President's Report 2020 - A year of several halves

by Steven Scott — 31st January 2021.

Jen Leonard, Scottish Six Days 3, Birsemore Hill (c) Andy Johnson Jen Leonard, Scottish Six Days 3, Birsemore Hill (c) Andy Johnson

Well, it's been an 'interesting' year to become president, but Forth Valley Orienteers shone through as an outstanding club yet again.

In its annual awards, British Orienteering crowned FVO as Club of the Year 2019 – a well –deserved accolade for all the work done by previous committees and all our members. They also recognised several of our members: David Nicol as Volunteer of the Year and Chris Smithard and Graham Gristwood for their excellence in mapping. We achieved the Bronze accreditation with Scottish Orienteering and are now ready to apply for Silver. In distant pre-Covid days of early 2020, we organised and attended some great events - and we also saw lots of fantastic achievements in performance.

Despite our members being geographically dispersed, the club acts as a strong community of interest. When lockdown hit in March, committee members phoned round all of our members to check everyone was managing. It was great to hear that most were fine and we arranged a little help for those who needed it. We organised over six club quiz nights over zoom during the spring, which were very popular (up to 60 members attending) and some interesting talks by members, which helped people who were feeling isolated.

But everyone was missing their regular orienteering. As the lockdown continued, we set up local opportunities for members living in our main hubs (Stirling/Dunblane and Linlithgow) to do virtual orienteering using the phone app MapRun. Lockdown also proved to be a good opportunity for volunteer training online and we were also able to organise five training sessions for new event planners and also managed to get many more members trained on event safety. The annual FVO Awards Night (previously the dinner dance), was a highlight for many during the dark pre-vaccine November days and even included zoom dancing (zancing?) and the premiere of the FVO film, now available on YouTube.

Post-lockdown on 2nd August, we were the (joint) first club in Scotland to organise an orienteering event again in the forest. We have carefully followed Scottish Orienteering/SportScotland covid guidance and we were able to give feedback to other Scottish clubs on best practice. One of our junior members Ben Polwart developed a pre-entry system from scratch which continues to be invaluable.

Since then and since orienteering is easily adaptable to be ing a socially distanced sport, we have fortunately been able to organise 18 further local events and one junior training day - more than any other club in the UK . During the autumn, the Covid guidance changed on a near monthly basis which meant that several of our events had to be postponed or restricted to people living in a particular health board/council area. With the majority of our areas and landowner permissions in the Stirling area, this has meant that some members have had more opportunities than others to orienteer locally.

Apart from the travel restrictions, our main problem for organising orienteering events post-lockdown has been getting permission from landowners. When we have got permission, it has often been at very short notice due to the constantly changing Covid guidance. With his usual efficiency, flexibility and creativity, our Club Development Officer, Chris Smithard, has been instrumental in coordinating/delivering many of these events. As part of our (original) plan to focus on volunteer development this year, he also provided event planning training on Zoom and has been mentoring new planners/organisers. This has increased our pool of club officials.

Our mapping officer, Graham Gristwood, has also been able to focus on applying for grants during lockdown. He has been fantastically successful which means that we are able to map further local areas including several in Callander, an exciting development for the future.

We focused on providing regular local events for our existing club members this autumn. Many Stirling club members have told me how important and enjoyable it has been to be able get out orienteering locally on a nearly weekly basis. Despite all the Covid restrictions often within specific council areas, our participation numbers held up remarkably well, with the average attendance across all small events remaining at 41 for the third successive year.

Due to Covid, we have not particularly focused on seeking out new participants and members this year. To help the general public find more outdoor activities to do locally, we made our seven Permanent Courses free to the general public this year, resulting in a record download of maps, an estimated 1800 participants - of which 44% were under 14 years old. Some people tried these out, then came to our events and joined the club. Welcome to our 27 new members, bringing total membership to 201 for 2020 .

There has been a huge resurgence in public interest in outdoor activities during Covid. With significant potential for the club to build on the successful Club Development Officer (DCO) role and the large mapping grant for new maps in Callander, we have developed an ambitious strategic plan for 2021-2024. Unfortunately Chris is resigning in early 2021 but we hope to be in a position to recruit a DCO going forward. The focus is on increasing participation, membership and volunteers to ensure a sustainable future for the club and to inspire our members to achieve their best performances for FVO teams and individually. And to continue to make all the other orienteering clubs jealous!

Jen Leonard, FVO President 2020

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