SINGAPORE - From stargazing to ukelele-strumming, people with unusual interests can find a home in community clubs (CCs) here. This shows that CCs, despite the wealth of alternative activities and venues Singaporeans can turn to for recreation, are able to hold their own, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said on Friday.
Mr Lee made the point at a dinner celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Community Club Management Committees (CCMCs), which was set up in 1964 to run the CCs, whose role in bringing people from different backgrounds together has stayed unchanged over the decades.
The growing ukelele community is one such instance how people with similar interests can find each other through their CCs, he said.
There are now several ukelele interest groups in Bishan, Hougang and Tanglin CCs, among others, who have become regular performers at community events, he added.
Mr Lee also cited how residents have banded together to give back to society. A group of youths from Macpherson CC, for instance, started a project to help elderly residents clean and repaint their one-room flats.
"This is how community spirit is built - coming together because of common interests, rallying to help the vulnerable among us," he told more than 1,200 current and former CCMC volunteers at the People's Association Headquarters in Lavender.
CCs are also a bridge between the Government and the people, he added. Residents can visit them to learn more about policies and the help available to them, like the Community Health Assist Scheme. They are also a channel for residents to give feedback to the Government.
Although Mr Lee was upbeat that CCs will remain relevant in the years ahead, he acknowledged their management committees face challenges.
The first CC was opened in 1960.
But the CCMCs were formed in 1964, during a tumultuous period that saw the eruption of two race riots. They played an important role in strengthening community bonds in Singapore's early years, said Mr Lee.
In today's new environment, CCMCs have to adapt and work harder to get Singaporeans involved in their community," he added.
The hardware, however, has been tackled, with a new generation of CCs that is a far cry from their predecessors.
At the beginning, they were no more than simple, zinc-roofed structures with sparsely-furnished classrooms and basic sports facilities, such as ping pong tables and open-air badminton courts
Today, CCs are one-stop hubs of activity, outfitted with air-conditioned halls and dance studios and integrated into shopping centres.
In 2016, Tampines Town Hub - touted as a giant lifestyle hub with Singapore's largest CC, will open its doors. About the size of seven football fields, the hub will also house facilities such as swimming pools and retail shops.
The new Kampong Chai Chee CC and Nee Soon Central CC, set to open in 2017 and 2018 respectively, will also be housed alongside other amenities like libraries and bus interchanges.
"Even as we develop our hardware, we need even more heartware to bring life to the CCs. We must continue to find interesting and meaningful ways to engage the community and stay relevant," Mr Lee said. "Just as in the early days, when CCMC leaders rallied and cared for their community during troubled times, we must continue to do the same now."
CCMCs must come up with creative ways to draw the community back to the CCs, he said. Many have done so, he added, pointing at how residents can visit the Woodlands Galaxy CC observatory to star-gaze, or the Tanjong Pagar CC to paint, make pottery and have their works displayed in its art gallery.
He also paid tribute to the CCMCs, whose achievements in the past 50 years are penned in a book Mr Lee launched at the dinner.
"Ultimately, the cornerstone of our CCs is not the building or the programmes, but the CCMC and the grassroots volunteers," he said.
"None of you are obliged to serve, yet you all do - with pride and dedication. You have turned strangers into friendly neighbours, HDB blocks into warm communities, and houses into endearing homes."