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How we Organise our Outdoor Events

36 climbers. 5 different crags. From can only top rope to expert level.

Everyone turns up at the right place and climbs.

How do you do it?

How it started

When Covid restrictions eased enough to allow outdoor climbing, we started developing a system to allow us to arrange small climbs, local to people, with the right amount of skills and gear and not too many people crowding to one area.

As the restrictions have relaxed, this system helps us organise events amongst groups where some people need lifts, some people don’t have all the right skills, some people don’t have all the right kit.

How it works

People sign up for climbing every week.

People sign up for climbing via our website. (We used to use google forms).

As people sign up, we ask a number of multiple choice questions:

Where are people coming from? What belaying skills do they have? what trad climbing skills do they have?

As well as some other questions:

Where are you coming from? Do you need a lift? Can you give a lift?

This all ends up in a Google Spreadsheet that looks a bit like this:

Grouping

We then

  1. look at all the preferences and skills, and see that there are lots of trad leaders, lots of lead belayers, lots keen to do trad
  2. look at the gear and see there are plenty of racks – though these clearly need to be distributed wisely
  3. look at the transport situation, and see that only one person needs a lift.

From then, we try and start “sketching” a group configuration that’d work, looking and who is close to whom, and who needs lifts, and who has what skills.

In this example, Jerry needs a lift, and only Jack and Alice are likely to be well placed to give him one – so its worth putting them all in the same group (if possible) because one of them might not be able to give him one or might drop out.

It’s worth noting that the Western Grit group, despite having 4 leaders and a number of learners, only has 3 racks between them. This isn’t ideal, as whilst it’d probably unlikely they’d have 4 climbing pairs in action at once (as Jane is still learning to lead belay – and no-one there can set up top ropes), if any of Jasper, Bob or Cabbage face was to drop out at last minute, this group would be severely handicapped.

Juliet and Jumbo John didn’t provide a location, but we chatted to them and filled in that location. We also note that Jumbo John hasn’t said he’s bringing any personal gear (harness etc) but having reminded ourselves who he is, we note he’s an experienced trad climber, and discard this info.

Given we have a better sense of Juliet and Jumbo John’s location, and the lack of racks in the Peak group, it may be worth sending one of them there.

Jimbo isn’t really close to anyone else, and is one of the lowest skilled in the group, and is going to have a fair drive no matter what. They’ve been put in the Lancashire crag, but realistically could have gone in the other one too.

Jill is an interesting case – you may note lesser skills, but all the gear.

Jeremiah may not be the happiest of bunnies, and of course, an argument could be made for splitting the group and sending the No Preference people to a sport crag and everyone else to a trad crag – we’ve chosen not to do that. We can’t always fully accommodate everyone and since Jeremiah themself doesn’t lead Sport outside, they can’t even lead a group to a Sport Crag.

Having taken all this in mind, we now can let people know what the plan is.

Choosing Crags

What crag to send people to? We could write a whole blog post about this, and probably will sometime.

In short: we try to make sure all the leaders will be able to lead stuff there, make sure everyone can get there, if it’s in an evening, make sure it’s close to the road and close to where people live, and make sure its somewhere with parking for however many people are going.

Messaging

So now we have two clear groups, and have decided on crags to send them to. Now’s the time to let them know.

There are elements here we’re working on, and will be adapting in future, but up til now we have:

  1. Created a Facebook messenger group
  2. Invited everyone going to one specific crag to it
  3. Sent them the details, location, crag name and so on.
  4. Shouted out anyone who needed lifts.
  5. Left them to figure out everything from here.

Our sense is that this bit could perhaps be better – and just like all parts of this process, there’s room for improvement.

One early hint of people who won’t show up is that they don’t engage in the group chat.

Particularly if you have people new or newish to your group, you want to make a particular effort to engage them in letting you know when they’ll arrive etc.

Q&A

What’s stopping you running outdoor meets more frequently?

Volunteer capacity. See below.

How does the Climbing Clan organise this?

The Outdoor Climbing team, lead by the Outdoor Climbing sec, usually splits the work into about 5 roles for each event:

1) Event Co-ordinator

These person recruits the other volunteers for that event, and makes sure everything happens as it should, when it should.

This can take 10 mins… or include all the time it takes to do the roles below if you can’t find anyone or someone doesn’t do their job and you have to step in an do it.

2) Promoting the sign up page person

This person posts the event signup page on the Facebook group, creates the Facebook event we use to promote it. Invites people to the Facebook event.

Since this happens all before the event, it can happen from anywhere.

This usually takes about 30-40 mins.

3) Groupings person

At midday the day before, this person creates the groups as best they can.

Often they ask someone else to check if for them for constraints they hadn’t spotted.

This usually takes about 30-40 mins.

4) Messaging person

This person messages the groups with all the information about the crag.

This is often surprisingly involved and lengthy, and takes about 30-40 mins

5) Post event Messaging and Attendance recording person

There’s usually some post-event messaging to the groups and admin to do after each of these events (eg recording attendance)

This usually takes about 30-40 mins.

Who does this at the moment?

For the last 30 outdoor trips, the same 2-3 person team has done this on their own, with very little support, and very little holiday cover or breaks.

Recently a few more people have become involved, and we’re eager to grow the volunteer team, so it shares the effort.

How can I get involved and volunteer?

Just message The Climbing Clan on Facebook, or tick one of the Volunteering boxes in the Outdoor Climbing signup form.

People don’t need to help every week, but supported to be able to do some of the tasks and roles means some people can take breaks, go on holiday and focus on improving these events and running more of them, rather than just keeping up with everything that needs doing.

What if someone drops out on an event?

Don’t even… When people drop out after these groups have been created, there can be huge problems.

Perhaps they were one of the only 2 racks, or only person who could give x a lift, or one of the only lead belayers without a trad rack – so could lead belay a climber.

If they drop out before they’re sent to a crag, and included here, it’s fine. If they drop out afterwards, its a cause of huge headaches and has reduced organisers to tears on many occasions.

The trick as an organiser is to try and stay out of it and let the group figure it out amongst themselves, and be happy whatever they choose. This can be very hard, and very uncomfortable.

What about the weather?

It’s a huge question mark. But you cannot control it, and you cannot control people.

Usually a bigger problem than the actual weather, is people doom and glooming over what they fear the weather might be like. This might be with a long range (eg 5 day) weather forecast or it might be based off them looking out the window and seeing rain today, and assuming it’ll continue for 4 straight days none stop.

Usually the problem is people rather than the weather – the best way to deal with the weather is to turn up on the day, and see what the crag looks like. It’s surprising how many “rainy” days have really big long spells of dry weather. If you’re not there, you never find them.

When it comes to dealing with the people, the general advice as an organiser is to try and stay out of it and let the group figure it out amongst themselves, and be happy whatever they choose. This can be very hard, and very uncomfortable and easy to deliberately ignore.

How do you deal with people not on Facebook?

Historically, we don’t. At present, very badly. Our entire Clan is very much Facebook centric and it’s fair to say you won’t get the full amount out of the climbing clan without a Facebook account. Some people have created Facebook accounts *just* for the Climbing Clan – and that seems to work well.

How do you deal with people who want to decide on the day?

We don’t. If they don’t sign up, they can’t come.

What if people want to go to different crags?

It’s really awkward and uncomfortable.