CEO Membership Column – February 2020

In the latest CEO update, February was a month of preparation for the near and distant future.

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(c) Iain Weir

With February now behind us we can also hopefully say goodbye to the terrible weather that everyone has been experiencing around the country. I know many Head races have been cancelled and it has been hard to get out on the water with any regularity, even at all in some places. Do let our Community Development team know if your club needs any support if you have experienced flooding and/or damage due to the incessant rain.

With the weather as it has been, it is, therefore, impressive to see that January 2020 recorded our highest membership ever, demonstrating that the core of our sport remains very healthy. This is particularly true given that many of the sports I talk to on my rounds recount declining membership.

As many of you will be aware, we are currently seeking to put our organisation and our sport onto solid, sustainable financial foundations, in a world where public investment is less certain and commercial backing is very hard to come by. The Board is clear that we want to do that through growth, not cuts, and the trick is to make sure that those who do naturally fall out of the sport for lifestyle reasons (leaving school, university, etc.) stay connected to the sport. Last month we relaunched our Friend of British Rowing page with a vastly improved sign-up experience. The Friends of British Rowing initiative will end up being one strand among many but it is a vital start. As always, please do continue to promote this form of membership to those within your clubs and across your networks to those who are not currently members of British Rowing.

On that note, last month we had our first Finance Committee meeting of 2020 where we discussed our current financial position (better than forecasted for this year), our Reserves Policy (no change), the Terms of Reference for the Committee (with some minor changes anticipated, mostly to better reflect the current working practices of the Committee) and our future financial approach to our newly established charitable foundation, Love Rowing (to be agreed by the Board at the end of March). The bulk of the meeting was taken up assessing the feasibility of delivering a balanced budget for 2020/21, which looks to be achievable albeit with more work to do before we seek final approval at the 25 March Board meeting.

Alongside that, many from the Performance and Finance teams have been in the thick of completing the second phase of our UK Sport Paris 2024 Investment Submission (which as a reminder funds the activities of the national team throughout the Olympic and Paralympic cycle). The amount of work that has gone into setting out how we see the programme operating and what it can achieve beyond Tokyo has been huge and we are well placed to get as good an outcome as possible once UK Sport makes their decisions at the end of this year.

We also met with Sport England officials – as a follow-up to a late 2019 meeting – which focused on how we are performing against our 2017-21 targets. The headline is that we are progressing well and appear to be in good stead with one of our major funding partners. We also discussed their plans for their own investment process for 2021-25, and we can expect to have to submit an investment plan over the early summer (May, June) with the expectation that Sport England will give indicative funding figures following their September Board meeting. Encouragingly, the Board of Sport England have agreed to fast-track their ‘Talent’ investment process to better align with UK Sport’s timelines.

Internally, I announced some changes to the staffing arrangements following Phil Hornsey’s decision to move on (as referenced here last month).  After careful consideration of a number of factors, we have decided not to replace Phil’s role but rather we are restructuring the Membership & Rowing Community team as follows:

  • The Membership Services team will move to the Partnerships & Communications Directorate, with the soon to be filled Head of Membership Services reporting directly to Kenny Baillie (Director of Partnerships & Communication). All roles and responsibilities within the Membership Services team remain the same.
  • The Innovation Directorate will be merged with the remaining teams within the now old Membership & Rowing Community Directorate, and renamed the Rowing Community & Strategy Directorate. This Directorate will now include our Education & Training, Community Development and Indoor Rowing teams, as well as our Insight Manager, Competitions Project Officer and soon to be appointed Data Analyst. Again, all roles and responsibilities remain the same.

I do not anticipate this new structure having any material impact on the business in terms of disruption, but do anticipate it offering an opportunity for much better alignment across key activities. It is worth noting that the move of the indoor rowing team to rowing community was always in our thinking and reflects the fact that our activity in indoor rowing is not due to finish anytime soon, as the intention was always to have a sustainable role in this area and to move it to one of our core areas of work.

Recently, it has been impossible to avoid all the news about the COVID-19 coronavirus, with commentary about the viability of future sporting elements in the media on a daily basis. World Rowing has been active in this area with a number of international events cancelled, and we have also issued some advice which you can find here. The headline from us is that we are monitoring the situation from both a business and national team support perspective, and have contingency plans for various scenarios and will communicate them as required. Our investment in technology in recent years gives us flexibility to manage the possible scenarios presented by the coronavirus and ensure that business continuity can be provided in almost all foreseeable circumstances.

And finally, there are two dates to keep in mind as we (hopefully!!) head towards the spring. The first is the British Rowing Awards taking place on 21 March. With nomination panels having assessed some brilliant nominations for the awards on offer, the evening is going to be a real celebration of what is great about our sport. Watch this space for announcements of those shortlisted and you can buy tickets for the event here. Secondly on 19 April, British Rowing shall be hosting a ‘Shape Rowing’s Future’ event for a day’s discussion in Birmingham on ‘what is our collective vision for rowing?’ Please note that attendance will be limited to 150 people so sign up early to avoid disappointment.

Here’s hoping for a dryer March as we head into Olympic and Paralympic trials, the Boat Race and more racing and rowing for everyone around the country.

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