It was with utter dismay that I read the latest membership figures from British Naturism, published on 12th February 2014. As of 31st January there was 6,824 members in BN.
At the same time last year, the membership stood at 7,235, a fall of 5.68 per cent year-on-year, and is in line with the steady ‘6 per cent drop’ that seems to have occurred every year for the last 20 years. No doubt it will pick up the usual rush around May, when naturists begin to think about their summer holidays and renew. It will also pick up a few new members over the year, but nothing like the numbers needed to halt this slow decline in membership. As has been noted by former Treasurer Duncan Heenan, in 1994 there were 20,000 members, in 2004 16,000. By my calculation, BN will see its centenary in 2064, but only just, with a mere 310 members. There will probably be sun clubs with more members than that. The point being, if this steady decline continues, when will British Naturism stop being viable as a national representative organisation?
Some might ask: ‘should we care about that?’ After all, do we really need an organisation to give us permission to be naked! Despite the people being prosecuted for practicing naturism in the countryside or other open spaces, many more go undetected. Britain’s coastline also provides ample opportunities to sunbathe naked if anyone wants to, in addition to the official and unofficial beaches that are known about. Given that, is BN really necessary? The same question could be asked about Ramblers (formerly The Ramblers’ Association). Do we need them to take a walk in the countryside or along any of our long-distance and coastal footpaths? The simple answer is no. Yet in its Annual Report for 2012/13, it was able to boast “more than 113,000 members, nearly 500 ramblers groups, more than 550 affiliates and tens of thousands more people who supported our work.” So for an organisation that we apparently have no need for, it shows considerable public support and if it wasn’t for their campaigning on behalf of walkers’ rights many of the footpaths now used by Sunday afternoon strollers would be closed. So what are they doing, that BN is not? How is it that walkers can see the value of having and supporting a national representative body but naturists cannot? The irony is that it is likely that there are naturists among the 113,000 members of Ramblers.
I can imagine some in BN being deeply offended by this blatant interference from someone who isn’t even a member, but I say this as a friend and sometimes, someone outside can say things that few inside an organisation can. I also feel that BN’s existence is important to UK naturism as a whole and all of us shall be the poorer if it should disappear from our lives. And to be fair, the issue of falling membership numbers is not unique to BN. Ramblers lost approximately 10,000 members from 2008/09 to steady at its current level, while in naturist circles it is a problem for national representative bodies worldwide, but we in the UK need to worry about this nation’s national body first.
BN has given the task of reversing the decline to Andrew Welch. Even with the best will in the world, one man cannot make a difference. This is a task for every board member, and members of every regional committee and every club or association, to convince individuals of the value of being part of the wider community. They will not succeed with everyone, but it is important that every part of BN works together for the benefit of naturism and not some other personal or club agenda. I am convinced that Judith Stinchcombe, its current chairman – chairwoman, whatever – is the right person to lead BN out of the doldrums but she needs the support of every member, every committee, pulling in the same direction to achieve that. Membership decline is the most important threat to its existence that BN has. Not the fact that it does or does not offer events like Alton Towers, or Nudefest (without any members these couldn’t be offered anyway). Nor is it, to be considered an effective campaigner, although all of the above are bound up in the picture of success for BN that some of us have, inside and outside British Naturism.
Whatever has been done to reverse the decline in membership numbers over the past 20 years, it hasn’t worked and more of the same will only lead to the same result, with British Naturism slowly bleeding to death. To make BN fit for purpose Chairman Stinchcombe has already installed some small amendments to your structure but this is not enough and something more radical is needed. The changes proposed 10 or 15 years ago and feared at the time would have been less alarming. Now, someone unconnected to BN needs to take a clean sheet of paper and think the unthinkable with nothing, or no one, sacred. Don’t just talk to so-called insiders, those who say they are in the ‘know’, whose limited sources may give them too narrow a view. Talk to your dissatisfied customers, those leaving the organisation too and listen to what they are telling you. And just as important, listen to what others outside BN are saying (not just me); we may see something you don’t. If your own research says there are 3.7 million naturists in the UK, don’t wait for them to come to you (you might be waiting a very long time), go out there and find them, talk to them. Have they heard of you? If not, why not! What will make them join and keep on supporting you after the first year?
Staying inside your ivory tower, wherever it is located, will mean it is unlikely that there will be any 75th, let alone 100th, birthday celebrations and absolutely no one is going to benefit from that.
Chairman, Naturist Action Group
15th February 2014
Aware that anything I may write about British Naturism is considered… controversial at least… by the Executive Council, I gave Judith Stinchcombe a preview of the above and BN the right of reply. You can read “Reply from British Naturism: Doing Nothing has Never been an Option” in full by clicking on the link. It is true that John, Duncan and I were members the EC in 2008 but what it doesn’t say is that none of us completed our terms and we were three people in a committee of 19 or so people all with one vote, and our views were hardly mainstream. If we achieved anything it was often against considerable opposition.
It is great to read that changes in procedures and processes have been made to improve the management information collected, which more often than not was what BNChange (the name we used collectively) wanted. Nor have we spoken out against Nudefest or Alton Towers, which they seem to think and while producing press releases is fine, perhaps the EC needs to count how many are taken up by the media in order to reach the alleged 3.7 million UK naturists not in our national representative organisation. I hope, on re-reading my letter the EC will see that it is far more supportive than they seem to have taken it to be. Although, in hindsight, the ‘ivory tower’ phrase was OTT and I withdraw that.
Just to underscore paragraph 4 above, which seems to have been ignored or missed, the last thing any of us want is for British Naturism to disappear, if it did it will be to no one’s benefit. The way I see it, no BN no NAG so it is in all our interests that the trend in the membership figures is reversed.