WessexHamSilver

Project Document

Clubs as Hubs in the Wessex Area

Last updated: November 2020

Project Aim

(See detailed commentary below)

This project aims to increase the reach and strength of Amateur Radio as a hobby in the Wessex region[1], to strengthen participating clubs by making all of the aspects of the hobby accessible 24/7 using the principles of disintermediation, to widen the availability of training, and to broaden the offer by including allied hobbies in a largely rural area with only a few major population centres.  

Project Deliverables

  • To create a network of participating clubs in the Wessex area[2] in order to promote Amateur Radio over a wider area and a bigger scale than the reach of any one club, given the small club size and wide geographical spread in this region.
  • To strengthen those clubs through the sharing of ideas, training, resources, and energy within the network
  • To enable participating clubs to improve communication, 24/7 access, and resources to develop the many aspects of the hobby for identified audiences using contemporary internet-mediated networks.
  • To provide an alternatve route for individuals to gain training, experience, and participation with others in Amateur Radio
  • To provide easier access to training for all licence levels using the resources of the participants and the increased availability of online networks
  • To reach out to other related disciplines in order to share ideas, training, resources, and energy, widening the definition of Amateur Radio.
  • Thereby to enable participating clubs, as hubs in a strengthened network, to provide a much enhanced ‘Amateur Radio Offer’ to interested individuals.

 

Project Process

  • The initiating group has identified a limited and targeted geographic area labelled ‘Wessex’ for the purpose of establishing a boundary to the project, and has established a website (wessexham.co.uk) for communication (currently under revision).
  • Clubs in the Wessex area were invited to consider participation[3].
  • Interested clubs are each invited to nominate a member who will join the working group and provide the link between his/her club and the project. This member will (a) keep his/her club informed of progress, (b) work with the group to help deliver the project aims.
  • A specific proposal will be agreed by the working group to enable grant funding applications.
  • The working group will oversee the delivery and future development of the project.

Project Management

The project was agreed at a meeting between participating clubs and RSGB Region 11 Regional and District representatives on 15th October 2020.  It is managed by a working group drawn from participating clubs, RSGB regional support, and representative individual Amateurs.  The initiating members were:

Mid Somerset Amateur Radio Club: 

            Richard Thomas (Chair)
            David Edwards (Secretary)

            Chris Lavis (Treasurer)

RSGB Regional Team

Dean Brice, RSGB Regional Rep
Andrew Jenner (South Bristol & RSGB)
Tony Howel-Jones (Exmouth & RSGB)

Following the two invitation letters, a number of clubs joined the working group, and at the time of writing, the managing group comprises:

Richard Thomas (G4JJP)          Mid Somerset ARC

Andy Jenner                            RSGB & South Bristol ARC

Tony Howell-Jones                  RSGB & Exmouth ARC
Richard Mudhar                                  Isle of Avalon ARC

Peter Robinson                       Taunton ARC

Ray Coles                                South Dorset ARC

Dave Lee                                 Sidmouth ARC

The following clubs have said they are not interested in taking part:

Gordano ARG

Weston super Mare ARC

The following clubs have yet to respond:

Thornbury ARC
Bristol North

Chippenham

Yeovil

Blackmore Vale

Trowbridge

Tiverton

Flight Refuelling

Project Funding

The Working Group has considered and drawn up a budget which will be submitted to the RSGB Legacy fund as a grant application.  A copy of the proposed budget is available on request.

Project History

In an article in Radcom in June 2019, Richard Thomas G4JJP applied the principles of disintermediation to the problems faced by many amateur radio clubs, and particularly those in rural areas, suggesting a new way of working.  In a presentation to the RSGB Convention that year, Richard coined the phrase ‘Clubs as Hubs’ in an online network to identify the way that disintermediated access to the Hobby could possibly reverse the decline in participation and membership.

At the same time,  Andy Jenner RSGB DR 113 established a ‘groups.io’ for the region as an attempt to improve regional communication, and worked with Richard on the initial proposal to hold a face-to-face conference to discuss the issues (see commentary below).  However, this has had to be put on hold because of Covid19.  A number of working group members were keen to progress the discussion via Zoom despite the pandemic.  Two Zoom meetings were held, and a request from members for a concrete proposal was made.

Commentary

Amateur Radio clubs in rural areas are finding it ever more difficult to maintain current membership, let alone attract new members.  Some are facing possible closure.  We[4] have identified a number of factors contributing to this decline (see note 1):

  • Ageing demographic. The average age of Radio Amateur Club members is likely to be males in the late 50s or early 60s [5]. It certainly gives the impression of being a hobby for ageing men. With age comes a lowering of energy and drive to grow the hobby.

  • Decline in club capacity. Traditionally, access to Amateur Radio has been through geographically local clubs often meeting only once a month, with clubs advertising their community presence in local media. Decline in membership, ageing demographic, the collapse of local print media in rural areas leading to the loss of both PR and advertising opportunities, and changes in the way society connects with information, have left many clubs struggling both to recruit and to find members willing to hold office and run the clubs.

    Increasingly, the energy and funding required to service a local club has presented problems.  The commonly accepted process of establishing a local ‘club’ meeting regularly requires a great deal of energy and funding just to maintain the status quo, let alone grow and expand the hobby – energy that not every club is able to muster.

    Additionally, clubs are rarely able to provide all aspects of what is a very wide-ranging hobby, and cooperation between clubs in a region to enhance the offer has not always been  present to enable connectivity.

    And most importantly, with social disintermediation growing rapidly (especially during the pandemic), the rapid growth and reliance on the internet for connectivity, information and training, membership of a local club is no longer the route of first choice by younger people for engagement with the hobby.

  • Loss of perceived relevance. In the early days of Amateur Radio, radio communication was at the cutting edge of development, and the technology was simple enough for hobbyists to use. Before the internet, being able to communicate directly with people in another town, let alone another continent, was exciting. Today, radio communication is both universal and endemic, the internet has made global communication both instant and available to all at low cost.
  • Changes in the way people source and engage in activities. Perhaps the most significant factor driving decline is the rapid increase in social disintermediation[6]. The explosive growth in social media and internet-driven communication has led to an equally rapid change in the way people connect socially. Searching online has become the primary route to information and connectivity for the majority. 

    Online, information and social connectiity can be accessed 24/7, whereas support and information using the ‘club’ model usually requires a physical visit to a venue where meetings are held irregularly.  Some clubs (South Bristol for example) have state of the art websites.  But this is rare.  Our experience is that club websites are often poorly constructed and contact information is often out of date (the RSGB Club Finder has much out-of-date contact information). Even an excellent club website cannot provide resources for a larger regional area.

Examples where these issues have been successfully addressed include Essex, where www.essexham.co.uk has provided 24/7 access to the hobby.  The model used by Essex Ham is a ‘commercial’ one, where an individual personally owns the brand and has driven the process FOR clubs and individuals’, rather than the clubs themselves coming together to develop the process.  Another example is Suffolk Red (www.suffolkred.co.uk) which is a site for both Radio Amateurs and Electronics enthusiasts.  Both follow the principles of disintermediated access.

We belive that we can learn a great deal from these models, both from their strengths and also from their perceived weaknesses.  Establishing a similar network for the Wessex area is one of the key suggestions for delivering the project aims.

Concrete Possibilities

Concrete outcomes should be a product of participating clubs working together as ‘Hubs’ in the network, but in order to give some substance to the project, the following might be key elements.

  • A regional website, available 24/7 aimed at newcomers to the hobby, with sub-sections for each individual participating clubs (or hubs) to provide their own information, and areas for joint projects, training, field days, etc. The point of this would be to create one access point for Amateur Radio in the Wessex area for people who are not used to clubs, but who gain most of their information and social connectivity online.
  • The new website (wessexham.co.uk?) should also provide entry points to the hobby for individuals unable, or unwilling, to access through existing clubs.
  • It might also provide sub-sections for specific interest areas, where small groups of people might come together for specific initiatives.
  • For example, a ‘Wessex-wide’ field day, bringing clubs and individuals together in some way, was suggested in one of our earlier Zoom meetings.
  • Regional ‘talks’ and ‘instructionals’ have been suggested
  • Training – to enable new participants in the hobby to gain a foundation licence and to be linked as required with participating hubs and projects so that they can progress in the hobby
  • It should be possible to create a regionally accessible ‘shack’ both demonstrating, and educating, people in the latest equipment – and possibly providing an Emcom centre for the region – or build on what already exists.
  • Individuals within the network would take the lead for agreed areas of work (Training, Talks, Contests, EmComm, Data nets, etc), drawing together a group from across the network.
  • For further concrete suggestions, look at the work being done by Essex Ham and Suffolk Red

 

Current Status

The project was discussed, and at a meeting held on 15th October the working group formally agreed to proceed with the project.  The Working Group has agreed a constitution as an Unincorporated Association, and will consider a route to become a Charitable Incorporated Organisation as the project grows. It has also agreed a three-year funding budget and will seek initial funding from the RSGB Legacy fund.

Richard Thomas

November 2020

 

[1] We have not been able to identify reliable data showing the historic levels of either licence holders or club membership. The RSGB have told us that they don’t record this data, but anecdotal evidence suggests that more and more clubs are struggling with a reduced membership.

[2] This is a loosely defined geographical area, the core of which is shown on the www.wessexham.co.uk site. At the decision meeting on 15th October, it was agreed to widen the area to the South West of England.

[3] Initially, this was an invitation to a face-to-face conference to discuss the project, but Covid has put face-to-face meetings on hold.  One letter was sent to all club chairmen by email in March 2020, another in August 2020.

[4] Richard Thomas (Disintermediation and Communication – Clubs as Hubs), Andy Jenner (RSGB)

[5] Research is needed to confirm what is a generally accepted anecdotal impression.

[6] Disintermediation is the process of removing the middleman or intermediary from transactions. In this context, it describes the way people increasingly seek to access social communities directly, using internet or online communities rather than local geographically based groups. Commercial examples include Amazon, Ebay, etc.  Local clubs have become secondary