SOA Development Director – Mary Williams – talks about her role

In May 2023 Keith Dawson, the President of SOA, bemoaned the fact that the SOA might fall apart due to the lack of people volunteering for SOA Board roles. The SOA is the channel that funds the various tours, coaching, training courses and international competitions that has given me and my family many hours of enjoyment and it was a wakeup call that I it was time for me, as a retired person, to give something back to the sport. 

I have been orienteering since my student days at Bangor University, when I beat Carol MacNeil in the British University Championships.  I have since competed at a lower level for ESOC; run for my country a couple of times and have feedback about the top athletes through my daughter Claire Ward who represented the British Orienteering Team for a number of years. I haven’t been that active in the club’s organising and planning scene as I am not a very precise or neat person. I spent the last 20 years of my professional career as a Vocational Curriculum Development Manager at home and abroad.  This involved working with both the teachers, the ministries of education/training and the Industrial lead bodies to develop training systems and curriculum that matched the needs of all the interested parties.  I see the role of Development Director as a similar role, but working with orienteers, clubs, SOA and Sport Scotland as the main players – all of whom want to see the sport of orienteering grow and flourish as a fun sport for all.  At the SOA Board meeting on the 4thSeptember 2023, I was coopted onto the SOA board as Development Director. This post had been vacant for over 6 months!

Ok so what is my role?  Sport Scotland is a government quango to fund sport in Scotland. It works in partnership between the various sporting organisations – for orienteering this is the SOA. To receive the Sport Scotland funds the SOA has to agree development targets with them. The 2020 -2024 targets for Orienteering Development are:

Effective Organisation

  • SOA organisation achieves and maintains an assessment of satisfactory when audited against the Sport Scotland criteria
  •  SOA provides a child wellbeing and protection policy template for clubs


  • Increase membership by 12%
  • 30% of the GB team competing in WOC2024 are to be Scottish
  • Complete the competition calendar review and implement the new structure
  • Increase the number of active coaches by 62%
  • Train 120 young people in the Sport Scotland /Orienteering young leadership scheme

My predecessor – Anne Hickling worked with the Sport Scotland rep, the SOA development team and the SOA board to agree a Development Plan and Budget (£15k). This plan has five strands:

Supporting clubs and developing club sustainability by identifying vulnerable clubs to work with to give them individual support and advice; developing clubs with falling membership back to growth; engaging with student clubs and ensuring that they have succession plans in place; supporting club development officers; sharing good practice between clubs; listening to the needs of clubs, funding club and squad development plans and promoting the club Accreditation Scheme.

Create New Opportunities and Routes into Orienteering by working with communities through Active School Clubs, linking to Community learning and creating a new project in Dundee as a vehicle to launch orienteering into a new geographical area.  

Coaching, Education and Volunteers – Offer a comprehensive CPD/development programme for coaches, tutors and volunteers 

Junior Development and Retention – by funding inter regional squad coaching and competition and supporting young leaders’ courses in planning and organisations

Club Development Fund – supporting clubs to raise the profile of orienteering prior to the WOC2024. A request is currently out for proposals to raise the profile of WOC 2024 which closes on 31st January 2024. Details can be found at this link :- Club Development Fund

Needless to say, the above plan has endless target numbers attached to it – many of which will not be met because of COVID.  To satisfy Sport Scotland’s government remit the SOA team has to gather data on attracting a diverse membership on projects, training courses and membership. This is a large, hidden, but vital, task for the SOA development staff to do along with tracking the progress of all activities and ensuring the necessary documentation is in place for the good governance audit.  The SOA is currently working on the Strategy Targets for 2025-2028.

My role is to have oversight of, manage and monitor the development plan; liaise with other members of the board on the plan and budget and make regular reports to the board on the delivery of the plan. 

The final remit for my job is to identify and promote opportunities for the development of the sport, including longer term possibilities. To achieve this last aim, I need your help. I will keep my eyes and ears open to new ideas from whatever source; networking with clubs and orienteers and getting feedback from the wonderful SOA paid team in their work around Scotland.  Please look out for me at orienteering events and feel free to come up and introduce yourself and share your ideas. This is especially important in the run up to WOC2024 and all the new opportunities it can bring to Orienteering in Scotland.

Thank you, Anne for all the good work that you have done in the past years for developing orienteering in Scotland and enjoy a well-earned rest. I hope to continue your good work over the next 3 years and see the sport of orienteering reach a new audience. There are still vacancies on the SOA Board for a Marketing and Communication Director, Operations Director and lately the posts of Independent Director and Performance Director have become vacant. From next year there will be a President’s, Chairperson’s and Treasurer’s Post to apply for.  Please think about volunteering for these posts to keep the sport of Orienteering successful and thriving in Scotland!