How do you bring a floundering angling society back to life and give it a more promising future? That was the task of a small but determined committee in St Neots, Cambridgeshire, including recent society member Alison Currall, who explains how they succeeded.
It began on 4 April 2018 when the St Neots and District Fish Preservation and Angling Society held its annual general meeting (AGM).
At the meeting the honorary vice chairman, president and treasurer/secretary of the society all resigned, leaving just four people to form the new committee. Although partially expected, it was a shock, but it was also a new beginning.
The society's history goes way back and the earliest club card to be found (pictured) dates from the 1932–33 season. There are stories of over 1,800 members in days past.
During 2017 club membership had declined to 32. However, at the 2018 AGM it was noted that some of the measures implemented over the past year had made an improvement.
Taking on the role of secretary/treasurer in the new committee, I had a steep learning curve (Alison pictured), as did my partner, John Stride, who became president.
Laurie Bowden was re-appointed as chairman and Derek Skillin became vice president.
We set up an emergency meeting shortly after the AGM to plan a way forward, where we agreed the following actions.
Set up a new bank account to replace an outdated building society account
Write four grant applications to raise money for improvements to the society
Send renewal reminder letters to all members and some past members
Find potential new sponsors
Changes to the membership card
Bring in a small increase in membership prices
Set up a club email address
Organise a junior tuition day
Publish match dates for the following year
Plan a meeting with the estates manager of Wilden to renew our lease
The seeds were being sown for a new way forward with vision and enthusiasm, which John has in abundance.
Using grants wisely
Over the past two years the society has made incredible progress. We've spent many an hour working through the intricacies of the grant application minefield, but when we actually succeeded in getting a grant it was amazing.
We've managed to secure a few grants since and using this money we have transformed our fisheries with tree clearance work, the installation of platforms (pictured), and bank erosion prevention (pictured) with coir rolls full of plants.
We have stocked fish into Wilden Reservoir, bought equipment to run our Let's Fish! events and carried out tree clearance on the two areas of land owned by the society.
Not only did this make a huge difference to us anglers, but it gave employment to local people and improved the environment for all members of the community.
More members and more matches
We've gone from 32 members in 2018 to 136 members in 2019. This year we are already at 170 and are having to print more cards. With the increasing membership came a sense of ownership and pride in the society. One member managed to get his business to sponsor some t-shirts and hoodies with the society's motif. These are still being bought by members.
The match scene has dramatically taken off in the last 18 months. The first year, John and I ran six matches with some success. Then, as more local members returned or regained enthusiasm for the society, we were inundated with entries. Steve Mobbs and Gary Armiger took on the role of match secretaries.
Our winter venue, Henbrook, sparked a vibe that spiralled into matches being held every week during the last season. Old cups and shields were re-fashioned, with new names engraved but old ones kept on the back for posterity.
A new championship shield was purchased last season, and points accumulated by members went towards winning this shield. Our first winner was Mark Dickerson.
Our matches are all still open matches and our overriding belief is to welcome everyone to our society. Mark donated a trophy (pictured) and medals for a last minute pairs match at the end of the season. I am delighted to have one of those third-place medals.
Restocking pays off eventually
Wilden is currently our only still water and is a big reservoir, which some have in the past felt was hard to fish. World champion Bob Nudd fished it a few years ago and blanked.
In 2018 we put 1,000 F1s (a hybrid of common carp and crucian carp), 500 C1s (small carp usually under a year old) and a few barbel into the lake.
Last year the Environment Agency added 600lb of rescue fish. This year we are at last reaping the benefits.
Members have been pulling out bags of roach and rudd, bream (pictured), the usual resident large carp, and tench. I have personally caught five of the C1s, of about one and half pounds each.
Developing our own skills
We have developed our bailiff portfolio and now have 11 people available to bailiff on a rota. John held induction training and each person has been given an identification badge. The team know they can contact us at any time if they need support. John and I took part in level one of the Angling Trust's Voluntary Bailiff Scheme, and John avidly reports back to support the scheme.
During the first year of our tenure we ran a junior tuition day, which was a great success. The following year we joined forces with the Canal & River Trust to run two Let's Fish! events. The success of these led to four more the following year.
We planned to run our first home-grown junior tuition course this year, with four weekly three-hour sessions. The last session would have been a junior match. Unfortunately we had to cancel the course due to coronavirus restrictions, but we hope to go ahead with it next year instead.
John (pictured) and I have completed our Level 1 and Level 2 coaching courses, and took part in the 2019 Division Two Nationals as members of the Let's Fish! coaching team. Gary and Steve have also completed their Level 1.
All courses were run by the Angling Trust, with bursaries from the Canal & River Trust.
A worthwhile endeavour
It's been a whirlwind two years of activity and I am proud to be part of something that we have all worked so hard to create. Going forward we aim to take on more waters and build on what we have achieved.
We hope the future of angling in St Neots and surrounding areas will go from strength to strength.
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