015, women held less than 10 percent of FTSE 100 executive director positions and only just over 5 percent of the FTSE 250 equivalent, according to data from MWM Consultancy.

And that's just at the top. Indeed, the 30 Percent Club has broadened its key focus from seeking to lift senior women on to company boards to building a solid pipeline of professionals still at their earlier career stages. The non-profit organisation has found that women aged 28 – 38 are at especially high risk of quitting industries that dominate the City, such as financial services.

The Devonshire Club launches amid a time of frenzied activity in London's private members' club scene with recent years seeing the offerings of several of the capital's most popular clubs undergoing extravagant revamps. While 5 Hertford Street, Mark's Club and The Arts Club have all undergone wholesale makeovers and an expansion of dining and drinking options, others, such as Soho House, have continued to roll out new sites. The latest news are plans for the launch of another club in west London, this time in Kensington and Chelsea, named Albert's by a team led by four of the capital's most experienced industry professionals.

But Clivaz thinks there's room for everyone to play, pointing out the increasing affluence of certain segments of the consumers. "I think if you get it right then the demand is there."

Although London boasted even more clubs in the late 19th century than today, a key recent trend has been the transformation from purely social dens to places where you can hold meetings and do business. The popularity of the Clubhouse, launched in 2012 as a more desirable venue for business meetings with two venues in west London, has driven the recent spawning of several more central London sites.

Clivaz sees the Devonshire Club as suitable for both work and play. "Clubs have changed quite a lot so nowadays it's very much work during the day, so a lot of breakfast meetings for instance, moving on for lunch meetings and people with their laptops…then moving on to socialising in the evening."

However, even the best martini loses a touch of its glamour when sipped next to someone furiously tapping away on a laptop. Clivaz agrees, saying, "We don't encourage too many of them."


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