I hope you would all agree that the South Wales Outdoor Activity Providers Group has provided a very useful function since its inception in 2010, when it was setup primarily to manage the Waterfalls Area Concordat and our Environmental Charter. Since then, the Group has gone on to provide other services to members, including facilitating the Brecon Beacons Reservoir Passport Scheme as well as the e-mail alert system, highlighting commercial opportunities and representation of members’ interests at local, regional and national access and tourism forums.
Without SWOAPG – and its part-time, paid coordinator – it is probable that access to the Sychryd and Mellte gorges for activity providers would have been lost; access to Dwr Cymru reservoirs would not have been gained or maintained; and activity providers in South Wales would not have had a voice within the outdoor sector in Wales.
We have been fortunate until now that our ‘core funding’ has been provided by the Welsh Government through Visit Wales, although for the first time in 2017 the amount of funding they provided was less than the cost of employing our Coordinator – who currently devotes around 7 hours per week to providing essential services including access liaison, regional representation and communication with members. However, we have now learned that in March 2018 this funding will cease completely so SWOAPG will have to find other sources of income if it is to continue to operate as it does now.
Access for providers to the Waterfalls area is currently managed under the Concordat agreed in 2010 between SWOAPG and the landowners – Natural Resources Wales and Brecon Beacons National Park Authority. Members who were around at the time will remember that the landowners were under severe pressure to prevent damage to their sites under conservation legislation. The Concordat was seen as being the only way of facilitating access by groups whilst preventing such damage and managing the impacts on local residents. If SWOAPG was to stop managing the Waterfalls Area Concordat, Natural Resources Wales has told us that providers’ only option to gain access to the gorges would be to apply to them for a standard permit for each visit to the gorge, costing at least £50 per year plus £2-3 per person (+VAT); involving considerable paperwork; and requiring 12 weeks’ notice for each visit.
We believe that the services we provide – including facilitating ‘easy’ gorge access – are invaluable to our members, but we now find ourselves in the position of having to raise our own funding if we are to continue this work. The Steering Group has considered several options, including using volunteers instead of a paid Coordinator (which would make it hard, if not impossible, to sustain our current services); charging for our training workshops (which until now have mostly been free); introducing a ‘gorge passport scheme’ (which we are not keen on); and introducing a membership fee (which is currently our ‘preferred option’). However, since we are only your representatives, we don’t believe we are able to make a final decision without first hearing your views on these options – and your other ideas for how we might ‘make ends meet’ in a very short space of time.
We should therefore be grateful if you could fill in a short online questionnaire (click here) by Sunday 11th March so that we can make the best decision possible. We will provide the results of this survey to members, then hold an Emergency General Meeting (EGM) at Garwnant on Thursday 19th April for members to discuss and vote on the best way forward.
This change in our circumstances also provides the opportunity for us to change our legal structure to become a Company Limited by Guarantee (which was agreed in principle by Members at the 2014 AGM) – which will help to maintain our support from the Brecon Beacons National Park Authority, Natural Resources Wales and Dŵr Cymru Welsh Water; will enable us to apply for more sources of grant funding; and will better protect Members against any potential liabilities that the Group might face in the future. We therefore intend also to propose this formal change at the EGM.
We hope to hear from many of you through our online survey and to see many of you at the EGM, but if you have any questions in the meantime, please don’t hesitate to contact the Coordinator at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Emyr Rees (Chair)
on behalf on the SWOAPG Steering Group