CCs no longer just for retirees and housewives

SINGAPORE - Once known for producing local bodybuilding champions, Pek Kio Community Centre now attracts a less muscular crowd.

Earlier this week, on Tuesday, seven-year-old schoolgirl Nur Intan Shakirah and her two elder siblings took part in their first class in capoeira - a Brazilian martial art. The trio are from Farrer Park Primary School, which shares a sports hall with the centre via two link bridges.

The four-storey club in Gloucester Road in Farrer Park is the first to be linked to a school. It will be opened officially by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong later this month as part of its 50th anniversary celebrations. It moved from its single-storey premises in Cambridge Road last month.

"I remember being defeated by bodybuilders from Pek Kio in 1985. There were three to four of them who were quite strong in their categories," said six-time SEA Games gold medallist Mohammed Ismail, 50, who used to represent Pasir Panjang Community Centre.

In the past, community centres were mainly the preserve of housewives and retirees. But they have started to attract a younger crowd.

"We want to create a vibrant dance culture to engage heartlanders - both families and young people," said Rhapsody@ Pek Kio ballet teacher Angharad Chapman.

Retiree Freddie Koh, 75, who has lived in the Pek Kio area since 1985, has accompanied his wife to a Japanese cooking course.

He said: "The old place could be rather quiet but now there is a good mixture of people from all walks of life."

The People's Association runs all 107 community centres here. Unlike the simple, single-storey ones built in the 1950s, some of the more modern ones share their premises with other institutions.

"Since the 1960s, the challenge was to widen the base of mass participation as visitors and participants tended to come from lower-income groups," said Mr Daniel Tham, assistant curator at the National Museum of Singapore. "More affluent groups, for example, could afford their own television sets and had less of an incentive to watch TV at the community centre with other residents."

Such centres today cater to a mix of people with diverse interests.

For example, Bedok Community Centre offers a rock-climbing wall and sports such as gateball - similar to croquet - on a $60,000 artificial pitch installed last year.

Team manager James Wong, 53, has a core group of 10 players, mainly in their 50s and 60s. Last week, the team won the Singapore Gateball Association Cup.

Said Mr Wong: "It is still difficult to attract young ones because it is a slow-paced game."

Anchorvale Community Club, the only one with sea-sports facilities, hopes to woo the young by offering courses such as kayaking.

Mr Pan Jia Qi, 21, who graduated recently from Nanyang Polytechnic and is waiting to serve NS, said: "I didn't know it offers kayaking lessons. I would consider taking it up." He uses the gym at Anchorvale a few times a week and enjoys the jacuzzi pool there.

Woodlands Galaxy Community Club, which opened officially in May this year, even boasts a $500,000 observatory that pulls in young stargazers. Its 30cm telescope is the second-largest public telescope here. Community centres still remain a place for learning.

"The biggest satisfaction I get when I teach children is when they overcome their personal limitations, like their height or eyesight, not the number of times they hit the bull's eye," said 69-year-old retiree K. R. Letchu, a master archery coach at Bedok Community Centre.

One of his students, 10-year- old Khoo Jing Xi, said: "I enjoy the classes because I learn to fletch arrows and shoot properly with a square stance and locked knees." However, not all classes offered by the centres prove popular. Tiong Bahru Community Centre, which is the oldest centre in Singapore, having opened in 1951, has scrapped its French lessons due to decreasing class sizes.

Tiong Bahru resident Ng Tiong Jin, 79, said: "The more popular classes are still those that typically attract the older crowd, such as Chinese calligraphy."

The former bank executive has lived in Tiong Poh Road since 1942. His earliest memory of the centre is when he ran an errand for his father to buy a jar of cigarettes from sellers there. Activities aside, many visitors just like to use the centres to meet friends.

Undergraduate Ketav Majundar, 23, has been playing basketball at Tiong Bahru Community Centre for the last 10 years.

"It feels kind of nostalgic when I still meet some of my secondary school friends here for an evening match of five-on-five," he said.

Gateball player Rengasamy Manogaran, 58, said: "It's a good getaway from the normal stressful lives that Singaporeans lead, especially when we sometimes have a cup of coffee after the game."

Community centres will continue to adapt and move with the times.

A new one in Hougang, to be ready in 2015, is believed to be the first to house a hawker centre with other facilities such as basketball courts and multi-purpose rooms.

In 2018, Nee Soon Central residents will benefit from a fully air-conditioned community club to be housed in a shopping mall. It will be linked to a bus interchange next to Yishun MRT station.

Nee Soon GRC MP Muhammad Faishal Ibrahim, who conceived the idea, said: "Shopping centres are not only a place for families and young people but also for the elderly to be integrated."

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