The 8th of February marked 6 months since the fire, and this committee meeting on Monday reflected how far we have come and what a lot of work there is left to do. The committee is conscious that a lot of the plans for the future aren't visible to members yet, but we hope to fix that soon. There has been a lot going on, and there are some potentially big changes coming so this update is longer and more detailed.
The last 6 months
First though, we just want to remind you what we originally aimed to do. At the outset the committee said that the club should be back racing in three days, back to stable operations in 3 months and rebuilt and stronger than ever in 3 years.
The first objective of 'back racing' was achieved in spades with the club winning the Victor Ludorum at Maidenhead. There was a huge immediate effort to clean up smoke damage, clean boats and get out on the water and that was a very visible statement to the public (it was covered in the TV news and press) and to ourselves that this would not stop the club.
The second aim (stable operations) was also achieved thanks in large part to the Operations Continuity Sub-committee led by Sally Reay. The temporary gym at Bisham was actually larger (and possibly better) than the one we left behind, and the remaining club house was professionally cleaned and services restored by members to get us back into a (more or less) heated building for winter. Helped by racking from Henley Women's Regatta all the remaining boats were stored at the club, Longridge or Bisham Abbey and the "new for old" insurance on the boats has ensured that we now have the shiniest fleet on the Thames! There is also a lot of hidden work in this stage, including negotiating with the insurance company about the buildings insurance payout. It is thanks to some well qualified members that we achieved a settlement of £400,000. The winter season is almost over, with good results across the squads most recently on the Tideway and at Reading.
Our regret in this phase was that our plan to install temporary cabins for changing proved more complicated and, particularly due to planning, much slower than we hoped. However, those of you who have been at the club recently will have noticed that concrete footings have gone in (thanks to Waldi from the Vets) and the cabins themselves should arrive today (Friday). The planning conclusions is due and the cabins should therefore be accessible, and plumbed in, a little after that. There will be two – stacked on each other – so that to access the top one you will have to climb the stairs to the club and then turn left. Depending on the electrical supply there will be hot showers there, but we will not be able to produce as much hot water as the old club boiler could.
The Future - and some big changes
So on to the future!
This is of course the most complex part of the whole project with some huge uncertainties about planning, funding, appetite for change and so on. The temptation here is just to focus on the building, because that is the most visible thing we have lost, but the real question about what the club could be in the future.
The main areas the committee has been looking at are:
• Security of tenure: securing our position on the land and obtaining a further lease for the land under the bridge. These negotiations are well under way are going very well. We will be releasing more information when we have certainty.
• Legal Structures: When looking at holding land, entering into building contracts and legal developments, we have to ask the question whether the current structure of the club is the right one. Under this structure the officers have personal liability for the debts of the club and the club cannot own its own property. The committee thinks that this is not the best option, and will be proposing to the membership that we incorporate the club as a Company Limited by Guarantee (meaning that the club is a separate legal entity that can own property and shields the committee from personal liability). This will require an EGM and we will be writing to members when this is ready.
• Status: The club is currently a Community Amateur Sports Club (CASC) – this is a tax status which requires us to promote community amateur sport in return from some tax benefits. However, this only works for small organisations and we are in danger of outgrowing it and losing tax benefits. In view of that, and the other benefits of being a charity, the committee is exploring obtaining registered charity status for the club. Some formal external legal and tax advice is being obtained and again, this will be presented to an EGM of the club.
• Governance: The club currently has an elected committee of 15 – President, Chairman, Secretary, Treasurer, Captain plus 10 general committee members. In addition there is an elected Bar Committee of 4. This is unwieldy, particularly if the club is a company and/or charity. It also excludes from the running of the club many others whose skills would be useful. The Strategy Sub-committee has presented some alternative plans to the committee and they will form part of the proposal to the members.
• The building: The Property Sub-committee has looked at four options for rebuilding and consulted with planners and our chosen architect, plus undertaken a club survey which was strongly in favour of a full rebuild. The shortlisted option is therefore Option 4: a full rebuild which removes the sculling shed and creates more internal space while retaining our parking facilities. We will be refining this design and then going to consultation with the membership and public. The fallback position, if that does not work, is Option 1: merely reinstating what we had before. Obtaining all the reports, planning etc. will take a long time and so we are unlikely to start the new building until 2013.
• Funding: A full rebuild will be expensive, so we have been exploring a range of fundraising options including Lottery funds via Sport England. These discussions have been encouraging but there is a lot more to do.
• Alternative Sites: Any major building will mean that we have to move off our site for several months. The Operations Continuity Sub-committee is looking at possible sites and in initial discussions with the operators of those sites.
• ...and everything else: there has to be a whole future development plan for the club to justify the investment and grants, and this needs to be assembled. The Strategy sub-committee is keen that the social side of the club is reinvigorated, we want to provide facilities for adaptive rowing and we have wider plans to increase the daytime use of the club by social rowers and other groups to increase utilisation of the building.
It's a huge amount of work for the volunteer committee so if it is all proceeding more slowly than you hoped we can only ask for understanding. We are moving from a phase where there were a lot of tidying up tasks to one where we will be able to talk to the members and public about building for the future – it is an exciting time for the club.