1. When did you first join HWRUFC and why?
Having taken my 11 and 7 year old boys to my old club; Henley, the experience for both boys seemed overly competitive and they struggled to settle in so I decided to try another club for size!, Nigel Pullan suggested I bring them to High Wycombe, which is also the club closest to me ;I did this in September 2013 and was immediately made extremely welcome. The boys settled into their age groups very quickly and it was a very easy decision for us all to join the club.
2. What makes the club special in your opinion?
The Spirit! It is immediately apparent in Youth, Ladies and Seniors that there is a fantastic camaraderie and a strong team spirit running through the club. There are other physical factors such as the playing fields being the best in the area however the club’s heart is the people and the people at High Wycombe are second to none.
3. You have stepped into the Chairman’s role at the club this year, what is your vision for the future and how do you hope to achieve it?
This is a great question which could be answered at great length, however in summary:
I have a 5 Year Plan to significantly improve the club’s standing in the community;
I will charge each area of the club to become the best it’s possible to be within their own remit so that by 2024, the ambition is to be the best sports club in the area. For this to be achieved we need ambition, investment, hard work, and of course the generosity of our loyal member base.
I will be working closely with Mary and her team in the youth section to achieve the ambitious goal of doubling the Mini membership (that’s U6s to U12s). Mike Kirby (youth vice chairman) is implementing a community coaching team to run sessions in schools at KS1 as well as helping with our Sunday Morning sessions on the Mead which would provide continuity in our coaching with the aim of attracting and retaining many more young children to the game.
We note the importance of engaging children early on and want a complete overhaul of the youngest age groups' experience at the club alongside a raising of coaching standards across all age groups.
The U6/7 pitches will move to the front of the clubhouse for September 2020 with a real focus of proving a complete family experience in the clubhouse and pitch side.
Ty will be able to talk further on the set-up changes from the top down with regard to coaching all through the club however the journey for boys, girls, parents and parent coaches will be a fully supported cohesive effort which will maximise the enjoyment for all.
The “facility” will be significantly improved starting with the existing clubhouse - Over the next 12 months it will be refurbished resulting in 3 distinct areas; the Lounge, the bar and the dining area. The addition of a viewing balcony is being planned along with the 1st team pitch being moved adjacent to the clubhouse for September 2020. The kitchen upgrade is almost complete and we will introduce a weekend menu for our members and guests to enjoy. Bar furniture and lounge furniture will be renewed along with a BT Sport subscription and additional TVs so live rugby can be enjoyed at the club from Friday - Sunday.
Longer term, the aim is to extend the existing clubhouse with a complete re-modelling of the changing room to incorporate 8 individual rooms and a weights room. The 1st Floor extension will give us a first-class facility to market for corporate / leisure functions all year round dramatically improving our offering commercially.
4. Other clubs who have increased their commercial set up have had a few issues: in making the clubhouse attractive for outside lets they have essentially had to 'de-rugby' it, is this something you see as inevitable?
The new extension will be an additional, separate room on the first floor so the existing clubhouse space will absolutely remain our rugby club and will reflect our rugby past, present and future. We may declutter but will retain our heritage!
5. Is there a risk that the commercial venture will take precedence over the sport as the financial outlay for any building work has to be repaid? Can you ensure that players and members will not be sidelined for paid events at the club?
We are looking to raise all the money for the build from fundraising and sponsorship rather than loading the club with debt. That gives us flexibility with regard to outside business. We are, and will remain, first and foremost a rugby club for our members. Growth will be planned and gradual to ensure that we are not overstretched with any wages paid.
6. Probably the most difficult question to answer, but do you think that volunteers will be able to manage more paid staff?
We are already moving towards some paid staff in the club - primarily the bar and kitchen. Obviously, the responsibility will lie with the committee however we should be able to be smart with using a mixture of outside event companies and our own steward. It will, of course, take time to strike the right balance and formula however it is well within our skill sets to run an efficient venue for hire.
7. What are the biggest challenges that the club faces in the future?
Survival. Simple as that. We rely almost entirely on volunteer support - we are 1 of 7 rugby clubs in a small area and without generous sponsorships and successful fund-raising events, the club currently does not cover its costs. The improving commercial success of the club is vital for our short and longer-term future.
8. This seems at odds with your ambitious plans? We currently have good reserves and if your plans to double youth numbers comes to fruition, then survival is assured isn't it?
Yes of course, however even a slight decline in membership in the next couple of years could result in lower revenues from our sponsors and events, positive change is essential to reverse the recent trend and begin to stand out amongst our rival local clubs.
9. Our current youth chairman is currently also holding the role of club vice chairman, what benefits does this bring to the club?
We needed to mobilise the decision-making at executive committee level and having the Youth Chair as the Club Vice Chair integrates the senior and youth sections in all major decisions resulting in a dynamic, efficient and cohesive small group best representing all aspects of the club.
10. How do you ensure that you don't lose good will from other members of the committee that don't attend an exec committee? Could they begin to feel disenfranchised?
Our Secretary will still meet with the General Committee on a monthly basis regarding their specific matters to ensure points are dealt with. I will also be available to anyone that needs to raise any issues on a one to one basis –
Rather than being disenfranchised, the idea is that each committee member is empowered and encouraged to carry out tasks and duties without having to seek committee approval for every small matter. We need to trust individuals to make decisions without being micro-managed by committee.
In the past, we may, on occasions, have suffered from too much talk and too little action. To fulfil our ambitious plans we need all committee members to be allowed to get on with their tasks to drive us towards a successful future. The formation of an exec committee is to enable this to happen.
11. For many years, the club has notably been made up of 2 distinct sections, youth and senior sections. The youth section is self-sufficient financially and there has always been an idea that it subsidizes the senior playing section. What’s your view of the situation?
I think this is a familiar problem facing most sports clubs where there are 2 distinct sections.
Firstly we are one club! All the focus moving forward is on the club as a whole, without all sections of the club working efficiently together, Youth, Seniors, Ladies, and commercial, the club will stagnate and die, this cannot happen.
As you know, I have served on the Youth committee as Mini Manager in the past and you won’t find anyone more committed than me to ensure the youth are the focus - they are the future of the club and rightly receive significant investment; this investment will increase.
We will also be representing the current and future players in the clubhouse - we have a fantastic rich history which will be preserved however we must also celebrate the current Female and Male players and of course our young stars of the future, the refurbishment of the clubhouse will allow us to better balance the memorabilia on show.
To answer the final part of the question I refer to my answer to Q7, we rely on 3rd party subsidies to survive - we are not significantly funded by one section or another.
12. What’s your view of the new ladies’ section, how will it make (or has it made) an impact on the club?
I’m a huge fan, this is a growing part of the sport. We have already been very successful with our ladies and girls’ sections however much more needs to be done to ensure these sections continue to grow.
We will be adding a new honours board in the club house solely for the Ladies and girls’, we will also be investing in the coaching as well as encouraging many more young women to try the sport for the first time. We have fantastic opportunity to really develop the ladies’ sections - we must seize this.
13. The ladies currently play on Sundays and we are already struggling to fit everyone in with regard to changing rooms. Could you ever see a shift for ladies to play matches on Saturdays?
This is entirely dependent on the leagues and other clubs. I can see a more flexible approach in the future where games are spread across Friday evenings, Saturday and Sundays if there is a willingness from our competitors. Obviously, the ambition to upgrade our changing rooms ultimately solves this issue so must remain a priority in the mid-term.
14. What are you most looking forward to for the new season?
Genuinely all of it!! The challenges to improve the club, the development of my two sons, the continued development of the Vets, the youthful 1st and 2nd teams, The ladies and hopefully the re-introduction of the Junior girls sides, Fairy’s mighty 3s, the introduction of a U23s playing in the TVIL, the social side of the club and of the course the highs and lows of being a fan!
15. What is your prediction for the position of the 1st XV next season?
This is one for Clive and Ty!
Honestly I want to see more youth players breaking into the side, the continuation of the great brand of attacking rugby we are known for, I want to see the lads enjoying the season and to win more than they lose. I predict somewhere between near the top and not so near the top!!
16. If I could broaden the question, where would you like to see the team in 5 years’ time?
Well, I remain committed to growing our stock of young players organically; with greater numbers in the youth section and better coaching it is reasonable to assume the quality of Colts moving to the senior section will be good. With greater numbers comes more competition for places and standards at training increase. I genuinely see us a level higher in 5 years with the goal of maintaining our position at level 6.