The Plywood Club of London was established 65 years ago but its founding principles still hold true today.

The club was formed in the 1950s to promote “social gathering of principals and employees” of the plywood trade and aimed to stimulate social contact between individual members of companies; hold meetings and arrange discussions; support charities where possible; and “uphold the dignity and welfare of the plywood trade”.

Six decades may have passed since the fi rst meeting but the principles and aims still shape the club today. Its bi-monthly meetings during the winter months regularly attract around 40 people and offer the chance to catch up with fellow plywood traders and hear a speaker from the trade or a relevant industry.

The exact year of the first meeting is unknown but the fi rst chairman, Rex Sharp, was elected in 1954, and this year’s annual dinner will be the 65th in the club’s history.

“It began as an antidote to the Plywood Luncheon Club which was for the principals of companies,” said Geoff Maynard, a life vice-president and past chairman and secretary.

He, Mike Cater, a life vice-president and past chairman, and David Francis, the current president and a former chairman and treasurer, all joined the club in their early years in the plywood trade.

“In those days if you were a young member of a company someone senior would suggest you go to the Plywood Club of London (PCL), and you did. The PCL was formed for everybody, it wasn’t elitist,” said Mr Cater.

The meetings have always been held at venues in, or near, the City of London, refl ecting the fact that the Square Mile was once home to many agents’ and importers’ offices.

The club, like so many timber industry associations, has had its fair share of highs and lows but while panel products clubs elsewhere in the UK have fallen by the wayside, the Plywood Club of London has survived.

Even in the club’s early years attendance at meetings fl uctuated and over the decades, as the industry contracted and companies moved their offi ces out of central London, numbers have sometimes dipped worryingly low.

“The mid-1980s were diffi cult times for the club. Up until then it had held an annual dinner in December and a ladies’ night but we had to stop the latter because we couldn’t get the numbers,” said Mr Cater. “It wasn’t a matter of the PCL becoming old hat; it was more to do with people moving out of London.”

However, through members’ willingness to adapt to change the club has evolved but maintained its role as a meeting place.

Up until the 1980s meetings were held over “a curly, dried sandwich and a beer” and straight after work. When Mark Silverman, of S Silverman & Son, became chairman from 1986-1988 he made the change to a dinner meeting.

“He reinvigorated the club,” said Mr Francis.

More recently the club’s annual dinner has been moved successfully from the middle of the pre-Christmas festive period to the more socially fallow February. Adhering to the club’s aim to support charities where possible, the annual dinner featured fi rst a raffl e, and now an auction as well, and is advertised as the Plywood Club of London Charity Dinner.

The venues and the meeting fare may have changed but the club has always upheld its principles of individual membership and independence from any other timber trade organisation.

“It’s always been promoted that members are here as individuals and as such people can stand up and express their own views, not toe the company line,” said Mr Cater, adding that the club’s aims will ensure its survival.

“The next generation is coming through the club and they’ve adopted the philosophy which we know has made it work,” he said. “I’m very proud to have been instrumental in keeping the club going and being part of the last bastion of an independent timber trade club in the country.”

While the social and networking element is a draw card for meetings, so too is the range of high-profi le speakers.

When choosing speakers, the club never shies away from contentious issues. In the early days of the Forest Stewardship Council, when many timber traders regarded environmental certifi cation as unnecessary and resented what they saw as the intrusion of NGOs, the club invited Francis Sullivan of the WWF to address a meeting. The evening attracted so many that people were “standing in the aisles”.

“In the early days of environmental certifi cation we made sure we were the first in line by having speakers to address that.

We’ve always tried to keep up with trends and the issues of the day,” said Mr Cater.

The question and answer session following the speaker is just as important. On occasions the sessions might get a bit heated but it’s an opportunity for debate and for everyone to give their opinion.

Timber Trade Federation presidents and staff have made regular appearances and in the past few years speakers have also addressed the EUTR and Chinese plywood.

The club recently introduced a new feature of “An evening with…” where long-standing members of the trade, such as Mr Cater and Mr Maynard, take the mike.

Like any club in any walk of life it is a small nucleus of people that has been responsible for organising the meetings, the speakers and the dinners – and, before the days of email, licking the stamps and envelopes on up to 150 annual dinner invites.

For many years that was the trio of Mike Cater as president, current president David Francis, who was treasurer for 14 years, and Geoff Maynard who was secretary for 23 years. All agree that the PCL is as relevant today as it was when they joined 50 or so years ago. They are also heartened by the number of younger traders among the members who will help to ensure the club’s future.

“The Plywood Club of London is in good health and good hands and the current committee, led by Alex Campbell who is serving his second term as chairman, is maintaining the founding principles,” said Mr Francis.