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Upon hearing the new proposals of increased membership fees, many of the University’s sports clubs were left confused and alarmed. The mention of a potential compulsory £99 membership fee for BUCS teams initially sent many club members into a panic.
Over the summer, each club has had to decide whether to choose Option A, comprising of a £99 membership fee per individual. Benefits that came with this option included essential BUCS support. The other choice was Option B, which places limits on clubs’ training and requires the club to fund half of any BUCS fees. The two options aim to allow clubs to move forward in a way most cost effective for them, considering the circumstances.
VP (Activities) Natalie Sutcliffe told SCAN that for a while, the costs of supporting sport have been increasing, whilst other areas of funding have had to be cut. During the funding meeting in June, it was revealed that 22% of LUSU’s expenditure goes towards competitive sport, in contrast to only 3% on recreational sport. Despite the University ploughing an extra £100,000 into LUSU, a deficit of £78,000 remained, which Sutcliffe said needed to be tackled. If clubs wished to compete in BUCS, something had to change in order to fund this considerable expense.
Sutcliffe has gone on record saying that the proposals may have seemed “daunting at first”, but that after working closely with individual clubs over the summer, “students now feel much more positive about adopting the Sport Lancaster models”.
There have been very mixed reactions to the news: some of outrage and some of relative relief. This is because in previous years, some BUCS teams have had to fork out more than the £99, and will actually save money using this model. Some indeed have argued that this makes the cost of sport fairer across the board.
In previous years, BUCS teams were expected to pay for playing kit on top of their membership. However, this year the University is contributing £45,000 of funding towards kit, which means that the teams who have picked Option A will have kit included in their £99 membership. This fee also includes a bronze gym membership, the price of which has dropped from £125 last year. For many BUCS athletes, who would have bought a gym membership anyway, they save a considerable sum of money using this model.
The University’s Netball Club is certainly appreciating the new arrangement. Captain Sally Shacklady described the decision as a “no brainer”, considering most of the girls bought a gym membership last year anyway, and will consequently save money this year. “The deficit isn’t just going to disappear”, Hannah Cakebread told SCAN, “and the netball squad are turning this into a positive”.
However, it must be taken into account that anyone who wishes to play netball recreationally can easily opt out of the fees by joining a college team instead. The same goes for football and other college sports. However, many students are faced with unavoidable expense if they wish to continue playing their favourite sport.
Alice Norman from University’s Women’s Hockey Club is concerned that the club has already lost at least two players who can’t afford the new fees. In order to continue to compete regularly in BUCS fixtures, the club has chosen Option A, but for some, the £99 membership is too steep. Norman said “we shouldn’t be forced to pay so much just so we can represent the University in the sport that we love”.
For some clubs who have the available time and resources, it is possible to divide their club in order to provide all members with the option that suits them best. For instance Emily Cowland, President of the Equestrian Club, has selected Option A for her competing teams, and Option B for the members who only ride in lessons. Things will stay the same for lessons members, who will not compete, therefore won’t need to contribute any money towards BUCS. Anyone who wishes to compete will now be asked to buy the additional gym membership, but ultimately, no one is facing compulsory £99 fees in order to continue horse riding.
The exec of Lancaster University Running Club have chosen Option B; they are turning down the BUCS support on offer, believing that more affordable membership takes priority. Tom Greaves told SCAN that they are continuing to charge £5 for the year, instead of the £104 it might have become with Option A. They only participate in one BUCS event per year, so will not miss out on a huge slice of funding. Greaves explained the club’s large membership includes “non-competitive, social members who wouldn’t benefit”. He diplomatically added that “while I think it’s a good, fair option for clubs who use sports centre facilities a lot to train on and travel for BUCS games every week, our club isn’t like that”. He sympathised that it is a “hard balance to strike” for LUSU.
The clubs who are being hit hardest are the less conventional sports, who will struggle to keep membership numbers up. The University’s Korfball Club have chosen Option A, not only for the BUCS funding, but also because access to indoor training is essential for korfball. However, Joel Smith explains that “because of the size and niche nature of our club, we will most likely see a significant decrease in potential members, because people are much less likely to pay in excess of £99 to join a sport they are unfamiliar with”. Captain Ben Clay expresses concern that their club’s continuation will rely on the exec’s ability to “sell” the club to freshers. Many of the exec have voiced similar concerns about their club’s future.
On behalf of LUSU, Sutcliffe told SCAN that she intends to work with the smaller clubs on an individual basis, setting up consultations to “determine what will work best for them to enable them to compete, maintain recreational members and benefit in the same ways as other clubs”. Her final advice to all who are worried is: “not to panic, we are here to help in any way that we can”.
Furthermore, LUSU has promised to reinvest all of the extra funds generated from the increased memberships back into those clubs, in order to sustain the excellent quality of sport at Lancaster, and to continue to strive towards high aspirations. The consensus of many students at the moment is that only time will tell.