Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Issue 51: A question of funding

Just how is the BMC funded?

Gone are the days when you could run an organisation like the BMC from a dusty backroom with a single filing cabinet. Representing a touch over 65,000 members and employing 25 full-time staff, the modern BMC gets through about £1.75m a year. Some of this goes towards running the office. But most of it goes toward the activities that people join us for: keeping crags open, safety and equipment advice, lobbying important people to nip problems in the bud, liability insurance for members, running events, marketing, producing a website and Summit magazine to tell everyone about it.

So where does this million-and-threequarters actually come from? Well, the 2007 Annual Accounts show that last year 59% of the income needed to run the BMC came from membership subscriptions, 30% from trading activities (including travel insurance), and a slim 11% from Sports Council grants.

The figures are healthy. Membership is growing – an 8.4% increase in the last year – probably down to our new membership database starting to generate new marketing possibilities and the recent very successful Direct Debit offer. The 30% of income from trading activities (including the online shop and various events) is on track too, but we’re not resting on our laurels. We’ve just completely overhauled the online travel insurance application process and are about to launch a revamped online shop.

It’s the smallest slice of the pie chart that causes the most confusion: most people think that the BMC is plugged into some huge source of government cash, but sadly this isn’t true. However this does mean that compared to many other national sports bodies we’re actually in a very good situation. The majority are heavily reliant on government support – up to 95% in some cases – to run their operations. This brings with it all the inherent insecurity and uncertainty of short-term funding commitments and the knock on effects of personnel or policy changes within government and its department. Fortunately we’re largely immune to the sort of pressures faced by other bodies, and can concentrate on simply representing climbers, hill walkers and mountaineers.

We used to get some funding from UK Sport, their focus is on elite performance and Olympic sport; previously they supported elite performance in mountaineering via the BMC expedition grants, and Mountain Leader Training at a UK level. But over the past three years they’ve completely turned their back on climbing and mountaineering to concentrate on medal-winning Olympic sports.

Our current government funding comes from Sport England – their focus is different to UK Sport – their aim is to make England more active by encouraging more people to get involved in sport. So right now we’re filling in lots of headache-inducing forms for the next four-year cycle of applying for some cash to put towards clubs, volunteers, high-performance and mountain training.

But who decides how the money is spent? In the case of any funding from Sport England, they decide – and funding is ring-fenced and continuing targets must be met. And in the case of the other money, the membership cash, the insurance profits, then that’s decided by a mindboggling process involving the National Council, the Executive Committee and the Finance Committee, directly influenced by priorities identified at BMC Area Meetings. We’re in the process of producing the new four-year strategy for the BMC, the grandly named, ‘Strategic Plan 2009 – 2013’, and that will be available for comment on the website very soon. It’s your money – tell us what you’d like to see it spent on.

What should BMC funding priorities be?

Let us know – email summit@thebmc.co.uk/

Friday, May 30, 2008

Issue 50: Rescue Me

Business is booming for mountain rescue

If mountain rescue meant money, teams around the country would be slapping themselves on the back. Mountain Rescue (England and Wales) have just published their incident report for 2007 and one thing’s for sure – business has been good.

Last year (the 75th anniversary of mountain rescue in the UK) saw 778 incidents and 1117 ‘persons assisted’, a real improvement on 2005 (693 incidents) and 2003 (597 incidents). Accountants would love the angle of that graph, and if teams operated on a charge-per-rescue basis, they’d all be in the black. But they don’t, and they aren’t: UK mountain rescue is free, and the teams are made up of voluntary members. Right now, from Wasdale to Edale, they’re not slapping their backs, they’re scratching their heads – just why are they so busy?

It’s a common public misconception that mountain rescue is part of the emergency services network. In fact it’s a completely separate, voluntary organisation funded by charitable donations. It consists of 55 teams in England and Wales (plus 27 in Scotland) operated by 3,500 volunteers; volunteers on call, 24-hours a day, every single day of the year.

Their mission statement is “To provide assistance to anyone who becomes lost or injured in the mountains, fells or moorland for whatever reason.” Even if that reason is that people couldn’t be bothered to take a torch, didn’t set off early enough, didn’t know how to navigate or were simply expecting a free guiding service. Mountain rescue has a problem.

The Lakes Teams are winning – or losing – by a long margin. They can boast 298 hill walking incidents last year – 73% of all hill walking incidents in England and Wales. They first noticed something was up last spring, with three rescues in a day by the Wasdale team. Then, in the summer season, this same team – all with jobs and lives of their own – had 31 callouts in 42 days. Many down to the Three Peaks Challenge. By mid-November they’d taken 103 ‘999’ calls: 73 requiring ‘significant team effort’ on the mountains and 30 down to walkers essentially requesting a ‘free guiding service’.

Nationwide, many teams report the same. They’re spending an increasing amount of time on trivial incidents. Increasing numbers of people are ill-equipped, ill-prepared, inexperienced and over ambitious. It’s a trend that shows no sign of slowing, a problem that will continue to get worse unless action is taken. At a recent Mountain Rescue conference, possible solutions were discussed: a national public awareness campaign, providing local mountain guide’s phone numbers in the first instance or issuing an invoice.

This was meant as a light-hearted joke, but could it also be a possible glimpse of the future? A significant increase in non-life threatening rescues will surely compromise the ability of any team to respond to the more serious incidents. If last year proves to be the thin end of the wedge, then the face of mountain rescue as we know it might change, and not necessarily for the better.

Join BaseCamp
BaseCamp is the national supporters group for Mountain Rescue in England and Wales. It’s a way that everyone can give a little money to help mountain rescue teams across country. Join from just £2 per month to get a car sticker, lapel badge and a quarterly magazine. Help them – one day they may help you.

See www.mountain.rescue.org.uk

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Issue 49: Help - get me out of here

Question: what do Alan Hinkes, Sir Chris Bonington, Lucy Creamer and Leo Houlding all have in common? Answer: they all rely on BMC travel insurance to back them up on their various globe-trotting adventures. They’re not paid to endorse it, nor given a special VIP-freebie – they simply think that it’s the best insurance choice out there.
If you’re serious about your fun, then it pays to be serious about your choice of travel insurance policy too. Yes, BMC insurance will probably work out more expensive than a supermarket’s holiday policy or that free cover you might get bundled in with your latest credit card. But we can guarantee that if you’re lying at the base of a cliff in South America with a broken pelvis then having saved a few quid will be the last thing on your mind.
This is one purchase that we hope you’ll never have to actually use, but if you do choose BMC Travel Insurance then you’re buying much more than a fl ashy plastic card to stick in your wallet. You’re getting total peace of mind, reassurance that no matter what happens to you – or where it happens – emergency help is just a phone call away. That if you ever need it, an international rescue network will swing into action to get you to the very best treatment, and fast.
If, like 200 BMC members last year, you have a serious medical emergency and call that emergency helpline number on the back of that card in your wallet, then you’ll discover the real power of our policies. You’ll end up speaking to one of a team of 15 co-ordinators at Assistance International, all trained to the same level so they can deal with any situation, day or night, all year round.
Yet even if you have an uneventful trip, your choice of insurance could do your climbing
some good. By taking out one of our policies you’re also supporting the vital work of the BMC. There aren’t any fat cats updgrading their BMWs here; all profits from the BMC Insurance scheme go towards working for climbers, hill walkers and mountaineers in the UK. You’re not only getting the very best cover, you’re also keeping access to the mountains open without doing a thing.
There are five policies to choose from: Travel, Trek, Rock, Alpine and Ski and Expedition. All do what they say on the tin, and have been designed by climbing and mountaineering experts - you won’t find any unreasonable exclusions or arbitary cut-offs invented by suits. We also listen to you, the members, and so the policies keep evolving. For this year there’s a new option, ‘Basic Only’ cover – this gives you 30% off the policy price by dropping your cover to medical and rescue cover only (no baggage or cancellation cover).
And thanks to the lack of suits, BMC Insurance is actually getting cheaper; for 2008 we’ve managed to reduce all our annual premiums by 10% and held all short term policies at last year’s rates. There are also some great new ways of saving. There’s a brand new couples’ rate (giving a discount of 25% on the price of two policies for co-habiting couples) and recognising that people are staying active for longer, the age categories have been rebanded (giving 65-69 year olds a saving of 50% on 2007 prices).
If you’d like to find out more then call our team of friendly staff for expert advice 9am – 5pm Monday to Friday, or see full details online. And whilst we can’t promise that you can join Chris Bonington and Leo Houlding on their next adventure, at least you’ll be taking the same back-up team with you.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Issue 48: Spread the word

The BMC has a mountain to climb - and needs your help

We have a problem. After many years of sustained membership growth, our membership numbers have plateaued at around 60,000. That’s a respectable figure for sure, but one balanced by the twin facts that our running costs keep increasing and the Sports Council grants are being squeezed due to the Olympics. So, unless we can increase our income, we’ll have to cut back on our work.

The BMC has gone from strength to strength of late - and has achieved some real successes - but continued growth is essential to the good health of any organisation. Of course, I’m preaching to the converted here, reading this there’s a good chance that you’re a BMC member already. And whether that’s the result of a positive step on your part to support British climbing, hill walking and mountaineering, or you were simply attracted by our travel insurance, then you have my thanks.

As part of our 60,000 strong membership, you’ve helped put your weight behind some serious initiatives in the last year; buying Craig y Longridge, fighting for coastal access, funding £20,000 worth of bolt replacements, keeping your local crags open. And member power isn’t to be underestimated, the more members an organisation has, the louder its voice to those that count. So let’s start getting some more members, and really starting to speak.

Estimates of the number of climbers, hill walkers and mountaineers in the UK are hard to come by, but it’s safe to say that it’s far more than 60,000. The Ramblers Association has over 300,000 members, so there must be plenty of more adventurous mountain-goers who’d like a loud representative voice.

The challenge is of course persuading people that joining is the right thing to do, for both them and their sport. We’re making membership even better value with comprehensive nationwide retailer discounts, direct debit incentives, and slashing member prices in our online shop, so people can see a real cost saving when they join. And then there’s our civil liability insurance - priceless if you ever come to need it.

Look out for our new adverts in magazines and websites near you, but perhaps the real key lies in member power. If you think we’re doing a decent job, and value what you get out of being a member, then spread the word. Keep your membership card in your pocket next time your friend asks to borrow it - why should they get a free ride? Get them to join instead. If every one of you convinced a friend or colleague to join, then any funding problems would be solved overnight and your representative body would be twice as strong. Simple.

- Dave Turnbull, BMC CEO.

10 reasons to join

• Your national body. Adding weight to the BMC’s national and local level voice for climbers and walkers.
• Access & environment. Getting behind our work keeping our crags and mountains open through negotiation, management and ownership.
• Grassroots action. Opportunities to get involved at a grass roots level and make a difference on projects that matter to you.
• Summit magazine. Through your letterbox four times a year.
• Facilities & events. Access to our huts, competitions, seminars, courses and meets.
• Safety advice. Access to up-to-the-minute research and expert advice on all safety and technical issues.
• 3rd party insurance. £5m of 3rd party liability insurance cover.
• Retail discounts. A BMC discount card which gives you 10% off at 600+ UK shops, as well as savings on big names like Hertz and Sea France.
• Travel insurance. A choice of market leading trekking and climbing insurance cover.
• Your worldwide voice. Most of all, being in the BMC means that you’re part of the worldwide voice for British climbers on policy, conservation, to get the best we possibly can for our sport.

Find out more about the benefits of joining the BMC at www.thebmc.co.uk/join.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Issue 47: Nuts and bolts

Bolts don’t come from the blue: it’s time we all coughed up before we clip up.

Have you ever climbed a sport route with old bolts and wondered just how strong they really are? Last year, my climbing partner and I came across some rusty bolts at the rather neglected Mill Side Scar in the South Lakes. Placing one’s trust in the security of a single bolt lower off felt a bit sketchy at the time, so imagine the feeling when I heard this shortly afterwards from Paul Clarke of the Yorkshire Bolt Fund:

“After 15 years the hanger was as good as new but the bolt quite rusted. The bolts don’t get much stick at Yew Cogar so you can imagine my surprise when all it took was a pull with the spanner and the whole head of the bolt just snapped off! After talking to others that have re-geared routes, it seems this problem is quite common.”

This quote should provide food for thought for the vast majority of you - it certainly did for me. I can’t think of a single one of my climbing partners who doesn’t clip bolts every now and then. Most of them, like me, mainly boulder and climb traditional routes. Most of them, like me, go sport climbing in the UK maybe a dozen or so times a year. Most of them, like me, have never given any money to a bolt fund.

We’re all used to clipping shiny new bolts overseas. In many places these are funded by the local government, tourism bureau or guiding community; in France crags are seen in very much the same vein as other sports facilities. In some places revenue from guidebook sales is channeled into new routing and re-equipment funds. But back in the UK, we are reliant on the work of dedicated groups of volunteers and individuals for any re-equipment work that needs doing. Often, donations from the climbing public aren’t enough, and either the work doesn’t happen, or it ends up being self-funded.

We’ve all put a few quid into Mountain Rescue boxes, and surely prevention is better than cure? Maybe it’s just a lack of awareness of the time, cost and sheer effort it takes to replace the bolts at somewhere like Malham or Pen Trwyn. On paper a route at Malham may cost about £45 to re-equip, and take half a day to do. But there’s also the cost of drills, abseil ropes and traveling to consider.

One thing that might help is a higher profile for the various regional bolt funds. In the past the BMC has come in for some criticism, some of it justified, for not doing much to support bolt funds. But that’s all set to change now, with the recent launch of the BMC Better Bolts Campaign.

There are several different aspects to the campaign, the most obvious one being a donation of BMC bolts and lower offs to the bolt funds. We’re also working on education, producing downloadable advice guides about bolts for users and installers. And there’s also a new information page about bolt funds on the BMC website, showing you where to donate. On the research side, we’re planning to test some bolting systems at our new test site in Horseshoe Quarry. The aim will be not only to look at safety, but also at ease of removal and replacement. For the future, we need to think in terms of sustainable bolting.

The BMC is finally getting involved in helping to conserve and maintain our existing bolted climbs, but the real key is getting people involved at a local level. Having talked to the various people involved in bolt funds over the last few months, what’s really struck me is that they are all totally passionate about the area they climb in. At the last North Wales bolting workshop for example, over 20 people turned up even though it was the first dry day for ages.

Without the work of these volunteers there’s no doubt that once-classic climbs will be consigned to history. As bolts become dangerous and routes fall into disrepair, crags will be reclaimed by nature and some of the unique range of climbing available to us in this country will be diminished.

So if you enjoy our wide variety of climbing, then get involved with your local bolt fund. Offer to help if you can. Go to a fundraising event. At the very least, do what I’m doing this week - stay on the wagon and put the money saved into the bolt fund collection tin.

- Dan Middleton, BMC Technical Officer.

Tuesday, June 5, 2007

Issue 46: Conscience

We don't need to tell you what to do. Do we?

This conscience thing is all very well: saving rainforests, rescuing whales, reducing carbon emissions, eating "guaranteed happy-until-point-of-death" chicken. We all know what we should be doing - it's a no-brainer. What a shame that all these excellent ethical choices are not only expensive and boring, but also a bit too much like hard work. How inconvenient.

So despite the best of intentions we’re often found chucking McDonalds down our necks, eating endangered fish, jetting off to New Zealand and sliding that organic meat back on the supermarket shelf in search of something cheaper. We'll all be good next week.

Not me you're probably thinking, I'm not like that, I’m “green”. And you probably are, you're a BMC member. You're a climber, hill walker or mountaineer and we're all thoughtful individuals aren't we? Constantly appreciative and respectful of the environment, especially the ones that our sports take us into contact with.

Yes we probably are, until it becomes inconvenient. Until the usual parking places are full, but you reckon you could squeeze onto the verge. Until the stile's just a bit too far down there and the fence becomes too tempting. Until the boulder's a bit too green and a good wire-brushing would sort it out. Until you've driven all this way, the route has a bird restriction and there's no one else about. Until you've got nowhere to put that fag butt and there’s a handy crack in the rock. Until that curry you had last night starts bubbling away deep inside.

You know all about being responsible, but you’re an individual, you’re different. Climbing and walking are adventurous sports - no one can tell you what to do. And if your moral code should flex from time to time, then so what - who's to know? Is it really that big a deal, we can all be good tomorrow. That's probably fine in the bigger picture, no one’s saying that the earth is doomed if you accept that carrier bag, if you go for a drive just for the hell of it, if you give in to that craving for a dirty burger. It’s your overall outlook that might make a difference. Or might not. You'll never have the satisfaction of knowing either way - how could you measure the impact on one individual on the global environment?

Don’t feel too disempowered though, rest assured that on a local basis you can make a real, noticeable contribution – and not always in a good way. Somewhere out there a couple of keen boulderers might be feeling a strange tickle of emotions. Annoyance, anger even, that they can no longer boulder at Eagle Tor in the Peak District. Perhaps tempered with a slight dash of guilt, when they realise that as they dropped their trousers in someone’s back garden they also tipped the scales in a delicate access situation. Eagle Tor is on private land, not covered by the Countryside and Rights of Way Act (CroW), and this was the final straw - the landowner has banned climbing indefinitely. How inconvenient.

As outdoor indiscretions go, they don't come any more dramatic than a crap, a shit, a pile of excrement, a poo, a turd. Nothing gets you noticed like a dirty protest. Just because you can get away with shitting somewhere doesn’t mean that you necessarily should. Barring a medical problem or sudden illness there's no real excuse for leaving such a gift at the crag, and certainly no excuse for leaving it, quite literally, lying around. You know the score: go before you hit the crag, and if you are caught short then bury any waste, and burn toilet paper.

Hopefully this is all very obvious. But what about other things such as taking your dog onto CroW land, taking a group to a crag, how to find out about bird restrictions - how do you know what’s right and what’s plain wrong? As increasingly numbers of people hit the hill and the crags any individual indiscretions can well add up, and whilst access may not always be taken away in such a sudden fashion, your impact could still be felt.

That's where the new BMC Crag Code comes in. We’re working on a series of simple guidelines, covering all the things you should be aware of when out and about. It's in a draft stage right now, so now's the time to comment if you think there's anything we've missed out. And when it's finished, we'll be distributing it to all climbing walls, shops, and outdoor centres, and of course, right here in Summit.

We’re not telling you what to do. You already know. It’s just a reminder. The rest is up to you.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Issue 45: Pulp fiction

Are you willing to pay for a greener BMC?

Bad news for trees. That’s what some people say about the BMC and the vast reams of paperwork we produce and circulate every year. But finally we’re doing something about it. Perhaps you’ve seen the new ‘green tree’ logo on our literature? We’re in process of switching to 100% recycled paper and we’ll be going a step further with plans to use only pulp and paper products sourced from Forest Stewardship Council (FSC)* certified suppliers by the year-end.

And we’re well on our way to making the switch. Since December all of our envelopes and membership literature are on recycled paper, ditto with the printer and photocopier paper, we’ve even taken the plunge with the office toilet rolls. Summit magazine has proved the biggest decision and we’ve taken some convincing that reproduction standards would be up to scratch using recycled paper. So we’ve gone for it anyway and hopefully you’ll agree we got it right. Recycled paper is just part of it though. For years we’ve recycled waste paper in the office, used low-energy light bulbs and we’re also trying to keep the heaters turned down.

Gone are the days when ‘going recycled’ meant a grey, grainy finish and double the price. Today there’s no excuse for not making the switch. The cost is relatively modest. We anticipate a 10% increase in print costs. £10-12k per year, or 20p per BMC member.

But will it really make any difference? I suppose it’s a bit like using your vote. In isolation - no - but collectively - yes. Last night the BBC reported the latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) projection of a 3% increase in global temperatures by 2100; a catastrophic prospect for poorer countries and island communities. According to the IPCC, ‘warming of the climate system is unequivocal, as is now evident from observations of increases in global average air and ocean temperatures, widespread melting of snow and ice, and rising global mean sea levels’. The BMC’s efforts to reduce our carbon footprint may well be a drop in the ocean, but surely its right that the outdoor community does its bit. We have a vested interest after all - witness the effects of warmer winters in the Alps for starters.

It’s an interesting irony but elsewhere in ‘planet BMC’ our access and conservation team are producing a publication on woodland management and tree clearance at crags. It would be great to think that we could use pulp from trees felled at Tremadog to produce paper for the office. No doubt there’ll be a myriad of reasons why this won’t be possible but it’s certainly worth a thought.

But in the meantime we’ll continue to do out bit. And if you're in a position of influence, we’d ask you to consider how you could contribute. In the words of one of our modern day super-brands - every little helps.

Dave Turnbull, CEO

*FSC sets international standards for forest management. Since 1995, it has certified 84+ million hectares in 82 countries and 1000s of products are now made from FSC certified wood.