Where have they all gone?

Recently I posted about the trophy below. This shows past winners from students at Glasgow, St. Andrews, Heriot Watt and Aberdeen Universities as well as Edinburgh. Only Edinburgh has a strong club today and Aberdeen also has a presence but beyond that, there is little university orienteering action in Scotland.

Where have they all gone? What has changed? Can we turn this around?

Join in the conversation on keeping young people engaged Monday 1st Nov 7pm. Sign up here

Where have they gone?

I posed some questions and received some interesting and helpful responses including: recognising how difficult it is for a small group to take on a lot of responsibility; that encouragement and support from University Sports Unions would go a long way; how more support and help from established local clubs could help; that a local club needs to be ready to step in when the in-house management disappears on any year; proposing that Regional Development Officers(RDO’s) should have maintaining Uni orienteering as a prime role; advocating that the SOA should lead in organising the Scottish Student Champs.

Scottish Uni Champs 2019
Scottish Student Champs 2019 held in conjunction with the Inter-area Champs

Support to universities is part of the RDO’s remit. We supported the last Scottish Student Champs pre-covid running it in conjunction with the Inter-areas event for juniors that MAROC and GRAMP organised. We hope to pick this event up again next year. We also have made links with Scottish Student Sports and have on-going discussions thanks to Neil Rankin on ways to support students.

However, as with local orienteering clubs the response to offers of help vary. In some cases help is welcomed with open arms and local clubs are very supportive too. Sometimes though, local clubs are not very strong either.

BUCs held in Scotland in2019 and supported by FVO

Even where a local club is strong – it is not straight forward. For a university club to be recognised by the sports union it usually needs a minimum membership which in itself is a barrier.

At some universities students in a recognised university sports union club have to have gym membership which costs some £100 plus.

Transport is tricky. Conditions around hiring minibuses make this an unlikely option. Some unis require drivers to have held a licence for at least 3 years and be aged 23 plus. Sometimes they also require two drivers meeting these specifications. Hiring a car is easier though more costly.

Add in the impact of the pandemic and losing more than a year when students have not been at university and we have a very fragile situation.

My own recollection of what kept me engaged in the university orienteering scene was the social elements. Just meeting up regularly with others who enjoyed my strange interest in traipsing round obscure corners of Scotland in search of the elusive orange and white markers. I dropped in and out of orienteering at university as I wanted to try other sports too but, I always knew I could return and find that strange motley crew propping up the bar at our regular pub nights. There was also a cross over with the cross country team that added to the social life along with the discovery that my navigation skills were useful in the mountaineering world.

Despite orienteering being in many ways an individual sport, we are, at the end of the day, social creatures.

I am very aware that I have two university cities within my remit with zero activity just now. My hope is that by starting from the social end and building an interest in that, we can start to revitalise something of the university scene in some places beyond Aberdeen and Edinburgh. Local clubs are offering support too but it will take time.

What is reassuring is that with the right ingredients it is possible to revitalise the university scene as feedback from a former Aberdeen Uni student testified:

Scottish Orienteering were a fantastic help with helping out with the first Freshers event with materials and guidance. 

Grampian Orienteering Club were also brilliantly supportive by allowing members and interested students to participate on a SCORE course that they arranged on our campus grounds, as well as providing old club equipment, encouragement and engagement on other events they organised.

Meantime – we are starting conversation with young people about what will support them to remain in our fabulous sport. If you are aged 15- 25 years old we’d love to hear from you. If you are a rep from club, it would be great to know something of the support that you can offer young people too. Join in the conversation on Monday 1st Nov at 7pm. Sign up here