President’s Piece – A View from the Board

As we come to the end of 2019, the Scottish Orienteering Association’s President, Richard Oxlade, gives an update on the SOA’s strategic plan as we look forward to the next five years. You can read this in the latest issue of SCORE, or below.

A few weeks ago, we reviewed our 2020-2024 strategic plan with sportscotland, and I’d really like to thank you for your help with this over the last 18 months through attending workshops, answering questionnaires, or simply telling us what you think. Developing a strategy can feel quite disconnected from running in the forest or making quick decisions in an urban area, but it is extremely important, as it helps us:

  • Clearly communicate our goals to stakeholders (clubs, you, sportscotland, local authorities, etc.)
  • Decide how we should use our limited resources (funds, staff and volunteer time).

I think the effort has been worthwhile. We have made some clear decisions, and have made a good case to sportscotland for £400,000 of financial support over the next 4 years. At the end of the day it’s this support that underpins the SOA’s development work that you told us is valued by you and your clubs. I don’t want to make this a lengthy article on strategy but I’d like to summarise where we’ve got to.

Firstly, we’ve taken the opportunity to update our vision for orienteering in Scotland:

“Orienteering is a thriving sport for all, for life, in Scotland” which we (the SOA) aim to achieve by “supporting and developing a healthy and sustainable network of clubs to host fun, inclusive and high-quality events.”

Secondly, we’ve tried to be clear about how we’re going to do this under the following headings:

  • Events – we will co-ordinate and support a balanced calendar of fun, inclusive and high-quality events
  • Development – we will support and develop our clubs and volunteers who host these events
  • Performance – we will support and develop our elite athletes so that they can perform on the world stage
  • Communications & Marketing – we will support high-quality event presentation and effective communication with our members, new orienteers and prospective orienteers
  • Strong Partnerships – we will continue to work proactively with our key partners, including British Orienteering & sportscotland
  • Effective Organisation – we will continue to help our board, staff and volunteers operate efficiently to deliver our vision.

One question I have been asked more than once during the consultation is “What exactly does the SOA do?” Hopefully this goes some way to answering the question, and shows where we plan to focus our efforts.

Of course, we live in the real world so we have to make sure that we can deliver these objectives both financially and without overloading our staff and volunteers. The good news is that sportscotland are very supportive of our proposed strategy, and although they cannot confirm our funding until early next year, we are feeling optimistic.

Sportscotland’s support will underpin the work of our RDOs (Sarah Dunn, Fran Loots and Judy Bell), our Coach and Volunteer Officer (Denise Martin), and support development projects. In return we have to meet a number of targets, including 12% membership growth. We are also expected to run an effective organisation that has suitable policies and processes for an organisation of our size. In my view these are perfectly reasonable given the amount of taxpayers’ money that we are seeking (equivalent to about £100 per adult member each year).

We are also hopeful that sportscotland will provide some support to manage the SOA. Unfortunately, this will not be enough to cover most of our non-development costs, which include employing our Chief Operating Office (Fiona Keir) who leads the team and supports the board, our Admin Assistant (Fran Britain), our Events Manger (Colin Matheson), and our Communications & Marketing Manager (Paul Rayner).

We have therefore prioritised the things that we have to do – running the SOA efficiently to meet the standards required of a Scottish Governing Body, and supporting our competitions. We have decided, reluctantly, that we can no longer afford professional support for communications and marketing, and will be sad to see Paul leave the organisation at the end of the year, as he has made a number of important contributions in this area.

We have heard a wide variety of opinions about the cost of our sport – from it’s too expensive to it’s too cheap. Expectations of events continue to increase, as Terry O’Brien and Ben Hartman have outlined in the latest issue of SCORE, and we are very aware that the costs of the SOA are a further burden. The decisions outlined above mean that we will almost certainly propose increases at the AGM, probably in the form of event levies which will push event costs even higher. This is not an easy choice but I hope that it is evident that there is a clear basis for this.

Unsurprisingly we also heard some areas for improvement during the consultation. A couple stood out:

  • Clearer explanation of the function, activities and aims of SOA is needed
  • We could improve communications with the clubs.

After reading this I hope you have a better idea of our objectives for the next few years. One request I have is please make sure that your clubs make use of the RDO and coaching support: it’s there for you. Communications is tough – I recognise the need but often struggle to find the time, and cutting back the amount of money spent this area won’t help. We have a couple of ideas that may help: a regular newsletter to clubs from the President and COO, and secondly an annual club conference. Please let us know what you think.

Helping to run a Scottish Governing Body is a rewarding and interesting challenge with its fair share of difficult decisions. However, in my view the SOA is critical to the success of the sport. If you have the passion and time to support Scottish Orienteering please consider volunteer roles both on and off the board.

And finally, talking of volunteers who act as the glue for our sport in Scotland I must thank Sheila Reynolds who is standing down as SCORE Editor. Sheila does not orienteer but has still made a massive contribution over the past three years, bringing her professional skills as a technical editor to our sport. It shows and all I can say is thank you!