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Orienteering phoenix club affiliates afresh

The University of Bristol’s Orienteering and Fell Running Club has affiliated with the SU as a new society following a seven-month struggle to affiliate.

By Eddie McAteer, Sports Editor

The University of Bristol’s Orienteering and Fell Running Club has affiliated with the SU as a new society following a seven-month struggle to affiliate. After falling below the 30-member requirement for two successive years they lost their affiliation, and their £1,200 funds, just before the first lockdown in March. I spoke to their Club Captain, Dan Weaver, to find out more.

Orienteering is a sport that requires a combination of navigation, speed and endurance; think cross country but you have to work out where you are going. One of the more niche societies in Bristol, the Orienteering Club nonetheless plays an important part in the lives of multiple students at the University. Like all societies, it provides students with an escape from their studies, an opportunity to make friends and the chance to push themselves.

As a result, when the SU informed them that they were no longer SU-affiliated, committee and members alike were both very upset. The problem was, the club had only 24 registered members, six below the 30-member requirement, and not for the first time. There had been emails in the past highlighting the issue, although nothing had ever happened before so the committee did not think much of it. This time it was different.

SU byelaws say that clubs must have 30 members every year, although the SU only disaffiliate clubs if they have failed to do this for two years in a row. Unfortunately for the orienteering club, this was the situation they found themselves in.

Finding this out at any time is a bit of a blow, however, to discover that your club is being disaffiliated just as the country starts to lock down is a sizeable shock. For Weaver, their ‘Main priority was not getting 30 members, it was leave, go home, make sure we are all safe.’

Think cross country but you have to work out where you are going

Once the dust had settled, the club set about gaining support for their appeal from Bristol Orienteering Klub and British Orienteering, as well as chasing up those who had not paid for membership. Even with this support, the appeal was turned down due to ‘not presenting a full case’ and the club was disaffiliated.

Disappointingly for the society, this meant they could not have a stall at this year’s virtual Freshers’ Fair. In normal times, this has been crucial for the club’s recruitment as lots of people who join have never done orienteering before. Not participating in the freshers’ fair meant that new members were hard to come by as they had to actively seek out the club and therefore had to be interested in orienteering already.

The Orienteering Society provides an opportunity for plenty of fresh air | Steve Rush

Perhaps more worryingly, once a society is disaffiliated the SU keep their funds for 12 months before redistributing the money into the society grant fund. This left over £1000 of funds, predominately generated by the club, at risk of being lost. When the SU put a 12-month freeze on the society re-affiliating, that money seemed lost forever, as they would not be able to re-affiliate in time to get their funds back. That was until the SU rescinded this freeze after deciding that the byelaws used to justify it ‘Didn’t give particular clarity.’, giving the club a lifeline.

With their future still in doubt though, the committee had to look at alternative ways to continue the sport they love. Having already considered a partnership with the University of Bristol Expeditions Society (UBES), the committee proposed a motion to UBES and a trial partnership was agreed.

Over £1000 of funds were at risk of being lost

Backup in place, the Orienteering and Fell Running Club began the process of applying to be a ‘new’ society with full affiliation. Creating a new society requires a petition to be signed by a minimum of 30 supporters and the orienteering club smashed this target, gaining 30 signatures within 36 hours. At the final count, 41 people had expressed their support for the club and on 29 October, the new University of Bristol Orienteering and Fell Running Club rose from the ashes.

Now a fully affiliated society, they have been able to regain their funds from the SU and are in the early stages of what will hopefully be a fruitful relationship with the SU. The affiliation did not come without conditions, as the club must attend development meetings to ensure that this sort of situation does not arise again.

Weaver showed a desire to go the extra mile too, stating that ‘We want to be Balloon accredited.’ to show the Union that they are ‘Trying to engage.’ The Balloon Accreditation Scheme gives societies recognition for their good work by awarding bronze, silver or gold accreditation based on certain criteria.

In order to further strengthen their club, the committee plan to have a tiered membership. Members who want to attend just the weekday training will have a free membership, whereas those who wish to go on weekends away or participate in events will pay £15.

For Weaver, this summer has had the added stress of fighting for his club and he says it ‘Feels like a weight has been lifted.’ Securing the immediate future of the Orienteering Club will feel like a big win for the committee and, fingers crossed, they can keep their affiliation this time.

Featured image: Steve Rush

Are you relieved to see the new club?