The world has changed so much in the last 10 to 15 years, that what worked for a club then may not necessarily work now. The MCSA Johannesburg Section and possibly MCSA National is at a crossroads. There needs to be change. We need to keep all the good our club has to offer, but also we need to move with the times.
On Wednesday, the 23rd July 2014, the MCSA Johannesburg Section hosted a debate at its clubhouse to discuss a number of burning issues. The event was facilitated by Terry White, who is a past Chairman of the Section. Apart from his sound knowledge of the MCSA and the Johannesburg Section specifically, he also has professional experience in facilitating debates and workshops of this nature. The event went very well, with most of the top brass of the MCSA present. This included two past Presidents, Roland Magg and Paul Fatti, and the current President Petro Grobler. There were at least six past Section Chairmen, and the current Johannesburg Section Chairman Dobek Pater, as well as the current Magaliesberg Section Chairman John Fetcher. Many of the current Committee members of these two Sections were also present. The points raised were mostly relating to where the Johannesburg section is at present, but this could very easily apply to the MCSA on a National level.
The spirit of the event was very good, with everybody being positive, keen to see progress made, and hear what others have to say. In general, all the contributions and comments were very valuable and in good taste. In particular, input from the young crowd present was very helpful in beginning to define the way forward.
The event started with Neil Margetts presenting the Crag Count – a census on the number of visits to sports crags around Gauteng, based on data from sign-in registers, booking records and permit records. The report showed there to be over 15 000 visits to sport crags and under 1 000 visits to trad crags during 2012.
An estimate of over 2 000 individual active sport climbers and under 150 individual active trad climbers was suggested as accounting for the 15 000 visits. This clearly indicated a possible ratio of 90% sport and 10% trad climbers in this region. This did not take into account the very large hiking fraternity but did give an indication of where and how the current climbing population climb.
Next, Roland Magg presented the results of a national survey which was done in 2008.
- The survey consisted of about 75% MCSA members (national) and 25% non-members; approximately 80% male and 20% female.
- Most of the participants were between the ages of 25 and 45 years old.
On the question of the value of the club, the highest rankings were related to the MCSA having influence at a national level on mountain-related issues, provision of search and rescue services, purchase of land and conservation.
Also included in the high ranking was the need to facilitate climbing and hiking activities, and to be a repository for data, such as guides.
To the question of how best the MCSA were to grow, the proposed solution was by acquisition/merging of other groups and actively persuing recruitment of additional members.
Finally, the impression on the image of the club was as follows:
- 29.0% of the respondents saw it as being exclusive
- 28.5% as being old “fuddy duddy”
- 38.0% as solid experienced
- 4.5% as progressive, happy and vibrant
The debate commenced after these two presentations, with great enthusiasm under Terry’s facilitation. The debate raised a lot of issues that have been discussed out many times before and some interesting new ones. The following is a summary of the discussion and key outcomes on the topics debated.
What the MCSA should aim to achieve?
Some of the issues raised as to the possible reasons why the club may have lost its appeal to the climbing/hiking community were as follows:
- Many years ago the pattern was that if a person wanted to learn how to climb or do serious hiking, one would join the club and through a process of a long mentorship the person would learn these skills. However today with the availability of climbing gyms, easy to learn sport climbing, and the many hiking facilities available, this mentoring service of the club has become redundant.
- The other aspect discussed was that the current appearance and image of the club do not reflect the current trend which includes a lot of powerful visual and social media marketing.
- There is also the social need, where like minded mountain people meet and share stories. It was felt that this should be very much more part of what the club is.
Does the MCSA meet the need of the climbing community?
The perception of the MCSA in general was that it meets the needs of trad climbers very well, but has little relevance to boulderers, sport climbers, competition climbers and gym climbers. The youth have not much idea of what the club has to offer them, and they perceive the club to be there only for the older trad climbers and mountaineers.
What stops people from becoming a member?
It was proposed that the process of joining the club is too cumbersome, and it is also expensive for young people.
How can the MCSA attract younger people?
The main points raised here were:
- Change the current club venue to one that is more attractive and conducive to socialising.
- Become more closely associated to the existing climbing gyms.
- Become more ‘electronic’ in terms of interaction with its members and the wider community.
- Offer different ‘levels’ of membership and lower the entry fees.
- Have a regular weekly training event, such as what the Magaliesberg Section has at the LC De Villiers wall at the Pretoria University.
- Draw to the club the many already well-known active climbers who have been intending to join the club for many years (but have never taken this step).
Should the MCSA joining procedure be changed?
Opinions were divided on this topic.
- One side proposed to leave the current system as is, but do more effective and professional promotion of the club.
- The other side proposed to drop all the membership application screening procedures and have an online membership system, like the BMC and other international organisations.
The essential detail what one can conclude from the evening is as follows:
- We need to formulate a clear vision for the club.
- We need to make changes to the club venue.
- We need to add more of a social feel to the club and its activities.
- We need to be closer associated with other groups with similar interests.
- We need to revise the club joining procedure.
- We need to have one day a week standing event at a climbing wall.
- We need to have a youth strategy.
- We need to relook at our online presence.
- We need to outsource some of the club activities (e.g., the Youth programme, Competitions) to people who are “professionals” in these areas and in the process can generate some income for themselves through these activities.
Furthermore, possibly the root of a lot of the diminished interest in the club is the fact that the MCSA is a volunteer-driven organisation, but nowadays people have much less spare time to attend club events and manage club activities as enthusiastically as they had done in the past. The proposal to “outsource” some of the activities / remunerate individuals for performing certain club tasks, rather than rely mainly on volunteers, could be a more effective way forward.
The club practices this already to a limited extent. However, greater use of remuneration for work may imply higher club membership fees. A model worthwhile exploring is where individuals directly involved in an activity pay a person to facilitate this activity, e.g., youth paying a trained guide for week-end youth activities.
Terry concluded the event by proposing that the Johannesburg Section Committee spend the next few months formulating a vision for 2015 for the section, and develop a possible plan of action to address the above 9 needs.
Another club meeting would follow in November where the Committee would present the new plan of action to all members and non-members to get excited about the club again and together run with the new vision.
Perhaps other sections may want to follow this example as well.
MCSA Johannesburg Section