National Centre Blog Spring 2020

The first Blog of the year was initially started in January with the intent to publish in mid-March, of course, things have moved on somewhat, and the Coronavirus outbreak and subsequent lockdown has changed all of our lives significantly, and has of course meant that the Centre is very much placed into “hold mode”. However, having written much of it already it still seems worth publishing for interest and as an update on the early part of the year, in terms of the referred to burst pipe and subsequent works it was fortunate that this was resolved and completed before lockdown commenced.

So, keep in mind that the majority of this was written before the current global situation developed…….with of course a little editing to make it read in the correct tense and a few updates where appropriate.

Winter…….not really
We suffered very little as a result of true winter weather in terms of low temperatures or snow, however the primary issue was the excessive rainfall in the area leading to flooding locally, and extremely soft ground conditions at the Centre, however, we managed to keep flying during the early part of the year and visitors were to be congratulated on the care taken of the site under the rather soggy conditions. The soft ground also limited our site maintenance activities early on, however the runway and surrounding areas overwintered well and had the first cut and roll in good time with a few subsequent “conditioning” cuts. All of the maintenance machinery was serviced during the winter layoff so we are all set for another busy year of maintaining the site in top condition as soon as we can get back to it on a regular basis.

There’s always something!
On top of the continual rain we also suffered a burst water pipe on the edge of the campsite which didn’t help the already sodden ground conditions. We are not sure exactly when it went as the excessive rainfall clearly masked the contribution the burst pipe was making to the water levels, but the suspicion is that it had unfortunately been running for some time. Digging it out proved a fairly large task but the volunteer team tackled it with their usual enthusiasm, the clay-based Buckminster mud added nicely to proceedings and ensured that everyone involved ended the two days wet, tired and extremely muddy but with a job well done.

Whilst the trench for the pipe repair was open we also used it as an opportunity to get the services for the new shower block in the ground, the thinking being that we were only making a mess once. Sadly it turned the corner of the campsite into something of a mud-bath but I am sure it will soon recover and fortunately it was levelled and seeded before activities at the Centre ceased, so should be looking better by the time we return.

Season Tickets
Season tickets are an important aspect of the annual income for the Centre and the support of all those who purchase a ticket is very much appreciated, now more than ever.
We are currently up to over 70 season tickets with a good number of new members joining us, hopefully there are a few more renewals to come through plus a few more new additions (we ended last year on 82 season tickets)
A season ticket is a great way of supporting the National Centre project and it’s not just for those who live locally, we have season ticket holders based as far afield as Glasgow and the South Coast of England, you don’t need to visit many times to make it more economical than day tickets, we have held the price at £70.00 for 2020.

I will be writing to all season ticket holders over the coming weeks to discuss arrangements for the future in view of the lockdown situation, but will await a clearer picture before proceeding, but again, thank you to those who have joined us so far.

Tethered Car Track
The tethered car track project has progressed very well and the concrete work is now complete with just some fine finishing and detail work to address. Fortunately the majority of the peripheral landscaping work was completed in the last few days before lockdown and we managed to get some seed in the ground before I had to stand the Volunteer Team down, hopefully with the current sunshine and the odd shower this will soon be starting to grow, assuming the pigeons haven’t eaten all the seed and the rabbits haven’t excavated it all.

All of this means that by the time we are permitted to return to some semblance of normal activities we should have a usable basic track which will be a great addition to the Centre and yet another reason to visit. The primary remaining task is safety fencing around the perimeter and some minor filling work to the track surface, then we will be ready for some test runs, of course the planned May opening event is on hold for the time being but will be rescheduled when circumstances permit.

The final “nice to have” elements of the track will be added as funds and resources permit but the team running the project are to be commended on the level of fundraising and progress to date, it is important to note that the track is self-funded (through donations) as a completely independent project led by a team of very pro-active enthusiasts. On a personal note I didn’t know much about tethered cars other than it was very popular in the 40s and 50s (and still is in the States) but a search on Youtube soon revealed plenty of footage, both vintage (Pathe News) and also quite a bit of current American footage, also, having handled a selection cars during the winter, they are fantastic things and I was rather taken with them, beautifully made and very tactile, I can’t wait to see them in action around the track.

Project work
Over the back end of the winter works moved on to the building behind Reception and the team dug out the existing floor and re-laid a new concrete slab complete with appropriate insulation. The aim was to continue re-pointing the walls, address some structural issues and re-roof the building over the summer months as resources permitted, however, this plan is of course on hold for both practical and of course financial reasons.

At this time the final use of the building is still to be decided, space at the Centre is always at a premium and we are always torn between more storage space and more exhibition/meeting space, the other possible alternative is a café. In reality this project may have to be “parked” until we can assess the financial implications of the lockdown period.

The Year Ahead
So, I guess this is the sad bit, we had a busy and exiting year planned at the Centre and it is unfortunate that many of the scheduled events and competitions will now, not take place. Education events through till June have been cancelled and for most of the other activities and events we are making decisions on a month by month basis to reflect the developing situation, and more specifically the instruction and guidance from the Government.

It should be remembered that we had a full year’s program scheduled at the Centre and every weekend from early March to the end of October was booked out for events, with a broad range of activity and something to cater for most aeromodelling tastes. However, all is not lost and the aim where possible will be to pick up the calendar at whatever point in the year we are permitted to do so, of course events with a long lead and planning time may suffer but the hope is that this will provide opportunities to reschedule some of the events and competitions lost early in the season to a slot later in the year.

Looking forward to the return to being open for business at the Centre, some of you may have seen the collection of vintage kits displayed in the Reception area during last year which proved a great attraction (never have so many reminisced for so long).

The display represented a fairly small percentage of a much larger collection owned by BMFA member and all round aviation enthusiast Jim Kershaw, the really exciting news is that Jim has kindly agreed to loan a more extensive selection from his collection for the coming year and this will feature as part of the SAM35 events (should they go ahead) including the very popular Retrofest on the last weekend of June (probably unlikely but too early to make a final decision at this time), it will be a great attraction and a real trip down memory lane for those who have been around model aeroplanes for a few years as there will be some 250 British kits on display.

To complement the kit display we have also been loaned a great display of vintage and retro transmitters and radio sets, these will also be on display in and around the reception area.

The aim is to stage further mini displays and exhibitions throughout the year and looking forward to next year we have something a little larger in mind, perhaps a week of vintage, retro and nostalgia.

Another event that is in the very early stages of ideas and planning is a “builders fair”, the aim is to stage a weekend aimed at traditional building and UK kit manufacturers (and there are actually quite a few, from cottage industries right up to some of the bigger companies producing quality builders kits and accessories). The aim is to get visitors equipped for their winter projects and return to the days when modellers left events with a brown cardboard box or a bundle of wood under their arm, the idea is also to have some demonstration workshops showcasing particular areas of building and finishing as a learning tool and inspiration for members.

At this stage we are holding off on firm arrangements and have yet to establish a suitable date, however, a number of the UK modelling trade have already been sounded out and it would seem there is significant enthusiasm for such an event, watch this space for further updates and a firm announcement.

Camping is a popular attraction at the National Centre and all of the weekend events have camping as an option, we have also seen a significant increase in members booking “non-event” camping and visiting the Centre for a few days model flying break, or as a stop off between travel to model shows and events. We also get a fair number of visitors stopping over for a few days either side of the August Nationals (which as I write is in the early stages of planning to take place).

The campsite toilet and shower block project is obviously on hold for the time being but we are geared to get back on with this as soon as the team are back on site later in the year, whether the full facilities will be available this year is something of an unknown and may have to be deferred for a while depending on how things develop over the coming weeks.

Of course, going camping may seem like a distant dream at the moment but it is important that we are looking forward to happier days at the National Centre.

For 2020 we have maintained the majority of charges at the same level as for the previous two years, the day ticket and season ticket rate have remained the same as have the whole site and flightline charges.

The only intended increase is the overnight camping from £8.00 to £10.00, this reflects the provision of the additional facilities and also the rising costs of waste disposal (both toilet and rubbish) of course this increase will be deferred until such time that all facilities are in place.

Donations and Sponsorship and Funding
The Centre has again benefitted from significant sponsorship arrangements from the BMFA insurers Tyser-Integro which of course represents an ongoing commitment to the concept of a National Centre from our insurers. We have also been very fortunate to receive sponsorship from Ad-Manum UAS Technologies (previously as Ad-manum Consultants, already featured as sponsors on a number of facilities and projects around the site). These sponsorships remain in place throughout the lockdown period despite the Centre being closed for business which is very positive.

Our thanks to our sponsors.

Coronavirus Considerations
As I tend to write these blogs over a period of several weeks there have been significant changes to all of our lives in the time between starting writing and submitting for publication, the world has become a very different place in a relatively short space of time.

When I first started putting this update together the first cases of Coronavirus had been identified in Wuhan, China, as I type these last paragraphs the world death toll is significantly over 130,000 and still rising rapidly, here in the UK a full lockdown is in effect with firm indications that is will continue for some weeks to come. At this time it is unclear how this will affect model flying in general and the BMFA National Centre specifically, of course, in the broader scheme of things it would seem that considerations regarding a leisure activity such as aeromodelling fall well down the list of priorities, however, it is important that we have something to look forward to and something to come back to.

Of course, the fact that the National Centre is potentially going to be closed for a considerable portion of the year is of concern and is a plight facing many businesses throughout the UK, with significant financial implications. Most councils are rolling out schemes to support businesses during the lockdown period and there are schemes targeted specifically at sport, leisure and recreation. We are currently in dialogue with Melton Borough Council to assess whether the Centre qualifies for a grant due to restricted business activities and also the potential for rates relief, hopefully this will be successful.

Measures at the Centre
Of course, with the current situation some thought had to be given to measures at the Centre during lockdown in addition to the straightforward closure of the site.

Site security is of course a primary consideration and we are fortunate that an advanced alarm and camera system was incorporated into the original fit out at the start of the project, this is monitored on an ongoing and regular basis. Additionally, we have positive relations with local landowners, our neighbours and the local shooting community who all assist with monitoring the site from a security point of view. A member of staff also attends the site on a regular basis (in line with the Government guidance on travel for the purpose of work) to reinforce security arrangements and carry out, basic maintenance duties (of course the volunteer team were stood down some weeks ago but we very much look forward to returning to regular volunteer activity). Additional measures have also been put in place in respect of machinery storage for the lockdown period.

As referred it is important to maintain a status where the site can be back up and running in a short space of time once restrictions are lifted, there is no doubt that outdoor leisure activities will play a significant part in the healing process following the extended period of confinement and lockdown for our members. Also of course we are still planning for the financial future of the Centre and are already looking at ongoing revenue streams. The hay harvest will go ahead as normal (the yearly fertilizer application went on recently with the aim to harvest in late June) and we already have bookings for overwinter Glider storage for 20/21 and already we are starting to look at the calendar of events for 2021.

Well, that’s it for this update and Blog, the next one will hopefully reflect happier times.

In the meantime my friends, stay well and stay positive, we look forward to seeing you at the Centre later in the year.

Manny W