With dwindling member numbers, no training and diving curtailed due to lockdown, RAC Special Club was in need of rejuvenation. Committee member James Fox tells how his London-based club was pulled back from the brink to become a growing branch that is optimistic about its future.
During last year’s lockdown, everything was getting a bit boring, so I thought it would be a great idea if we could turn around our dormant BSAC club. Unfortunately, we only had twelve members left by this time, with no instructor and some extremely old and tired kit.
The few members we had were only interested in warm water diving, and the various lockdowns had meant that our annual dive trip had not taken place, so none of us had dived for several years. In addition, we had not been able to offer any courses for over eight years since our last instructor left.
The key to reinvigorating our club was to reintroduce training. So, both our Diving Officer Chris Barsley and I started on our journey to become suitably qualified. It also gave us something to do during lockdown, as we could focus on the Theory Instructor Exam (TIE). We also managed to undertake the Open Water Instructor Course (OWIC) in between lockdowns.
Full of enthusiasm, we immediately booked on the Practical Instructor Exam (PIE) in May 2021. Chris passed without any problems, but unfortunately, my borrowed club kit let me down. This minor disaster didn’t dampen my enthusiasm; I treated myself to a new set of gear and, in September, passed the PIE. Now our small club had two instructors, and our real journey was about to start.
Having found out the hard way that the club kit was no longer usable, the club came together to sort through the equipment store, and we ended up throwing away almost a skip-full of old and unserviceable kit. We also completed an inventory to establish what additional kit we needed.
Whilst we had some money in our funds, it was nowhere near sufficient. So, we used the kit we had on the basis that if we offered diving courses at a small profit, then, over time, we would be able to replenish our kit store.
We then designed the Ocean Diver course to be undertaken over two Sundays, with the morning devoted to classroom teaching and the afternoons in the pool. This worked well as students could obtain their qualifications within a fortnight instead of over many weeknights.
We also happened to meet a professional underwater photographer, Nur Tucker. She suggested that we arrange some lectures and webinars and offer them to any club member, not necessarily divers, on topics from underwater photography to marine biology, conservation, and exploration. These proved to be very popular, and before we knew it, we had provided over half a dozen lectures.
With renewed confidence, we started advertising our first course held in October 2021, which became fully booked. We then organised our second Ocean Diver course for February 2022 (with some new kit purchased with the funds from our previous course). Not only did this book up too, we also had a waiting list.
We are now well on our way with replenished club funds, new kit and a series of Ocean and Sports Diver courses scheduled throughout the remainder of 2022. I am delighted to say that within six months of starting our first course, we have nearly trebled our BSAC membership from twelve to thirty active members with not just one, but two overseas trips planned.
It has been a tremendous to see how the club has developed. I believe this all stemmed from encouraging non-divers to attend something as simple as a lecture on a fascinating topic and then leading into training courses. We could have offered none of this without increasing our own qualifications, for which we must thank our regional BSAC team for their help. I also believe that our more condensed training format has proved very popular.
All the hard work has been worth it to see the smiles on students’ faces. Whilst our club is still quite small, it is growing rapidly, and it has been amazing to see what we can achieve.
Visit RAC Special Club's website for more information.