Dave Turnbull: 'rocky ride'. Photo: Bob Smith/grough

Dave Turnbull: 'rocky ride'. Photo: Bob Smith/grough

The boss of the representative body for mountaineers in England and Wales has responded to the storm of criticism of the decision to change its name.

The British Mountaineering Council announced on Monday it would rebrand itself Climb Britain.

The organisation’s chief executive Dave Turnbull admitted it hadn’t admitted the ‘level of interest’ there would be in the change of name, which has upset many of the council’s members who are not climbers.

A large number of Climb Britain’s 56,000 individual members do not climb, but are hillwalkers. Anyone undertaking the national governing body walking leadership qualifications such as Mountain Leader, Hill and Moorland Leader and Lowland Leader is obliged to join a mountaineering council such as the now-renamed BMC as a stipulation for undertaking the training and assessment.

There are strong historical links between the BMC and the Plas y Brenin-based Mountain Training, which used to be known as the Mountain Leader Training Board.

Mr Turnbull said: “It’s been a rocky ride this last few days.” He said, since last week’s announcement, the Manchester-based organisation had been listening very carefully.

Comments on grough’s story and elsewhere on social media were overwhelmingly negative, with those supporting the name change heavily outnumbered by opponents of the decision.

Some posters also pointed out the new name does not reflect the geographical anomaly in the organisation’s name, as a separate body represents climbers, hillwalkers and mountaineers north of the border.

The Mountaineering Council of Scotland simultaneously with the BMC announced a name change, to Mountaineering Scotland.

Climb Britain said it would brand itself as Climb Cymru in Wales.

The BMC was criticised for the lack of consultation with its members, unlike the MCofS which did consult its membership.

The British Mountaineering Council headquarters in West Didsbury, Manchester. Photo: Bob Smith/grough

The British Mountaineering Council headquarters in West Didsbury, Manchester. Photo: Bob Smith/grough

Mr Turnbull said: “We remain firmly behind Climb Britain and believe it is the right choice for the future of the organisation; the BMC has to keep moving on and stay relevant to new people as times change.

“We accept the need for wider debate so we’re proposing a period of active engagement in which we will get people together to discuss the issues. This will be done via the next set of area meetings together with some specific gatherings of groups such as clubs and the GB climbing team if there is interest or demand.

“I will personally attend as many of these as I can, alongside the president and or other senior BMC officials as and when they’re available.

“Climb Britain and the rebranding issue will then go back to the next national council meeting on 17 September for further discussion and a decision on the way forward.

“In the meantime, we will keep the Climb Britain logo out there and will monitor feedback from members so that by September we should have a much better feel for how it’s all working.”

Dave Turnbull, himself an accomplished climber who in 2011 made the first ascent of the Himalayan peak Gojung with Mick Fowler, said the decision had nothing to do with the bid to have sport climbing included in the Olympics.

The consultancy work on the name change was paid for by Sport England, he said. “Sport England is not involved with the Olympics; UK Sport is.

“The BMC gets financial support from Sport England, not UK Sport. Sport England funds projects like ours to encourage organisations to increase their commercial and external sponsorship income and thus reduce their dependency on Government funding.

“This whole process started well before the 2020 Olympics became such a realistic prospect; it’s a complete coincidence that the two things have come about at the same time.”

Mr Turnbull revealed the recommendation to change the council’s name initially came as a surprise to him. “Midway through last year, I was at a seminar in London when one of the speakers mentioned funding might be available to help sports organisations develop their commercial and sponsorship potential.

“The BMC has always struggled to attract sponsorship income on any kind of scale – we end up funding the bulk of our work ourselves – so I followed this up and eventually we were given the services of a reputable consultancy firm to help us work up ideas.

Registration is compulsory for those undertaking Mountain Leader training. Photo: Bob Smith/grough

Registration is compulsory for those undertaking Mountain Leader training. Photo: Bob Smith/grough

“This work looked at things like our membership structure and benefits package, travel insurance and sponsorship options in great detail and has been extremely useful.

“At the start of the process we secured some addition money, around £25,000, for a branding agency to take a detailed look at how people perceive the BMC and how we might be able to improve our image to connect with new people and stay relevant in the modern age.

“At the outset my expectation was that we’d probably end up with a recommendation to adopt a new BMC logo and some detailed brand guidelines about how to position ourselves.

“There was no specific brief to come up with new name for the BMC. It just evolved that way because the consultants came up with idea we felt had traction. For years we’ve pondered about the suitability of ‘mountaineering council’ in our name, but we’ve never been able to come up with an acceptable alternative. BMC as an acronym is OK if you know the BMC, but for new people it’s not obvious who we are or what we do.

“British Climbing has been bandied about over the years, but the word climbing is different to climb and would never be acceptable to our hillwalking members.

“Climb, on the other hand, does work in the context of ‘climb hills, climb mountains, climb rocks etc’. Other random options over the years have included British Mountaineering, British Mountain Sports or British Mountaineering and Climbing, none of which are hugely better than British Mountaineering Council and BMC.
“So, Climb Britain was thought up as a concept in March this year and we took it from there.”

Rab Carrington, former president of the BMC, was among consultees. Photo: Bob Smith/grough

Rab Carrington, former president of the BMC, was among consultees. Photo: Bob Smith/grough

The chief executive said this involved discussion amongst the BMC’s unpaid volunteer directors and past presidents including Dave Musgrove, Rab Carrington and Sir Chris Bonington and the MCofS, which, he said, was supportive. “There were some reservations, of course, but the overwhelming reaction was that the time – and the name – was right, so on 18 May the directors unanimously agreed to take the new name forward to the BMC national council meeting, which took place at Plas y Brenin on 18 June.”

He said: “The BMC has an effective democratic structure and we used this in reaching the decision.

“Complex or commercially sensitive issues can be extremely difficult or impossible to agree via widespread membership consultation and there are times when we rely on elected area reps to make judgement calls on big issues.

“That’s why they’re there, that why they give up their time to be involved.”

Mr Turnbull added: “For me personally, Climb Britain wasn’t love at first sight; it’s been a grower though.

“My initial impression back in March was it sounded a bit awkward and unusual, more like a campaign than a national body, a bit radical for the BMC. But I think the logo works well: it’s distinctive, builds on previous BMC logos and, when seen in conjunction with the ‘climb hills, climb mountains, etc’ strapline, presents a strong and clear message.

“Give it time, I say.”

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