National Centre Blog Winter 2021/2022

It’s that time of year when we take the opportunity to look back at the last years activity at the National Centre and also of course to look forward to the coming year.

2021 has been another challenging year nationally and also for model flying, however I am pleased to say that the National Centre has weathered the storm of Covid and in actual fact once restrictions were lifted we experienced our busiest year to date.

As has now become the norm for the Centre every weekend from March through to November was booked or allocated to an event with a good mix of model flying activity represented and also a very positive amount of midweek usage.

As always I am heartened by the diverse range of model flying activity that we accommodate at the Centre and on a personal note it is one of the great things about managing the facility on a day to day basis, the opportunity to see visitors enjoying so many aspects of model flying.

Ready for winter

Work at the Centre never really stops and even when there is very little flying through the winter months there is always plenty to do and where possible the Volunteer Team continue to meet right through the winter in order to progress the various projects.

One of the primary tasks for the Volunteer Team at this time of year is preparing the site for winter.

This consists of a range of tasks from final hedge trimming to the last grass cutting of the season and most importantly the end of season servicing for all the equipment and machinery to ensure it is ready for the spring.

We also decommission the outside facilities to protect against frost damage plus get all the benches and model stands away and under cover and have a general tidy up.

We also always plan a range of winter projects as it often represents an opportunity to tackle the larger jobs that we don’t have the time for during the summer months when the schedule is very full and grounds maintenance requirements at their height.

Over the next few months, we are aiming to completely refurbish our original utility vehicle and undertake further work to improve the indoor spaces that are currently only in limited use. Other projects currently in the planning phase are a campsite standpipe tap and an undercover washing up area for campers plus some preparatory work for next years Centenary Celebrations.

We are also in the process of erecting a timing hut for the tethered car track which will be a useful addition for next years meetings (again, entirely funded by donations from the Tethered Car community).

Times they are a changing

We have now been operational at the Centre for coming up to 5 years (we signed the lease in November 2017 and opened for business in May 2018). One of the longer term possibilities of the original project plan was the relocation of all office facilities to the National Centre location.

Now that the Centre has become an established and successful facility the decision has been taken by the BMFA Council (the board of directors) to relocate the primary office function and staffing from Chacksfield House in Leicester to the National Centre.

This provides a number of benefits in terms of operating the Centre and cost savings to the Society as a whole.  It is likely that the process will commence over the winter months with the aim of an increased staff presence at the Centre by the spring, but it will take a while for the full move to be effected.

Of course, it is a significant step for the Association and one of the primary considerations is arrangements for the existing staff who are largely Leicester based.

Like many organisations the BMFA has evolved considerably in terms of working practices over the last few years and the recent measures implemented during lockdown have already demonstrated the potential for effective working away from the Leicester office, so the move to the Centre is really the next step in this process.

Overall, the net result should be more effective staffing of the Centre and a better work/life balance and working environment for the whole team.

The NC on TV

Some of you may be familiar with the Susan Calman Grand Day Out programmes that have been on TV over the last two or three years.

During the course of each programme Susan travels the country in a small camper van (which curiously is named Helen Mirren….) and visits interesting places and tries new activities.

In the previous series Susan visited a model boat club in the Lake District which clearly got our Volunteer Richard Phillips thinking (he is also a bit of a model boat enthusiast as well as a lifelong aeromodeller).

Richard wrote to the series producers with an offer of visiting the National Centre so Susan could try model flying.  Following this the producer and director visited the Centre to do a recce and discuss how it might work from a filming and flying point of view and it was very clear from the initial meeting that they liked what they saw and were keen to include model flying as one of the activities.

Within a few days they had come back to us with a proposed schedule and a date for filming which we were able to accommodate.

Once all the paperwork was done Richard led the project and was to be Susan’s instructor for the session.

The day of filming dawned appropriately sunny and the crew turned up late afternoon to await Susan’s arrival…… Helen Mirren…..

One of the aims of the piece was to show some general model flying taking place so the Volunteer Team were recruited as “extras” to do some flying, it didn’t take much persuasion and it was Volunteer Thursday anyway, so it worked well.

Richard did a fantastic job and despite some slightly dubious editing here and there the piece came over very well and portrayed model flying and the National Centre in a very positive light which can be a difficult task when working with TV.  Well done Richard, clearly stardom awaits.


Next year’s calendar

Constructing the calendar of events and bookings for the National Centre has become something of annual brain training exercise and the aim is of course to make the absolute best use of the Centre and also accommodate a fair spread of activity for all disciplines as well as positive access for sport flying and season ticket holders.

The calendar for 2022 is now largely complete and can be downloaded as a PDF file from the National Centre Website, this is something of an interim measure in order that people can view a snapshot of the whole year to assist with planning.

The full online calendar will be populated in the new year once the revised Centre website is live and it is possible there will be some minor changes over the coming months.

If you decide to print or save the current version make sure you keep an eye out for a final version early in the new year once we have the final details and updates to add.

Noteworthy dates for next year

Of course, 2022 is a significant year marking the Centenary of the Society.

As well as a number of club-based events and activities there will of course be some celebratory activity taking place at the Centre.

There will be a Centenary display portraying the highlights from 100 years of model flying located in the main Hangar for around six weeks which should make an interesting additional attraction.  There is also a Centenary “Camp and Fly” holiday week as well as a garden party and display.

We will of course be hosting the now established and popular SAM 35 weekends complete with a swapmeet on each (spring, summer and autumn) and as already referred the Model Builders Show in the autumn.

A new event that we are already working on for next year is a model aircraft and engine auction at the Centre with the aim of staging it during the Autumn.

We are also aiming to build on the success of the Model Builders Show with a repeat event, currently with an in principal date of the first weekend of October.

Certainly plenty to look forward to for the coming months.

Season Tickets

An extremely valuable aspect of the National Centre is the ability to purchase a season ticket, and this has seen a steady increase in popularity since we first opened almost 5 years ago.

The purchase of a season ticket is different things to different people.  For some it is a cost-effective route to regular flying at the Centre, for others it is predominantly a show of support for the project and concept.  Either way the support and early year income is very much appreciated and an important aspect of the overall finances for the Centre.

We have season ticket holders located all over the country so it isn’t just for those who live close to the Centre, we have deliberately kept the cost low to reflect the increasing prebooked activity at the Centre which can limit season ticket holder access and to maintain it as good value for money.

One area that we have perhaps not been so good on is “selling” the benefits of a season ticket, despite the fact that a season ticket has always been advertised as predominantly a midweek ticket it does actually provide access to a significant number of events and activities throughout the year at no additional cost. For example it gives free access to all of the swapmeets, the Model Builders show, the regular SAM35 events, the Introduction to Aerobatics days, access to the C/L Hard Circle and all of the control line aerobatic and combat events, and new for this year provides a discount on campsite bookings….overall a pretty good value purchase.

On top of all that there are still plenty of opportunities to just turn up and fly during the week and for those within reasonable travelling distance to opportunity to fly in the evenings or get away for a few days camping and flying.

National Centre pricing for 2022

The pricing structure has now been reviewed by the National Centre Steering Group and the prices largely set for the coming year.

Some of the fees have remained unchanged but in others rising costs have led to a small increase.

As referred above the season ticket price has remained static for a few years so this year will see an increase of £10.00 taking it to £80.00 for the year.

The daily flying rate has been kept the same at £10.00 but camping fees are increasing to £15.00 per night as this is the area where we have experienced the most significant cost increases in terms of waste tank emptying and general waste disposal combined with the fact that all camping revenue is subject to VAT.  As an additional benefit to season ticket holders a 20% discount will be applied to camping bookings (further increasing the value of a season ticket purchase).

The prices for whole site bookings and single flightline booking have also increased, again, after remaining static for some time.

General costs such as fuel and utilities continue to rise and things like fuel prices have a significant bearing (we close cut around 10 acres of grass as part of our regular activity at the Centre), also utilities such as water and power have increased significantly over the last few months.

Of course, the aim is to maintain the Centre as a cost-effective and attractive facility for members to visit and use and it is hoped that the generally small increased ensure that this continues to be the case.

Overall, the financial picture for the Centre is positive and we look forward (with fingers and toes firmly crossed) to a full year of operation in 2022.

A year in pictures

To round this blog off I had a trawl through images that I had taken during the course of the year, they really are just a brief snapshot of all that takes place at the Centre but represent a selection of may favourites combined with a range of opportunist snaps.

Also in there for good measure is an image of the site taken from my drone in September 2016 during one of my very early visits to survey the site, it certainly looks a little different today, enjoy. 

In closing

As ever I round off this Blog by thanking all those members who support the National Centre throughout the year and of course in particular my team of Volunteers without whom the Centre wouldn’t be the success that it is, as always its been a pleasure.

Best wishes to you all for Christmas and the New Year and we look forward to welcoming you to the National Centre during 2022.

Manny W