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Managing your club during lockdown

by Peter Male, Hon Sec & Peter Slater, Rear Commodore 27 Apr 17:18 BST
Sunset at Blithfield Sailing Club © BSC

How Blithfield Sailing Club have developed their management systems to deal with the pandemic

That was the week that was, in mid-March 2020. When that phrase was first used (in the early 1960's) it was also said that a week in politics was a long time. In our March week, which started on a Tuesday we moved from a free society to one where we could not go to the pub (and other places) to a position a couple of days later we were locked down. It can now be said that a day in politics is a long time.

At the start of 'our' week the management committee decided that racing was no longer possible but even with the requirement for social distancing, social sailing could continue. The club house being available only for the use of the toilets. This thought was then given credibility by Boris, who announced on a Friday night that all pubs, gyms, clubs etc must close. Perhaps he had in mind a Moondance Rave and had not envisaged a small sailing club house out in the sticks - but the edict still applied. Come Monday, things started to hot up a bit. Our landlord announced during the late morning that the reservoir site would be closed to all except employees as from 16:00 that day. Our astonishment at this was then trumped by Boris at 20:00 directing that we were in lockdown. A day in politics is certainly a long time.

It very soon become apparent that we were going to be forced into a different way of managing the club's affairs, with events happening so quickly and decisively, we needed a process that was appropriate for the new world.

With the backing of the Management Committee we put together a Business Continuity & Recovery (BCR) Team, consisting of 6 members who individually have the time to devote to the work and bring some relevant expertise and experience to the table. Along with the two Peters (the authors) there is the club treasurer Noelle Wright, Norman Price (ex-Commodore and trustee) plus David and Heather Mathews who are recently retired Environmental Health Officers.

'We' are part of the Management Committee and the overall objectives of the plan are to ensure the club remains on a stable financial footing, to ensure the best interests of our membership and to re-start safe sailing as soon as legally possible.

How does the new system work?

The "BCR" team meets regularly via Zoom. We stick to the free 40 min version with a very specific agenda. This sharpens the focus and clear decisions are quickly made.

What were and are the issues?

The Plan comes in two parts. Part 1 sets out what we (the team on behalf of the members) have done to manage the situation forced upon us.

The list of jobs targeted in a very short time frame includes gaining access to the club house to remove all perishable food, turn off the oil boiler and all non-essential electrical devices, cancel the bin collections and cleaning services. We can reduce our outgoings although we cannot stop them completely. One serious expense is the continued payment of the ground rent (as advised by the RYA and as included in our lease).

To a lot of clubs, the immediate problem will become the financial position.

Membership renewals and recruitment
For many clubs this will have come at the worst time. In March we all look forward to replenishing the bank account by collecting membership fees for the coming year. Membership income represents approximately 65% income of our club and covers most of or overheads. Fortunately, the majority of our members are standing by and are continuing to support our club.

Maintenance of Fixed assets
We need to do some essential maintenance on our safety boats and floating pontoon (within the provision of the Covid-19 Regulations). This is not possible at the moment which leads to a little concern. The only thing that a plan can do is to highlight the concerns and categorise the problems ready for a phased relaxation.

Formulating the recovery

This is Part 2 of the Plan. There is the challenge of the unknown as far as timing is concerned but we do know that the safety of members is going to be paramount in everything we decided now and in the future. The recovery plan will need to be simple and flexible but include procedures that have been thought through and not adopted as a knee jerk reaction.

We all know that this virus is not going to go way on 4th May, 4th June or even the 4th July (no matter what Mr Trump may decree). During our first meeting David stressed that social distancing was with us for a long, long time and the recent announcement has only re-enforced this.

We can be very specific in the safety measures that the club will be taking when the lockdown eventually eases and the club is open, even if this is initially on a limited basis. However keen we may be to get back to sailing, the members need to be reminded that there will be no launching on release day + 1. Social distancing is going to be an important factor. Social distancing and getting on a racing start line do not go together. A final solution has not yet been identified but in the new world we need to devise/agree a race format that allow both to exist. Crossing someone's transom with a millimetre to spare is a thing of the past. For a good luff you really will need to give 'time & opportunity'. The other aspect of running a race is to get the duty rota sorted. Part of the solution will be shore based starts where the team can stand well apart. Having made this decision we need to devise the equipment with which to display the signal flags and course.

Then the challenge moves to the safety boat. There will only be a limited number of family members available for that - if they are allowed out of their home this year. With all the forethought we can give this particular aspect nothing positive can be done until we know the full rules of engagement.

When we get access to the club house there will be plenty work to be done. Not just a good clean. Touching of door handles needs to be kept to a minimum. Social distancing in the showers takes on a new meaning. Limited availability in the changing rooms - how will this be managed? Then we have to consider how the narrow passage ways and doorways are managed and what advisory notices are going to be required.

The Plan has been circulated to members and an expert member has responded to say "what about legionnaires disease following a long period of stagnant water". Consultation with members is essential. There is experience with the membership.

Restriction on bar and retail sales? A quick fix on this - bring your own food and drink.

What are the Advantages of Developing a Business Continuity and Recovery Plan?

Decisions about the current crisis can be made quickly and without impacting on the normal club business procedures. Experts on specific subjects can be asked to contribute on targeted problems, it should not be forgotten that some members who are involved in the health sector will be very busy and their time has to be used wisely.

Team members should know their club intimately and be in a position to give up time as and when it is needed in a fast-moving global scenario. Having a formal well thought out local plan, that is dynamic and relevant, puts your club in a strong position for any future negotiation with the "authorities", whether they be banks, the local authority, your landlords, or Public Health England. It will probably be work in progress for several months. We just don't know how many, but having a plan that only needs a few adjustments when called upon is useful and saves time

Conclusion

Sailing Clubs have a rich supply of talented and skilled, committed members of with many professions and life experience, Blithfield is no exception, and it is not exceptional that this crisis will impact on our club and others in different ways even from the same universal problem.

The plan is on the Blithfield Sailing Club website - if you want to take anything from it please do. The two Peters are available if you want to query anything (contact details in the plan).

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