Since the releasing of the wider lockdown measures and the return to the majority of outdoor activity it has been extremely busy at the Centre which is great news.
Since the first pylon race meeting in April there has been an event taking place every weekend and this is set to continue right through to November with something booked every weekend, why not check out the calendar and plan a visit this summer.
The Control Line Hard Circle
The big news is the completion of the primary works to the hard circle with the laying of the tarmac within the last few days.
This has followed a frustrating delay due to a very wet May and soft ground conditions however the contractors have been excellent and have been monitoring the weather in order to gain the best outcome.
The surface finish is spectacular and it is great to see such a significant step forward, even the landscaping works are starting to look like it has been there forever with the new grass growing very well (mainly due to all the rain); next step is the fencing and following a further push on the fundraising the hard circle community now have the funds to start work on the safety fencing which is commencing in the very near future.
Today has seen the first significant rain since the laying of the tarmac and the pictures show just what a spectacular surface it is; painted markings for the various disciplines are due to be put down in the very near future, again subject to an improvement in the weather.
The new campsite shower and toilet block
As previously referred this project has been something of a challenge but is at last now complete and in use, feedback from visitors so far has been very good and there are just a few minor tasks to complete.
It will be interesting to see how much use it receives over the coming months, but it already appears to be a popular addition to the campsite.
As well as the works to the internals of the unit there has also been plenty of external and carpentry work to build the access ramp and railing with just a bit more work required to finish off the lower wooden surround, all a great testimony to the skills and commitment of the team.
There is always plenty going on at the Centre and the volunteer team keep permanently busy, not only with the day to day maintenance but also with lots of ongoing projects.
The site is looking in fantastic order and the close mown areas are looking as good as they ever have thanks to chief grass cutter Alan who is currently cutting twice a week to keep everything in order, it really is like a bowling green out there.
The last week has seen the cutting and baling of the hay crop and a clever bit of weather watching and planning from the contractors meant that it was cut, dried, baled and carted just hours before the heavy rain started. Despite the late start to the growing season it really got going (with a little help from a good dose of nitrogen) and actually turned into a pretty good crop, a few days of sunshine meant that once it was cut it dried very well (the contractors visit the site once or twice a day to turn it to ensure it is completely dry before baling).
The site always looks very different and very smart once the hay has been cut but the current rain will ensure that it is soon growing again.
Upcoming tasks on our never ending list are the concrete hard centres for the 3 grass control line circles and drainage and improvement works to the campsite entrance which has suffered from the recent heavy rainfall, it has previously got a bit soft at the transition from stone to grass, but never in June……
We always keep a close eye on the wildlife that we share the Centre with and whilst it is pleasing to report there are no rabbits or moles in evidence (sadly they cause so much damage they have to be shooed away…..), however there are plenty of hares in evidence which is always nice to see.
As soon as the hay was cut the red kites and buzzards were very much in evidence making the most of the newly revealed hunting and scavenging opportunities, a spectacular sight and of course very popular with the glider guiders as they are absolutely the best thermal markers.
The other big wildlife news is the barn owl nesting in the box that the volunteers constructed and fitted to the eastern wall of the large barn a couple of years ago.
They definitely have chicks and the male has been seen regularly fetching food which helps to keep the small rodent population under control, we also have a little owl on site which is regularly seen in the large barn and a tawny owl living somewhere on the site boundary.
I have to say my favourite bird of the summer is the skylark, we have plenty at the centre and the extensive grasslands and mixture of grass lengths makes the perfect habitat for them, their unceasing call is the soundtrack to many sunny days flying here.
An interesting point is that all of these birds (and plenty more) happily coexist with the model flying and camping activity that takes place as regular activity at the Centre.
This year for the first time season ticket sales for the Centre has exceeded a hundred tickets which is great news and comfortably exceeds the forecasts made in the initial project plan.
Whilst it is clear that many of our season ticket holders purchase a ticket primarily as a show of support for the Centre which is of course very much appreciated, there also a considerable number who are making very good use of their ticket and not just the local flyers, many of the pilots who compete in the various competition classes at the Centre have purchased a ticket as a cost effective solution to regular flying at the Centre.
A season ticket represents great value for money on the basis that the price hasn’t increased for 4 years whereas the day ticket price has, at £70.00 it is only the equivalent to 7 day tickets. One of the aspects that I will be looking at for next year is the number of opportunities that season ticket holders have use/access to the Centre and also the number of events that a ticket provides access to; access to “some” prebooked events has been a rather vague arrangement but I will be looking to formalise which events a ticket is valid for, further increasing the value for money.
I am keen that we continue to make a season ticket represent good value for money and an attractive purchase for our members.
Income and Funding
As referred above, season ticket purchases are very much appreciated and also an important part of the overall funding model for the Centre. Of course the majority of the income comes from event bookings and associated day ticket sales; camping revenue plus some additional income streams such as the hay crop, winter storage in the Goldsmith Hangar and some commercial bookings such as the regular fire extinguisher courses that we host.
All in all it is a fairly complex set of budgets but pleasing to see that it works and pretty much in accordance with the projected figures from 5 years ago and in most areas exceeds the original forecasts.
The main area that requires more work in terms of funding is provision for the bigger projects such as a museum and a coffee shop and additional equipment.
Whilst the coffee shop is likely to be within the scope of current budgets and in fact a start has already been made on works to the building nearest Reception, the museum project is a considerable step up in terms of required funding as the works required to the large barn would be extensive.
We recently submitted an initial application to the National Lottery Heritage Fund but unfortunately have received notification that at this time we will not be invited to make a full submission as the project doesn’t fit with their current criteria, however, we will be trying again and looking at alternative funding sources.
We do regularly receive donations to the Centre which are very much appreciated and also represent a significant additional to the overall finances; we have also benefitted from bequests from members which have assisted the development of more significant projects such as the Goldsmith Hangar.
The hope is that this will continue and perhaps future bequests will permit the development of a full museum and visitor centre that befits the National Centre.
Donations…..its not just money
As referred above donations and bequests form an important part of the financial model for the Centre and will continue to do so particularly in respect of larger projects.
However, donations needn’t necessarily take the form of a monetary contribution, we have been donated a number of items such as airframes and engines with the specific instruction that they be sold to raise funds for the Centre which works well (provided it isn’t just used as a “junk in the loft” clearing exercise of course).
The other aspect that works well is the donation of tools and machinery, the Volunteer Team have built up a reasonable collection of hand tools but there is always room for quality tools and of course we purchase items as and when there is a specific need.
The planned next stage is the creation of a slightly heavier duty workshop and maintenance facility, so donations of larger equipment such as pillar drills, lathes, welders, sanders etc would be very much appreciated.
If you find yourself in the position of needing to downsize or wind down and have quality equipment to donate then we would be very pleased to hear from you…….you don’t get if you don’t ask and make people aware of the need; a number of years ago (before the National Centre project) a lifelong aeromodeller reportedly bequeathed a very considerable sum of money to a cats charity because he didn’t know that donations could be made the BMFA…..
Thoughts for next year
Time passes so quickly that already we are turning our thoughts to 2022.
Based on the progress at the Centre so far there is no doubt that the main challenge will be putting together a calendar that accommodates all the required throughout the year, this is becoming more difficult as more people and groups want to make use of the Centre (which is of course very positive).
I have already started work on a draft calendar and it is very much a juggling act to ensure that we not only accommodate a broad mix of events but also comply with our policy of every other weekend being silent flight (or as close to as possible).
An additional challenge for next year will be the accommodation of some events to mark the Centenary of the society and also (all being well) the return of the BMFA Schools and Universities Payload Challenge.
One aspect that I am keen to review for next year is the way in which we convey information regarding the calendar of events and particularly the site status in order that we obtain the best use of the facilities for everyone.
The aim is to communicate the timings for bookings and events in more detail in order to promote more use in the evenings (often the best part of the day of course), there will also be more clarity and perhaps a little more flexibility in the hours of operation for aircraft with IC engines (that comply with the requirements of the DoE Noise Code).
In terms of events, it is looking set to be busy for the rest of the year, there really is something for almost everyone with a very diverse mix of activity, often running concurrently, for example the last two weekends saw RC jets, control line combat and tethered cars on the first weekend and F2B control line stunt, F3K Discus Launch Glider and F3/F5 RES (rudder elevator spoiler) on the second, both busy weekends with lots of campers also making the most of the facilities.
The important point is to check the calendar in order to see what’s coming up, we also try to keep the website and social media channels up to date along with direct Emails to members.
Of course a number of events have had to be ammended to accommodate Covid associated restrictions and the latest casualty is the upcoming Warbirds and Beer Festival in July.
The flying aspect of the event will still be going ahead (with camping) but disappointingly we have had to cancel the beer festival and band elements due to the local authority licencing restrictions during the pandemic, it is unfortunate but still promises to be a great weekend, we are already planning for next years event.
One pleasing aspect of recent weeks has been the steady flow of BMFA members who have previously not visited the National Centre which is great in its own right, the fact that the feedback has been consistently positive is of course also very pleasing and certainly a testament to the work that the Volunteer Team put in to maintain and develop the facilities here.
Thank you to all those who have already visited and we look forward to welcoming those who haven’t yet made it.
As I look out of my office window the campsite is as full as I have ever seen it with people here for this weekend’s SAM 35 Retrofest and swapmeet, sadly it is also tipping it down with rain, however, there are no dampened spirits and the Aeromodelling theme of friends, flying and tea drinking appears to be alive and very much kicking.
That’s it for this edition of the National Centre Blog, stay well and best wishes.