Jasper Fellows visits Ian Coley Sporting and discusses the challenges of re-opening with MD Adam Bromfield.
On March 23 a special ministerial broadcast was beamed across the nation. Boris Johnson confirmed the rumours that had spread like wildfire across the country. Britain would be going into lockdown. The public were ordered to stay at home, stay at home to protect the NHS, stay at home to slow the spread of a virus, stay at home to stay safe.
Like the footage of the two towers collapsing in 2001 or the bankers of 2008 leaving their ivory towers with their possessions packed into cardboard boxes, this event will find its way into the history book as one of the most iconic moments of the early 21st century.
As we all know, the effect of the lockdown on the clay shooting industry was severe. All clay shooting grounds shut with immediate effect. From the Olympics to Sunday shoots, all events were postponed or cancelled. Gunsmiths and grounds keepers across the country had to lay down their tools and wait until the restrictions could be lifted again.
For most of the shooting public, leaving their guns in their safes for an extended period of time was an unfortunate but understandable issue. But how about those whose very livelihoods depend on the shooting public?
In our July issue we heard from EJ Churchill’s Rob Fenwick, who spoke of the challenges of trying to continue to operate a clay pigeon shooting business in such unprecedented times.
But how have the country’s top shooting grounds been handling the challenge of re-opening, of inviting back their long missed clients, and friends, while still adhering to strict new hygiene and social distancing rules?
I was lucky enough to get to visit the beautiful Ian Coley Sporting clay shooting ground in the heart of the Cotswolds to learn from their Managing Director, Adam Bromfield, how they have weathered the storm and how they were able to re-open their clay shooting centre in a safe and responsible way.
“For us the lockdown actually started at the end of play on March 21,” explains Adam. “Like many others, we’d had the trickle down of information from the government through the press and were expecting some form of lockdown.
“I felt we were morally obliged to try and do our part in helping to stop the spread of the virus, and to ensure the wellbeing of our team and our customers, so we closed our doors a few days before the official lockdown began.”
“Apart from selling electronic gift vouchers online, every aspect of our business closed. One of our staff members, Shooting School Manager and Senior Instructor Matt Davis lives on site, so the decision was made to keep him here to look after the grounds and do any work that we would struggle to do with clients onsite.”
As March passed into April, and then April into May, there was great uncertainty as to when clay shooting grounds would finally be able to re-open again.
Then, in early May, the government announced that from May 13 ‘outdoor sporting activities [would be] permitted.’ A huge relief for Adam and his team no doubt, but they remained cautious, and kept their doors closed for a few more days.
“We had always been expecting an end of May or start of June date for re-opening, so the government announcement wasn’t a particular surprise,” Adam explains. “But we were not ready to re-open on the 13th.”
“We wanted to make absolutely sure that we could open in a safe and responsible manner. After we had all been through so much, we didn’t feel that rushing into opening was fair to our clients or our staff.”
“There was a lot of work to be done before we felt comfortable inviting the shooting public back. We wanted to take the time to think through and implement our social distancing measures and to add in additional sanitisation processes.
“We had to create a one-way system with large bottles of hand sanitizer every few stands, as well as waiting points in case any shooter catches up with those in front of them.”
“By May 28, these processes were fully in place and we felt it was the right time to re-open, with restrictions. We would only offer pre-booked practice for licence holders, with time slots staggered 10 minutes apart to allow plenty of space, and time, for shooters to enjoy their round.
“Using our Claymate system we are able to pre-load cards with a number of clays, which can be used then simply deposited in a box at the end of a round, ensuring as little human to human contact as possible. Our café, shop and club room facilities remained closed to the public too.”
With so many restrictions in place, one might imagine that the estate would be a ghost town, with any shooter who did appear being exceptionally nervous about their return. But that could not be further from the truth.
Peter Dodson is an Ian Coley’s regular from the nearby town of Cheltenham, and he hasn’t stopped grinning since he arrived on site for his pre-booked session. He arrives alone, but he starts chatting and laughing away – his friends are already here, in the form of the grounds staff.
“I’ve really missed coming up here,” Peter laments, if only for a second. “Of course it’s been a shame not to do much shooting this year but it’s the atmosphere I’ve missed most.
“The restrictions haven’t put me off at all. I think the team have been doing a great job in keeping us all safe and looked after and I’m more than happy to follow their Covid rules, if it means I can come up and shoot. Now I can get some practice in before they start up registered competitions again!”
“This has been a common opinion among our clients,” adds Adam. “We’ve
had no difficulties in enforcing any of our new policies – everyone who showed up here has adopted the safety measures with their usual helpfulness. I think everyone has been getting used to all businesses, not just shooting grounds, having such measures in place.”
“And, when it comes to competitions,” Adam continues, “we should be resuming our CPSA Registered shoots by the time this article is published. These will run on the first Wednesday of every month until October – we’re also considering hosting a Winter Series, but we will have to keep our eyes on governmental guidelines and see how things unfold.”
There’s a lot more to Ian Coley Sporting than the onsite stands and competitive calendar. It is a full blown shooting centre, with a well-stocked gunroom, country store, dining facilities and sporting agency. Every aspect of this clearly successful business has been affected by Covid-19 and the subsequent restrictions, as Adam explains.
“The shop re-opened on June 16, on an appointment only basis, in order to reduce the numbers of people within the building at any one time,” he says. “Though, unfortunately, we will not have any café facilities on site until further notice.”
“The Sporting Agency has not been organising as many days as usual this season, but we have seen confidence growing, with new enquiries coming in each day. Fortunately, most of the estates that our Roving Syndicate visit are offering alternative dates later this season, or alternatively allowing funds to roll-over until next season in the event of any cancellations caused by Covid-19.”
As each part of the business springs back to life, it’s clear that Adam and his team have coped surprisingly well, despite having to close their doors for so long. If anything, the grounds look better than they ever have. “The lockdown gave us the chance to give the place a really thorough spring clean,” says Adam, “and we’ve set an entirely fresh course for everyone to come and try.”
“It gave us the chance to start planning for the future too, with a new online store set to go live this year. We also have some very exciting plans for our 50th anniversary celebrations next year, including a brand new layout and very special 120 English Sporting competition to look forward to.”
This positive mental attitude and forward focus has come to define how the shooting grounds across the country have met, and also overcome, the challenges of this unprecedented global crisis.
We, the shooting public, owe Adam, his staff and their counterparts at shooting grounds across the nation a great debt. They have kept our sport alive and have given us all something to look forward to through dark times.
Shoot Safe, Stay Safe
Visit www.cpsa.co.uk/staysafe to learn more about how you can stay safe on the stands