/ Alpine Club Survey 2
It seems that the AC has also closed down the survey a week early rather than analyse the results separately for members & non-members which was perfectly possible given the identification of participants by post code. Not a very positive response.
It is a pity that those of you who expressed your views in the thread have been denied the opportunity to continue the debate. Mick Fowler’s contribution was particularly welcome although the suggestion that these are private club matters just won’t wash. The AC is not just any other UK club. It represents British Alpinism on international committees including the UIAA with an equal voice to the BMC. If it's not going to listen to those non-members who care about British Alpinism then perhaps it should surrender that privileged position. Otherwise it should expect to be involved in legitimate public debate.
However those of you who still have concerns about the application procedure should contact the membership secretary via the AC website as he does a great job & will give you all the help he can.
I’ll be off to the Alps shortly so good luck with your Alpine adventures and “nil carborundum!”
I couldn't agree more.
My problem with the survey was that there was so much lobbying for the status quo that masqueraded as so-called "information pages" accompanying the survey questions, which were pretty leading questions in themselves. When you add the time frame for responding, which is essentially the time when most active Alpinists will either be in the Alps or busy with arrangements to get there, and the "coincidence" that the recent issue of the AC newsletter is a "Library special" with some very obvious special pleading by the Club's London-based antiquarians, it all adds up to an orchestrated campaign to gain the answers on key issues that those with vested interests on the committee have already decided that they want.
I only just caught Mick's comments before the thread was shut down, but he made some interesting points worthy of following up. It's sad, if unsurprising,that he was unable to persuade the establishment on the AC committee to widen the survey's terms of reference to include non-members who clearly care about British Alpinism and may be interested in joining the Club.
The library should be merged with the royal geo or similar, maybe a big London uni library would hold it? The SMC library is Strathclyde i think.
The archives/paintings/artifacts/photos hmmmmm
How about a big empty shed in sheffield or manchester.
We should buy a chalet/field/apartment/campsite in vallorcine with the proceeds.
Guess I'd better write a letter to the newsletter then....
Sorry about the delay getting back to you. I've been climbing.
You are absolutely right that the AC has an image problem. Unfair but not entirely undeserved. As one Scottish member put it to me; "The trouble with the Alpine Club is that it was set up by London gentlemen for London gentlemen and is still to some extent run that way." Its image as a "London club" is the source of your "Reform Club" comparison and the AC will never be able to live it down until it gives up being a London Club and recognises that the centre of gravity in British climbing has shifted out of London. The BMC offers an important precedent in that respect.
Mick Fowler was right to emphasise the annual dinner & symposium at Shap Wells as a climbing-centred event and there are others like the President's dinner in Wales where in 2012 there was even an exceptional committee meeting outside London. Unfortunately those trying to promote that side of the AC have to work at least twice as hard to overcome the London Club image. Equally unfortunate is the fact that the AC devotes around 90% of its income, time & energy to maintaining a London Clubhouse that is only open for around 120 days a year and never at weekends which means most members simply can't get there.
BTW It's interesting that the Londoneers bang on about the importance of the Clubhouse being in London for foreign visitors yet during the Olympics we have had more sport conscious foreign visitors in London than ever before: what has the Alpine Club done? Closed down for the summer! The Reform Club indeed!
Is it genuinely not possible to get into the Club at weekends?
crazy. Maybe the forward thinkers need to take a long view. Events in cham and zermatt are good.
Would a revitalized an financially supported Alpine climbing group be worthwhile?
Interesting ideas, Alasdair, that should certainly be taken seriously rather than dismissed out of hand, although I think the "big shed solution" might be missing an opportunity.
More members visit the mountains and moorland of Wales, The Peak & Lake Districts than ever visit London and if there was an Alpine Club Mountain Centre in such a location it could do wonders for the AC's image. A modern building with space not only to store but to display the "Treasures of the Alpine club," could help to inspire a whole new generation of Britsih alpinists who could just drop in on a rainy day rather than have to make an appointment weeks in advance. Members, of course, would have free entry but income could be generated by opening to the public particularly at weekends and during holiday periods. In fact it could probably be open full-time for the same staffing costs as result in a 3 day week in London.
Of course the substantial minority (20%) of members in London could still meet for regular lecture and other events by hiring the facilities as other member groups do in Hathersage and Bristol and the OAV & others do in London. Indeed the AC has used RGS lecture facilities itself in the past. Why pay millions to own a lecture theatre that is only used around 20 times a year?
Good luck with your letter.
I think our postings crossed.
I think the last time the Clubhouse was open at all at a weekend was when the AGM was held on a Friday evening in 2010 if you can count that. That was most unusual. Until recent years AGMs have been held in London on a Tuesday evening thereby ensuring that the majority of members could not attend but safeguarding the dominant London influence.
I agree that the real life of the club is to be found in the mountains and the events and meets held there.
Your reference to the ACG is a timely reminder that this struggle between views of the Club as a climbing club or as a London Club has been around for a while. The ACG did not solve the problem & seems to have just run out of steam as an effective "opposition."
Let's just hope that the ostriches get their heads out of the sand soon enough for the club to move forward instead of labouring under the London Club stereotype.
Would agree that the AC library only being open for 3 times a week during the day is not ideal for people with full-time jobs. Opening in the evenings instead would make more sense to me. It does at least stay open late on lecture evenings. Moving the library to another location in London doesn't sound very practical as it would surely only increase overhead costs? I don't think anybody in the North need worry about the mountain library as the Sheffield library is excellent.
As for general overhead costs of being London-based, I can't really comment on these matters and I've only been in the club for a few months.
I'm playing devil's advocate here, but isn't 20% London membership not that bad given that the London population makes up about 12% of the UK population?
Is that really the case though?
I know Dave feels passionately about moving the AC out of London, but there is no getting away from the fact that a huge proportion of the UK's population lives in or within travelling distance of London. I take Dave's point that UK population does not equal the same demographic as AC members (or potential AC members).
I think the portrayal of the AC as a Reform Club equivalent is unfair, even in the last 2-3 years since I have been a member it has been noticeable at many of the London lectures that younger members make up more of the audience. It risks becoming a self-perpetuating problem in that people keep saying oh it isn't a club for young alpinists so young alpinists don't join...
Dave makes the point that many more AC members visit the Peak/Lakes/Snowdonia etc than London, but prehaps the point there is that generally when they go there they will be going to climb, not to a lecture or to research expedition reports.
But then I would say all this as I live in London ;-)
Evening opening certainly makes more sense if you are working in London but doesn't make any difference if you are based elsewhere in the UK. Realistically I'm not going to spend at least £30 and 5 hours travelling to visit the London library. At least in a mountain location there is the chance to do some climbing as well. Not so in London.
You are right about the Al Rouse library in Sheffield, which means that an AC mountain Centre would probably be better located in the Lakes but hey let's see what other people think.
The reasons given for not opening at evenings &/or weekends seems to have been the cost of London rates for unsocial hours and the difficulty of recruiting staff!!
True Alasdair, and it's not just the influence, it's the investment of millions of pounds worth of club assets in a property in London from which most members derive little or no benefit. £10,000 in total was spent on members services last year and I believe the same amount was spent on refurbishing the basement toilets in the Clubhouse.
It very definitely is the case. When I was on the committee there was at least one case where a committee decision was reversed after lobbying from London members who were not even on the committee but had been tipped off by those that were so that timing of their lobbying would be effective. The removal of the London differential in subscriptions was another case where London members kept bringing the issue back to committee and when they finally got their way the change was initially not even recorded in the AGM minutes "for some reason."
I would agree that the Reform Club comparison is unfair and that more young alpinists need to be involved in the Club. I have proposed a few in my time but in several cases they have left, apologising but saying that they simply ended up not doing enough with the Club to justify continuing as members. All the ones who left lived elsewhere: guess where the ones who stayed lived.
We have to get beyond, "I want the Club in my back yard." Members of the Club will always be located in diverse areas and it will not unite them to simply locate HQ in the largest minority's area. What is needed is a common denominator that brings all members together and can appeal to all potential members young or old. To my mind that common denominator has to be the mountains.
Personally I'd be much happier to get some climbing in on one day and do my research on another and/or go to a lecture on a saturday evening in a location like Ambleside. Wouldn't you if you didn't have the library and lecture theatre on your doorstep?
Is there not scope for involving the Mountain Heritage Trust with the library / archive.
I'd have thought so although there have been turf wars over the Everest material between the RGS & AC so I could understand there being some territoriality on the part of the AC. It does seem to be a tremendous waste of resources, however, to just bury things like Whymper's tent & Mummery's ice axe in a backstreet basement in London, never mind the more literary material.
Re the survey, the failure to investigate alternative options means that, as one correspondant put it; "One difficulty I think is the lack of a more thoroughly worked set of alternative solutions, such as an outline costing of premises and a transition plan that keeps the volunteer pool engaged. As a result, incumbents are tempted to see the status quo as less risky."
The committee resolutely opposed the proposal for such an investigation at the last AGM, stating that it was not necessary in view of the forthcoming survey but that would only be true if the survey was completely impartial and the committee has clearly failed to deliver on that. No "information page" that quotes income figures but fails to record the £100,000 loss on the London premises as a result of non-payment of rent in the last set of accounts can claim to be impartial.
Just back from the Dolomites so I've been a bit out of touch. Good to hear that the survey hasn't just been shut down in a fit of pique. I did meet some members in the alps who will now be able to complete the survey since it isn't going to be taking place while they were away climbing. Good news, but why, I wonder, did the committee not think of that?
I did mine recently, hope it helps! Thumbs up for the AC.
Glad to hear that Matthew. It's only if people get involved that we will see the AC taking its rightful place at the forefront of British Alpinism rather than maintaining some dusty and little visited museum in the backstreets of London.
>It's only if people get involved that we will see the AC taking its rightful place at the forefront of British Alpinism rather than maintaining some >dusty and little visited museum in the backstreets of London.
Unless maintaining the London base is what most members want...
> Unless maintaining the London base is what most members want...
You are right to sound a warning note about that. After decades of being misinformed by the London-dominated committee it is difficult for members to reach well-informed decisions. The survey is a good case in point. To take just one example, a so-called information page compares £55,000 pounds worth of income from the London property with £45,000 income yielded by subscriptions but neglects to point out that most, if not all (and sometimes more than all) of the property income ends up being spent on the property whereas the subscriptions income has no strings attached. It is simply not comparing like with like.
Given that the total spent on members benefits according to the last set of accounts was around £10,000 and the refurbishment of the basement toilets in Charlotte Road cost about the same it's obvious where the spending priorities are but you need to dig to find out that information and most members are simply not able to do so. I only found out by being on the committee.
It's clear from John Town's committee news in the latest newsletter that the committee pre-judged issues in the construction of the survey so we should not be surprised that "information" was constructed to support those pre-judgements. And don't forget that in this thread a member was unaware that the Clubhouse is not open at weekends.
BUT the issue will not go away. It is such a flagrant waste of resources to invest millions in a property that is only open to selected members 3 days a week for about 10 months a year (including a lecture theatre that is only used by the Club 20 times a year at an estimated cost to the Club of £2000 per lecture) that it cannot be ignored forever by the vast majority of members for whom the building provides no benefits at all.
For example, your cost of £2000 per lecture assumes that all the running costs should be split between the number of lectures and ignores any other use of the building eg the library/collections etc.
Property of any kind costs money to maintain regardless of where it is located, though obviously dependent on the state of the buildings to start with. If the rental income covers the outgoings then that seems like a good investment as effectively the rental income is subsidising anything else that the AC does or wants to do with the building.
The building could be flogged, but the question is what do you want to see happen to that money? Is it just a case of moving the location? Or are there other activities that you would like to see the AC do which they might not be able to do due to lack of money? If the latter who will make it happen given that largely the club (like most) relies on volunteers?
Sorry not to have got back to you until now: been climbing.
I'm glad you share my concern about distorted information but the £2000 per lecture is not my figure. I was quoting from a cost/benefits analysis prepared for the House management committee as part of a review in 2010. This was reported to the main committee by Bill Thurston, then House Manager. I understand that the figure was arrived at as follows: the lecture theatre occupies one floor ie 20% of the building; it stands empty for around 345 days of the year therefore take 20% of the running costs and divide them between the 20 lectures. It is possible that the additional 40% of the building occupied by the library & offices and unused for 227 days of the year may have been taken into account but I'm not in a position to doublecheck. Even if subsequently revised, it is bound to be a substantial figure and I can see no justification for paying London prices for the running costs of a building that is unused for the majority of the year leaving aside any questions about the property's fitness for purpose.
You are right that the business plan is for the income from rents to cover the outgoings but the cost of rental defaults has meant that it will be years before the recent £100,000 loss on the property is recovered and that happy state is achieved again. That also assumes there are no further rent payment defaults which cannot be guaranteed in the current economic climate.
The house management committee review papers make interesting reading if you can get hold of them: men of good faith grappling with the problems of managing a "period" building in the light of health & safety regulations amongst other problems. They are willing to consider key questions like, "Do we have an unreasonable and unjustifiable London-centric bias?" although reaching no conclusions about that. They also coin the term "the golden millstone" for the Clubhouse, acknowledging the substantial investment of time and effort as well as money that accompanies the generation of income by the property. William Newsom's minority report is a particularly interesting contribution from a very well-qualified source.
The AC committee should probably have set up a sub-committee to explore alternatives regarding location following the review but was busy attempting to resolve issues with the BMC at the time. Without an analysis of alternatives it is difficult to make informed decisions. The motion I put to the last AGM was an attempt to make some progress in that direction but was blocked by the actions of the committee including the procedural irregularity of having the Chairperson speak against the motion.
Sorry to have missed out on replying to this part of your response.
The London Clubhouse divides the membership into the haves and have-nots with regard to benefits. This used to be recognised in the higher subscriptions paid by London members but that measure was quietly done away with at the 2010 AGM.
Personally, I would like to see the membership united by what binds us together, a love of mountains, by locating the lbrary, archives, photo, art & artefact collections in an "Alpine Club Mountain Heritage Centre" in a suitable mountain area. I would see the building as providing adequate space and storage for the Library and archives as well as a gallery/exhibition space. The centre should be open Wednesday to Sunday and access would be free to members but non-members would pay a fixed charge to access the exhibitions or avail themselves of the research facilities of the Library and archives. This would not only improve access for members but also provide access for the wider British mountaineering community who undoubtedly have a stake in this heritage.
Such a project would attract funding easily since it overcomes the access problems that bedevil Charlotte Road and it has to be recognised that once you move out of London you get a lot more bang for your bucks. However, a proper feasibility study would obviously need to be done before committing to such a move. As I've said before, that process could have begun if the committee had not blocked the enabling motion that I put to the last AGM.
The beauty of such a move would be that it would in no way damage the London lecture programme and its accompanying social milieu, rightly valued by many Londoners. That could continue as before although at an alternative location like the RGS or Civil Service Club, venues already successfully used by other London Climbing Clubs. As the largest minority group within the membership of course they should be able to continue with their social activities.
As for who could make this happen, I think William Newsom is an obvious candidate to head up a small sub-committee to conduct a feasibility study. There is evidence that the AC is over-extended in the number of gaps in its "management structure" eg no chair of Finance, no chair of Climbing, Events etc. no meets secretary, the treasurer having to take on Richard Coatsworth's role since he stepped down, not to mention the long-standing failure to find a new House Manager or Guidebooks Editor. However, a new project of this nature could easily tap the enthusiasm of those for whom shoring up an unfair status quo has no appeal.
> Personally, I would like to see the membership united by what binds us together...
"Us" - are you a member?
Might have known you'd pick me up on that!
But seriously we are all part of the wider mountaineering community and the AC has tremendous potential and arguably a responsibility to support British Alpinism in that community at a time when there is evidence that Alpinism is suffering something of a decline, particularly amongst young people. That won't happen if it continues to pursue the narrow sectional interests of the most influential minority of its members.
I will make just one comment in reply and that is that whilst I agree that the AC has a responsibility to British alpinism, its resources are such that it also has a responsibility to global alpinism.
OK, one other comment (I know you'll understand!): I've met quite a few younger climbers who are keen to join the AC and a good number of them have featured recently in lists of new members. But doubtless there's still room for improvement.
Fair comment Andrew but I believe the advice is: "Think globally, act locally!"
Not been on-line for a while as out & about on other clubs' meets. Amazing how many long-standing AC members you meet who have either never visited the Clubhouse or not done so for years. As ever the topic of young members came up & the place of training inevitably got discussed.
I know one young AC member, now on the committee, wrote a paper that suggested, amongst other things, that a closer connection with training through the Conville courses would be useful but that was some time ago. Perhaps a free year's membership for young people who complete such a course would be worth looking at or the AC itself running a young aspirants' meet with resident guide could offer something to those who cannot afford the time off or expense of getting to London midweek. After all, times are hard for a lot of youngsters these days.
the results are in, happy to forward to you if you want. seems like the club is going nowhere out of london fast. Quite a decent survey and fairly strong/clear preferences.
That would be much appreciated.
I’ve had several “forwardings” of the results from members now but can’t agree that it is a decent survey. I rely on the opinion of people I know who use surveys professionally in their research work. They were not impressed by the design of the survey: questions relating to multiple issues were never going to produce unambiguous results, never mind the leading questions based on disinformation. The presentation of the results has been judged equally amateurish and inconsistent: “whoever produced these results was neither a scientist nor a statistician.”
Personally, I do find the results interesting in that the tabulated information is quite selective:
1. Why are there no tables for some questions?
2. Why are some answers discounted like boxes 4-7 in table 9? A good stats package would be able to process that information.
3. Why does table 6 not express the results as percentages of the total responses rather than a percentage only of the 67% who attend "at least occasionally" even though a majority of that 67% attend less than once a year? (I expect you can guess: it makes it seem like 70% value the London lectures rather than less than 50% of the total responses.)
The summary is interesting too. There is plenty of evidence of verbal sleight of hand.
The timing of the survey is described as “inevitable” "to ensure securing results in time for the AGM" but this ignores the fact that the committee took seven months to construct the survey: procrastination or what? It should have been obvious that the views of active climbers, who would normally be focussed on climbing in the summer weeks, would be unlikely to be recorded and that alone should have encouraged a speedier approach and more appropriate timing. The timing of the “Library Special” in the Newsletter shows what can be done when the establishment puts its collective mind to something but perhaps that was the tail wagging this particular dog.
The comment on climbing activity is another case in point, cherry-picking one positive result and spinning this into an "active" membership. There is no mention of the fact that the single biggest category relating to almost every question regarding climbing is the "Never" group and in all but one case this group combines with the next least active category to form a majority. eg. 56% climb UK rock less than 5 times a year including 27% who never climb. Even in the Alps a majority of members go no more than once every 2-3 years. These figures would be worrying for any climbing club but should be especially so for one that claims to be at the cutting edge of British Alpinism.
Later 52% agreement is described as "a mixed response" relating to overall sponsorship of the club but "endorsement" when relating to increasing the membership to 5000. Why the difference of interpretation of the same figure?
There were also possibilities for free text entry but there is absolutely no mention of those responses in the summary.
And of course those non-members from the wider climbing community who cared enough about Alpinism to take the trouble to respond have been completely ignored.
Large claims are made for “a survey of members being asked to respond on issues of significant importance to the future running of their club” but what initiatives are going to develop from these results? None that I can see happening, though there is a lot of wishful thinking about recruitment.
The survey was clearly designed to endorse the status quo and that is exactly what it has done.
But let's not forget that the AC establishment only agreed to the President’s suggestion of a survey in order to head off any investigation into alternatives to the inadequate premises at Charlotte Road because that might include a move from London, hence the bias present in the "information pages." As a result the AC has simply added a new twist to the old saying whereby lies and damned lies have in this case produced the statistics.
Perhaps it's not surprising that 50% of the membership did not respond. What would have been the point?
Unfortunately he now seems to be trying to influence how the club is run externally with these threads where he presents a very partisan view of events. This seems rather improper - he left so why should he care how a private organisation is run, still less try to rubbish it in public with half-truths? He seems to believe the results of the survey were a foregone conclusion and its timing Machiavellian. This does not appear to be the case from inside the club. Indeed, the survey was open to anyone. How many private organisations would take outsiders' views on board in the way when it comes to internal decisions?
If anyone has been put off the club, don't be. It is vibrant and open and has events across the UK and the world. If you are interested in alpine climbing (even at a modest level) then get in touch with the membership secretary and don't be put off by disgruntled ex-members
Yesterday I received the latest club magazine,some interesting pieces in it.One thing that did catch my eye was the subscriptions for 2013.Members aged 31 - 64 are £50 and £30 for those members under 30.I asked myself why should members under 30 be paying £20 less.I have began to think about what I am getting for the cost of the membership and personally not a lot.One thing I felt that I got was the reciprical rights in the alpine hits but I have noticed that loads seem to get the same benefits with a BMC membership card.
Only one or two minor points but one's that make me think that I am wasting £50.
I don't think personal attacks are of any more benefit in moving the debate about the future direction of the AC forward than inadequate surveys.
To correct your inaccuracies:
I proposed an investigation of alternatives to the Charlotte Rd. premises, which the AC house committee itself had identified as having real problems in accomodating the club's heritage collections and at a time when the property had incurred losses of £100,000. Moving out of London was only one option that could have emerged from such an investigation. The Main committee chose to oppose that proposal on the grounds that such an investigation was unnecessary until a survey proposed later in the year would identify whether this was an issue with the membership.
There were a number of procedural irregularities at the AGM but it is a bold member body that will defy the will of the Committee as expressed through the President who somehow managed to chair the meeting as well as speak against the motion.
After some thought I resigned from the Club for two related reasons:
1. I thought that the Committee was failing in its duty to think strategically about the future of the Club if it was not prepared to even consider a sub-committee investigating issues with the Charlotte Road property.
2. I did not believe that the Committee was capable of designing an unbiased survey because of its composition and history.
Both reasons led me to conclude that I no longer had confidence in the Club's future but I was assured that I was wrong and invited to rejoin "when you see what we do achieve."
Accordingly I held my peace until the survey was circulated. It fulfilled my worst expectations and at that point I decided to open the issue to public debate.
Why? Because 2 years after identifying the need for a Forum area in the members-only section of the website that facility still does not exist so if the debate is not public it will not exist at all.
BTW the Club cannot be considered a private institution if it represents British Alpinism in the international arena with a seat on international committees equal to the BMC.
You provide no evidence for your assertions and I know of none to back up your claim that the Survey was open to all. Quite the contrary in fact as the results summary makes a point of attempting to validate the 50% sample of members who responded by claiming that it is representative of the whole membership.
The timing of the survey speaks for itself.
The Club has huge potential that is unrealised at present and only a massive influx of out-of-London members will wake the sleeping giant, but those new members are going to have to join with a reform agenda if they are to shape the club's future positively rather than being enlisted simply to prop up the status quo. Only an informed awareness of what goes on will enable that process. Closing ranks and pretending everything in the garden is rosy does new members or the Club no favours at all.
Value for money will always be an issue for a club that concentrates its resources overwhelmingly in London but young members are the future of the Club and need encouraging particularly at a time when internet social networking opportunities are undermining the attractions of Club membership.
Do you have any ideas of how young members could be encouraged to join without offering lower subs?
Well, as far 'across' the UK as London, Sheffield & Bristol anyway.
To be honest, I'm more put off by an anonymous (apparant) member of the AC coming on here and having a go at a member of the public who appears to have some legitimate concerns about the running of the club.
We met at the excellent Eagles Ski symposium last year.
On the limited "how to get young members" issue the club appears to be doing ok as the First Ascent supported "climbing fund" means anyone heading to the greater ranges with ambition/imagination joins up.
I agree that blagging discounts with a BMC card in alpine huts works, the AC would certainly have more members if it didn't. Ironically on one occasion a guardian was very keent to see the BMC logo on my card as this was what he recognised...
Personally I'm happy that the survey was a good attempt. It's not the club as an institutions (or it's postholders) fault that it's dominated by london members. Lets face it Turkeys don't vote for Xmas!
I agree that it's a national club and debating on here is reasonable.
I guess we and (everyone else) are only arguing because we care about UK alpinism.....
> To be honest, I'm more put off by an anonymous (apparant) member of the AC coming on here and having a go at a member of the public who appears to have some legitimate concerns about the running of the club.
Here's a non-anonymnous member of the AC. I've been a member since 1992 and am not involved in helping run the club. I took part in the survey and am not too persuaded by the 'this all a stitch-up by the London crowd' view. Obviously Dave WJ feels very passionately about the club and its future, but I fail to see how resigning from the club to engage in a certain amount of public haranguing is the best way of trying to influence its future development. In fact, the signs from some of the posts in this thread would suggest that this discussion is damaging the image of the club and, as others have pointed out, we are getting a rather one-sided view.
I am proud of my membership and what the club represents. The club is very active with UK meets from Cornwall to the Highlands and Lectures in London, the SW and the Peak plus other meets and expeditions all over the World, every year, summer and winter. It produces an annual Journal of world renown which is always a fantastic and inspiring read and has archives, a library and research facilities to provide for those looking for something new in the world of mountaineering as well as to provide material for those researching and recording mountaineering history. For a small, volunteer run club I think that's impressive. I'm sure the club can, and will be, improved; it certainly has changed (for the better) during the years I've been a member.
Let’s just try to clear up any confusion here. I am not saying and never have said that the AC does not run meets, a lecture programme etc. I was instrumental in expanding & developing the meets programme precisely to provide some compensation for members who did not live in London & were missing out on access to the facilities there. I suppose I first became disillusioned about this when the expanded meets programme was advanced as a justification for reducing London members' subs. Hokkyokusei is right, however, to point out that the lecture programme only operates in London, Bristol and Hathersage, leaving members north and west of that triangle rather less well-served. He might also have pointed out that there are twice as many lectures in London than in either Hathersage or Bristol. It is undoubtedly true that the Library, archives, etc. are a world-class resource but the figures for usage have been pathetically small, largely on account of location I would argue.
What I have pointed out has been about the survey and I note that neither you nor anyone else has challenged the evidence I have provided or offered an alternative interpretation of that evidence: ie the suppression and distortion of information; the timing, when most active climbers would be likely to be away climbing; the simultaneous publication of a “Library Special” edition of the newsletter; the inconsistencies in the presentation of the results tables and the anomalies in the so-called “summary” of results. More than a collection of coincidences I should have thought. I held my peace for long enough prior to the publication of the survey and would have continued to do so had the survey been unbiased.
You seem to be arguing that the meets programme, etc. excuses all the above irregularities, which should not be examined in case that damages the reputation of the Club. If so, isn’t there a danger of adopting something like the position of the BBC officials who argued against investigating Jimmy Saville’s behaviour in case it damaged the reputation of the BBC or the Hospital authorities who may have turned a blind eye to that behaviour because of all the money he raised for their charities?
You are right to point out the positive progress that the Club has made and I have no doubt that a club that tackles its problems, rather than pretending that they do not exist, should have no fears for its reputation.
I'm a current AC member. It was great to be consulted in a survey this year, sorry if my vote to keep the base in London upset you, but sometimes we have to accept that others have different opinions to ourselves.
I only joined the AC a few years back. Its been great to go on meets and find climbing partners for alpine climbing. A step forward from my previous approach of turning up on the Argentiere campsite.
I only wish I'd found out that I could join the club as an aspirant member years ago. For me the broadening of the membership, particularly to younger climbers, is more important than the issue of where the club is based, although London suits me.
I don't know if I fit the stereotype of 'London gentleman'. Born a Cockney, working as a doctor in East London, I'll be at Upton Park tomorrow night (a different type of club). In London we might be miles from the best of UK climbing, jealous of those who live further north, but the public transport links are good for anybody wanting to visit the library, and at least its closer to the Alps!
You’re right that the survey was a good idea and don’t be sorry about your vote for London. From your position it makes sense and anyway I’m more concerned here about the bias evident in the survey and its analysis. Any survey should be as impartial as possible if it’s not going to undermine its credibility and what’s the point of having a survey if the results are not going to be analysed effectively with a proper stats package?
BTW I’ve finally worked out why I’ve been so uncomfortable with the results relating to questions 11 & 14a found in tables 8 & 9. The results show that of all the AC activities or offerings only guidebooks and the Library receive a majority vote in terms of personal importance to members and those only just. (The rating for the Library is puzzling too. Given the figures elsewhere in the survey that show 67% of members visit the Clubhouse less than once a year, it’s difficult to see how 56% of members manage to visit the Library with any regularity.) The tables actually show that most of what the AC does is of minority interest to its members personally. This tells us as much about the membership as it does about organised AC activities and offerings. Also notable is the result that only 2 categories receive a vote for their personal importance higher than their importance to the reputation of the club (newsletter & electronic bulletin) whilst in all other categories the importance is weighed heavily towards the reputation of the Club, sometimes massively so. Why?
If the committee really wanted to know what most enhanced the reputation of the Club, it should surely have surveyed the wider mountaineering community, perhaps through the BMC, rather than members. So why are these questions structured this way?
Perhaps it’s about encouraging a perception that the Club’s interests are separate and distinct from the personal interests of the members. That way a minority can claim to be acting in the best interests of the Club whilst pursuing policies that run counter to the best interests of the membership.
The AC would not be the first institution to reach that state of affairs. The RC church offers a good example. At first it was a loose association of persecuted people with common beliefs, banded together for mutual support. As it gained numbers, property, wealth, influence and power, it appointed officials to manage those areas and slowly but surely the Church came to represent those interests rather than the interests of the churchgoer. This even stretched to pursuing policies that were directly opposed to the interests of the churchgoer by covering up abuse of their children to safeguard the Church’s reputation.
What we are seeing with the AC is a problem of governance. In other clubs the officers are limited to fixed terms of office so attempts at empire-building cannot last: new members have to come in to fill the posts and can reconnect committees with the real interests of members if there is any danger of a disconnect. Unfortunately under the existing AC rules there is no limit to the tenure of most officers. If they wish they can currently continue in post for life. The Hon Librarian on the present committee has been in post for more than 18 years and the unelected Chair of the Library Committee has somehow established a position of permanent attendance at AC Committee meetings. Other committee members step down from one role only to reappear shortly in another, a kind of committee musical chairs. Year after year I have watched the Committee selecting itself and always the key question when a person was suggested was: “Will he/she be able to get to the London meetings?” When has the Committee ever issued an invitation or reminder to members via the newsletter to nominate themselves or another member for the Committee in the run-up to an AGM?
These problems with governance have resulted in the formation of an AC establishment pursuing undemocratic policies and a culture in which members are encouraged to subordinate their interests to the interests of “the Club”. This isn’t necessarily deliberate or calculating on the part of individuals: close involvement with an institution inevitably leads to a measure of institutionalisation and of course “it’s very difficult to get someone to understand something when their salary depends on them not understanding it.” Not that many committee members are paid, but some do have a very personal stake in their positions that could be an even stronger influence.
It’s good to see that there are rule change proposals to be voted on at the next AGM that could address some of these problems, although unfortunately these proposals also entrench the position of the Library representatives whilst summarily removing the guidebooks editor as an officer of the Club. This is strange given the value attached to guidebooks in both the previous survey and the most recent results; more or less equal value to that attached to the Library. More worrying is the lack of any rationale for these changes that could inform those voting by postal ballot. Don’t members deserve an explanation?
Still we can keep hoping for progress and, as Alasdair reminded us in an earlier posting, we wouldn’t be arguing about this on here if we didn’t care about UK Alpinism.
News from the AC AGM was singularly uninspiring:-
1. After claiming in the summary of survey results that the timing of the survey (when most active climbers would be away climbing) was “inevitable... to ensure securing results in time for the AGM,” there was no presentation of these results to the AGM! Indeed the survey received barely a mention except as some nebulous justification for whatever issue the Committee wanted to put on the agenda.
2. After firmly stating in the so-called” information pages” of the survey that the Charlotte Road premises were “fully fit for purpose,” the president’s speech included the promise of big spending on those same premises in order to make them “fit for purpose.” I wonder why that wasn’t mentioned in the survey. When a third of the membership visit the clubhouse less than once a year and a further third have never visited it, do they really think that spending even more money on it will make any difference? Is there any evidence that spending £10,000 on refurbishing the toilets has improved attendance? I don’t think so.
3. Whilst the results of the survey show that twitter is valued by members about as much as a fart in an elevator, the Honsec strenuously defended his right to continue tweeting despite the lack of any evidence that it is improving recruitment or anything else, although it’s a good example of the tendency to claim to be acting in the interests of the club whilst ignoring the interests of members. He claimed to have a large following abroad but without the attributes of a Katie Price he’s unlikely to make the impact of an A list twit. (Do I have the right word?) Still, give him time.
4. Having ascertained from the survey that members value guidebooks about as highly as the library, the committee in its wisdom decided to remove the guidebooks editor from committee membership. So much for consulting the members on their views. OK there is no one in post at present but not much effort has been made to remedy that.
5. There are now 2 committee members representing the library and two more representing finance whilst only one member represents everything to do with climbing and members services. It is a very clear message about where the committee’s priorities lie.
6. The Hon librarian of 19 years service, the hon secretary and hon treasurer are now confirmed in post for life. Upon the demise of any one of them I expect anxious Londoneers will be thronging the little streets and alleys around HQ hoping for a glimpse of smoke from the committee room. Perhaps members need to have the courage to stand against these oligarchs in an election.
7. Some members registered concern in conversation about what had happened to the free text entries that they had made in the survey. One had expressed views about sexist issues that surely must be relevant to a club with only 10% women members. Have such comments just been ignored?
In fact the members were so engaged by the changes in the committee structure that only 37 chose to exercise their right to a postal vote for them. There needs to be a lot more honesty, transparency and communication with members and a lot less politics but sadly it looks like it’s back to business as usual down on the Charlotte Road mushroom farm.
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