FOUR years ago, members of the Golden Years Ukulele Strummers were total strangers.
But last night, their friendship and bond over music were palpable as they performed at a dinner to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the community club management committees (CCMCs), which run community clubs (CCs) across the island.
Performing classics such as Engelbert Humperdinck's Ten Guitars and Chinese evergreen Give Me A Kiss, they received resounding applause from more than 1,200 active and former grassroots leaders.
Also in the audience was Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, who said the growing ukulele community in Singapore is testament to how people with similar interests can find one another via the CCs.
The 50-strong group has members from across Singapore but is based in Bishan North Community Centre. There are also ukulele groups in Tanglin and Hougang CCs, among others.
The widening interest, Mr Lee added, also demonstrates how CCs can hold their own, despite the wealth of alternative activities and venues that Singaporeans can turn to for recreation.
Residents are also banding together to give back to society, he noted. A group of young people from MacPherson CC, for instance, started a project to help elderly residents clean and repaint their one-room flats.
"That's how we get people together, how we form groups, how we work together to build a community spirit, pursuing a common interest, helping the vulnerable among us," he said at the dinner held at the People's Association Headquarters in Lavender. CCs are a bridge as well between the Government and the people, he added.
Residents can visit them to learn more about policies and the help available to them, such as the Community Health Assist Scheme which subsidises medical and dental care for the needy.
Although Mr Lee was confident that CCs will remain relevant in the years ahead, he acknowledged that their management committees face challenges.
The first CC was opened in 1960, and CCMCs were formed in 1964 - during a tumultuous year that saw two race riots - to help strengthen community bonds in Singapore's tense early years.
Now, it is a different struggle.
"We have to adapt the way we do things in a different environment, and we have to work harder to get our residents involved," said Mr Lee.
The hardware is in place with a new generation of CCs. They are a far cry from the early CCs, which were zinc-roofed structures with sparsely furnished classrooms and basic sports facilities.
Today, CCs are one-stop hubs outfitted with air-conditioned halls and dance studios and integrated with nearby amenities such as libraries and retail outlets.
But, said Mr Lee: "As we develop the hardware, we also must get the heartware to bring life to the CCs, and continue to find interesting and meaningful ways to engage the community."
He paid tribute to the CCMCs, whose achievements are penned in a book he launched at the dinner. The book, which is not for sale, will be available at public libraries and CCs from next week.
"Ultimately, the cornerstone of our CCs is not the building or even the programmes, but the CCMCs and the grassroots volunteers," said Mr Lee.
"None of you are obliged to serve, yet all of you do - with pride and dedication... Because of you, we have turned strangers into friends, HDB blocks into warm communities, and houses into endearing homes."
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