The BMC is a democracy. As such, the opinions of members on all kinds of things – to bolt or not to bolt, whether dry tooling is acceptable on established rock climbs, whether the BMC should change its name, how to connect with hill walkers and new climbers – are taken very seriously. Not only can you have your say at local area meetings, you can also vote for the volunteers who debate local issues and actively shape BMC policies at a national level. Here’s how it all works.
Add your voice to local climbing and hillwalking policy discussions: come along to your next local area meeting.
Sarah Stirling caught up with Rehan Siddiqui, BMC president, and four National Council representatives to find out how the system works and why they volunteer.
“The views of the National Council are key to the operation of the BMC, to get a feeling of what the members want.
“Each BMC area elects two people to represent their views at National Council meetings, which are held four to five times a year in mountainous areas around the UK. In this way, views and opinions from each area are fed into the system and ultimately influence the BMC’s policy on important issues of the day.
“These area representatives make up the lion’s share of attendants at National Council meetings. They are a vital link, fundamentally forming the policy-making body of the BMC. We are very thankful to these volunteers for doing this in their own time, for no reward other than putting something back into climbing and walking, and the odd free chip buttie.”
Will Kilner (South Wales)
Will is a climber and hillwalker who runs mountaineering training courses.
“I volunteered to be on the National Council because it was an opportunity to get involved and have a say, rather than sit back and criticise.
“South Wales is a long way from the BMC offices in Manchester, so I felt it was important to have a really vocal shout about what was happening locally. For example, bolting was a big issue here in Wales. There was a whole array of opinions across the country about when it was OK to drill and when it wasn’t. People had the opportunity to discuss this at local meetings, then sent their representatives to National Council, where it was ultimately thrashed out.
“The high level of influence National Council has on BMC policy is why I’m interested in it.
“The decision not to change the name of the BMC is another good indicator of the level of influence National Council has. If you were a canoer you’d have been told, ‘We’re doing this name change; it's a done deal.’ It’s a real strength of the BMC, that opportunity for representation by the members for the members.
As I see it, if it’s decided at National Council level that an issue needs addressing, then it goes up to the Board of Directors, and if it’s decided that something needs changing, this is dished out to the BMC staff.”
Roger Fanner (Midlands)
Roger is a retired lawyer who has been climbing for over 50 years, and now works as a climbing instructor (SPA) and walking leader (ML).
“I felt a duty to be involved in BMC area meetings, to try to make a difference.
“There was a time when not many members were turning up to meetings in the Midlands (and in the South East of England), despite the fact that those areas held over half of the BMC’s membership. Areas like the Lake District have more of a custodian role, looking after local crags and discussing things like access, which encourages more people to attend meetings. We don’t have many crags to worry about down here, so we represent the views of our members in a much broader way.
“I was also interested to find out how it all works at the BMC. It’s complicated, a bit frustrating sometimes, and fascinating how it all meshes together!
“At National Council meetings we discuss policy. The bigger picture of the BMC; the more strategic stuff. The business stuff rests with the Board and the office. Serving on the National Council is a big commitment. Five meetings a year, the prep for it all; those are weekends we could be out on the hills or the crags. It’s important to remember that a lot of volunteers do an awful lot for the BMC.”
Phil Simister (Midlands)
Phil is inspired by big mountains and fearsome faces (and has very nearly killed himself on several of them).
“I volunteer for the BMC because I think it needs doing, and I’m better placed to do it than anyone else, and I think a lot of others feel the same way.
“Do I enjoy it? No, of course not! But I feel the same about my actual work, which is going in and turning around companies: I find it challenging and satisfying. Enjoyment is going off with a special friend to do fun things together!
“What happens at National Council meetings? We try not to get bogged down in area trivia!
“We discuss things like BMC future strategy. In the Midlands, for example, we have fought for the need to recognise hill-walking more within the BMC. Roger and I represent our members' views on this at National Council meetings
“There’s an unusual situation at the BMC, because it’s a three-legged organisation. You have the Board of Directors, you have the National Council, which represent members, and you have the members as represented by the AGM as well. Because it’s a member-led organisation it seems to work somehow!”
Lisa Payne (London)
Lisa Payne helps run a climbing club in London. Her main interest is trad climbing, particularly on sea cliffs. In winter you’ll find her in the climbing walls keeping warm.
“Surprisingly enough, being on the National Council has been good fun and enjoyable as well as very interesting.
“I’ve been a National Council rep and Secretary for the London area for 18 months. My husband and I got involved because the London area had no representation at the time – the previous chair and secretary had stepped down a while ago and there had been no meetings.
“At National Council meetings, we discuss everything from local access issues to, most recently, the governance structure of the BMC. Everyone brings a report from their area that we run through, then we deal with national issues, be they proposals to change name and introduce a new strategy to engage with hill walkers. Call me mad but I find the BMC politics very interesting, and enjoy hearing what’s going on in across the country.”
The BMC would like to say a very big thank you to all the volunteers who give so much back to the British hill walking and climbing community.
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