CEO Update – Q1 2021
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On the day activity resumed in England and Scotland and BD launched its new brand identity, Chief Executive Jason Brautigam released his quarter one update to reflect on the first three months of 2021 and a look forward to what the summer has instore.
Back in the arena
After what has seemed like the longest winter in living memory, at last the day has arrived when we can finally get our 2021 season underway. Members in England and Scotland can now return to action, although those in Wales still have three more weeks to wait – hopefully by 22 April onwards restrictions will have been lifted across all three home nations, so we can look forward to a busy summer of sport.
The COVID protocols that we put in place last summer will continue to apply for the next few weeks, as we move through the various stages of the roadmap to recovery, but hopefully by the end of June a sense of normality will have resumed. We appreciate that it has been a challenging 12 months for everyone, with the stop-start nature of the last year proving to be frustrating for the whole equestrian sector, but the resilience and adaptability shown by our members has been exemplary.
We will continue to issue guidance to all stakeholder groups to help you all ride, train and compete wherever you live, but please continue to monitor the government websites closely for the latest updates as restrictions gradually ease in each of the home nations.
The release of our Operational Plan at the beginning of March lifted everyone’s spirits a great deal, as we at least managed to salvage a significant number of the fixtures lost during lockdown, with 60% of dates rescheduled. Learning the lessons from 2020, as soon as the sport was suspended at the start of the year, we immediately set to work putting contingency plans in place, covering a range of different scenarios. This meant that we were well placed to move quickly to get the sport back on track as soon as given the green light by government.
One of the main challenges throughout the pandemic has been, and continues to be, uncertainty. We therefore wanted to try and give members a sense of optimism, something to aim towards, so you could start to shape your campaigns and competition goals for the remainder of the year. Most importantly, we didn’t want the hard-earned qualifications from 2020 – some of them going back as far as the first quarter of last year – to be lost.
We’re delighted to be able to offer a full programme of Winter Regionals and Petplan Equine Area Festivals, thanks to the flexibility and co-operation of our venues and organisers, as well as the generous support of our loyal sponsors, enabling members to still take up their place at these prestigious competitions.
On Friday we were able to put the ‘cherry on top’ of the revised winter season with the announcement of a new date for the NAF Five Star Winter Championships, with the show run over five days from 28 June to 2 July. This is slightly different to the norm as it will run from Monday to Friday for the first time, but we’re incredibly grateful to Hartpury and our organisers Show Direct for finding a space in their busy calendar. Much of the show infrastructure will be outside, including trade stands, catering, prize presentations and sponsor hospitality, to allow for social distancing and open ventilation, so let’s hope we’re blessed with some summer sunshine!
A new identity for BD
The resumption of sport provides us with a fresh start, so what better way to mark that than by launching our new brand identity to coincide with the season getting underway. We originally intended to unveil this 12 months ago at our Winter Championships in April 2020, but then the pandemic struck and plans had to be put on ice.
It’s been an ambition of mine to refresh the BD brand since I joined the organisation, but only when the time was right to do so. The logo has remained largely unchanged for 22 years since British Dressage was formed in 1998. Since London 2012 the sport has progressed considerably and it’s only right that we have a more contemporary brand that reflects our current values as a National Governing Body.
Having invested significantly in our people and our IT systems, culminating in a new website that was launched at the end of 2019, we can now genuinely say that we have the infrastructure in place that underpins BD as a professional sporting organisation. The new brand signals a new era for our sport and the launch of the logo will be closely followed in April with the release of our strategic plan to cover the next Olympic cycle from Tokyo to Paris.
Rest assured, as a former marketing man myself, costs have been kept to a minimum and no expensive agencies were involved. Much of the design work has been developed in-house, and the physical roll-out will be carefully managed to reduce wastage. I hope you all like the sport’s new emblem as much as we do and will wear it with pride when we launch our new clothing and merchandise range later this year.
As I’ve alluded to in previous updates, collectively we’ve shaped the organisation and sport for the better and achieved so much, but this next chapter will be a crucial one. So the new logo represents much more than just a badge for British Dressage. I look forward to sharing our new vision, mission, values and plans with you next month and bringing the strategy to reality.
Today also formally marks the adoption of our new regional structure. We announced the changes in February following an extensive review and with activity finally getting back underway we’re now ready to go live. England now features four revised regions, North & West, North & East, South & East and South & West, while Scotland and Wales are unchanged.
This realigned approach will help us deliver our objectives in the post-COVID recovery period and enable us to reinvigorate an already successful regional programme. The Development Officers will have a renewed focus on members and venues, which will empower them to support our stakeholders effectively. BD Youth Director Claire Moir detailed the process and summarised the changes perfectly in a recent interview. I believe this new structure gives us a great platform to grow the sport in the regions – with more time spent on development, less on delivery.
Looking ahead for 2021
There are plenty of reasons to look forward to the remainder of the year, based on what 2021 potentially has in store for the sport. While the Operational Plan focused primarily around the winter season and managing a truncated summer qualification period, fixtures from 1 July onwards remain largely unchanged – and of course the winter qualification period gets underway then too.
July will also hopefully bring us Olympic action, a year later than scheduled, followed in August by the Paralympics. The IOC and Tokyo organisers are confident they will be able to go ahead, although clearly there will still be some logistical obstacles to overcome.
An Olympic year is always a fantastic opportunity for us, as it shines the spotlight on our sport and promotes dressage to the wider world. Getting our athletes, both human and equine, qualified and at peak performance will not be straightforward after the disruption caused by COVID, Brexit and the European EHV outbreak, but a great deal of work is ongoing behind the scenes and plans continue to progress well in advance of the Games.
Speaking to World Class Performance Managers Caroline Griffith and Georgina Sharples, it’s clear that our athletes will continue to meet any preparation challenges head on and travel to Japan ready to perform on the world’s biggest stage. The new CDI at Wellington Riding in May, replacing lost opportunities at Keysoe and Windsor, provides a vitally important selection opportunity for our international riders, so fingers crossed the rest of the season goes smoothly and we can all cheer them on to medal success later this summer.
With qualification plans in place and a calendar of Summer Regionals finalised, we can also start planning for our inaugural LeMieux National Championships in Cheshire. We announced our new hosts Somerford Park Farm at the end of December 2019 and it will be exciting to work with them and Show Direct on making this year’s event something to remember. The beautiful open parkland setting allows us to revitalise the format – and with spectators set to return by then, hopefully it will be a huge end of season party! It will be wonderful just to get everyone together again.
Exciting projects in the pipeline
Despite working with limited resources for the majority of the last year, the BD team have continued to progress a number of new initiatives and bring projects to fruition. We’ve continued to develop our IT systems and, although much of the work may not be visible to members, the changes have made a huge difference to our internal processes. In fact, we would not have been able to manage the transition to remote working so seamlessly without the significant investment made in this area.
The new Judge Education and Assessment system has made huge leaps forward and is moving towards a full rollout this summer. COVID may have enforced unwelcome changes in many areas, but it’s also helped us to consider new ways of doing things using the technology available – and this is a key example. Online training via Zoom has been another lockdown revelation for our judges and we’ll continue these virtual sessions going forward as it’s been so successful and well received, as well as our face to face seminars.
We’ve also been working on a number of other commercial projects that had to be parked during the pandemic. With our new logo comes a revamped clothing range, with a new supplier working with BD to provide regional team wear and branded merchandise for members. We’re aiming for a launch in late spring – and you’ll be able to view the range in person on our trade stand at the Winter Championships in June.
I’ve mentioned before a partnership with Horse & Country that’s also in the pipeline for this year. Live streaming events has been so crucial to us all these past 12 months, with spectators not allowed at shows. We’ve tried to bring as much as possible to your living rooms so you can feel part of the action, something we’ll be looking to build on with H&C. It’s also about providing more training expertise, knowledge and insight to your screens, with dedicated online content for dressage enthusiasts. We aim to have this BD media platform up and running by the end of June, so watch this space!
Financially the organisation has weathered the storm well during the pandemic. Careful management and a prudent approach have ensured that our reserves remain intact. Although the full consequences of the crisis will not be seen until the end of the year, this has at least enabled us to freeze our membership prices for 2021 and offer an additional three month extension to horse registrations to further compensate for the time lost to lockdowns this winter.
On top of the insurance and legal membership benefits, we’ve endeavoured to provide all members with added value over the last year and I hope you’ve been a regular visitor to our ‘BD at Home’ hub, as well as enjoying the magazine and newsletters. We do appreciate the loyal support of our members, you have all made such an immense contribution to our sport during these difficult times.
The projects and initiatives I’ve mentioned, combined with our upcoming strategy launch, will present us with the chance to build back better. We’ve managed to mitigate the effects of the crisis in the immediate term and get BD activity back underway, but now the focus quite rightly returns to the future.
We have all felt the huge impact of COVID, although I firmly believe that positives can still come out of our collective experience of the last 12 months. Organisations that seize the opportunity that this brings to renew and revitalise will be those that bounce back best. By working in close partnership with all of our stakeholder groups, BD is in a good position to not only recover to where we were pre-pandemic, but build our sport to new levels of success.