We’ve had a real poser of a question this morning provided by Martyn Price. He wants to know is there is anyone offering horse or pony trekking for naturists in the UK? Can any of you help Martyn? How many people would be interested in such an adventure?
Please let us know.
Chairman, Naturist Action Group
I have on occasion suggested that you listen to The Naturist Living Show, a podcast provided by Bare Oaks Family Naturist Park in Canada, and I’m going to do so again. By virtue of where they originate these podcasts are often North America centric but they still have value for us in the old world and should not be lightly dismissed. For the month of June, the podcast was about marketing naturism, a subject that Stéphane Deschênes – the presenter and owner of Bare Oaks – is more than suitably qualified, having worked in advertising for many years. It is a long podcast – a little over an hour – but well worth the listen.
There is one obvious difference – at least apparently so – between North America and the UK. Whereas many of the clubs in North America are commercially aware operations, a part of the local tourist industry, this is not the case in the UK. Here, they tend to act and think like private clubs – which in many cases they are – and divorced from their local community. Private or public, UK naturist clubs are to the contrary, very much part of their surroundings and this can be illustrated by a story I was told not so long ago. I won’t name names, in order to protect the guilty, but a friend was visiting a club for the first time and her directions got her as far as the nearest village. Making enquiries in the shop and asking for the club by name, my friend was met by blank faces until one realised where she meant and said, “Oh, you mean the nudie place.” When my friend reached the front gate there was nothing to show that it was a club of any kind, not even its name, but the locals clearly knew all about it. My friend had an opportunity to ask some of the members about the lack of notices. The reason given for this was so that none of the locals would know that the club was there. Oh really!
The club may have had a fence to keep out Peeping Toms and the like, but it did not stop the local people from finding out that the club’s members didn’t wear any clothes for much of the time and were left to make their own conclusions from that.
Early on in the podcast, Stéphane explained to whom he promoted his club to most. Not to other naturists, as one might expect but to those encountering naturism for the first time. This may appear counter intuitive, but if the people are already frequent visitors to – say a naturist beach – then they will already be fairly comfortable with the idea of nude recreation. If they do want to join Bare Oaks, I’m sure they are welcomed with the same broad smile under Stéphane’s handlebar moustache as anyone else, but that will be picking off the low hanging fruit. Stéphane puts a lot of effort into attracting the “interested” into Bare Oaks by reaching out to them through some unexpected means, including signs telling everyone that they are driving past Bare Oaks Family Naturist Park. In doing so, not only is he promoting his club, more importantly, he is promoting naturism as a concept: a lifestyle of choice. Not all the passers-by will enter Bare Oaks, but at least it gets them thinking and while they may dismiss the idea for themselves, they may grow to realise that social nudity in hot, sticky weather isn’t such a mad idea after all.
One of the Naturist Action Group’s objectives is to promote naturism and every time we engage with the textile world we are doing that, whether it is a meeting with the local Police Commissioner, being quoted in the national press, or writing to a Minister of State. At its national and regional levels, British Naturism is undertaking similar efforts. But what of the other major stakeholder in this need to promote naturism as a concept, if not for new members? The clubs need to do their bit too. It is important that everyone does their share of promoting naturism to the general public and to dispel any idea that naturism is party to the doggers, swingers and pornographers generally that naturists are so often associated with. In New Zealand, every club has a sign outside giving its name and proudly proclaiming their membership to the New Zealand Naturist Federation, not so here. Why not? It is almost as if club members are ashamed of their lifestyle!
Let me say in their defence that the clubs I have visited have been an idyllic oasis of calm in a hectic world and an ideal environment for those who are new to naturism and getting used to social nudity for the first time. But even contemplative religious orders have to engage with the outside world from time to time, and it is no different for the naturist club. The promotion of naturism is everyone’s job, not just of the national organization of the country concerned, regardless of it being Canada, New Zealand or the UK. By reaching out to their local inhabitants, to the local chamber of commerce or tourism board the club is promoting naturism in a far more practical way than any number of letters to the newspapers or Ministers of State. Naturism has always been a movement of the people and if the grassroots did their part in promoting naturism then our job at the top of the pyramid will be a thousand times easier. So, my message to all club management out there is, listen to this podcast and learn how you can help your club and naturism by letting the locals in, just don’t forget to smile. The handlebar moustache is optional.
An edited version of this blog will appear in the August 2013 edition of H&E Naturist.
Earlier this month (January) I was intrigued by the title of Jordon Blum’s post on the Young Naturist America’s (YNA) website: ‘Nudist Advocacy Organisations: is there still any need for them?’ He isn’t the first person to ask this question (and not answer it) and I don’t suppose he will be the last under the current circumstances but why should such a question ever arise? Is it perhaps a lack of expectation by some or too much by others? Or could it be that Blum is right and organisations such as American Association for Nude Recreation (AANR) or British Naturism (or indeed NAG) are just not needed?
According to Blum: ‘A movement is something that comes about to address specific issues due to a lack of structured organisations advocating on [the] people’s behalf.’ Blum, however, believes that neither AANR nor The Naturist Society (TNS) are providing the service American naturists need to enjoy the clothes free lifestyle to the full. His evidence – he claimed – was the inability of both organisations to collaborate to get the San Onofre beach nudity ban, introduced by the California State Parks Service, overturned. Interestingly, he did give faint praise to the Naturist Action Committee (NAC), stating they had been ‘quite helpful’ without making the link between NAC and TNS obvious.
In my opinion, Blum’s criticism is not proven but then an article aimed at younger naturists is perhaps not the place to argue a case either for or against national organisations. But he is also assuming the only reason such organisations exist is to react to whatever non-naturists do to us, like the San Onofre beach nudity ban. The best people to effect that change are the people affected. Guest blogger on the YNA website, Melissa Dejanude, explained in November last year that there is already a facebook group (Friends of San Onofre Beach (Official)) and called for action. What hasn’t been mentioned, however, is whether they have their equivalents of Gypsy Taub and/or George Davis who are campaigning to overturn a similar ban in San Francisco. As I tried to argue in January, any successful campaign requires a
Our friends in Naktiv have told us about the Naked European Walking Tour, taking a route through the Alps. If you are a walker rather than a (push-bike) rider then this might be more to your liking. NEWT began in 2005 and has been staged every year since, and in 2013 it’s scheduled to take place between 14th and 20th July. For more information go to the Naktiv website, or register your interested and you will then be added to a mailing list.
I have just caught up with the first episode of The Hotel Inspector, Series 9. Before it was transmitted (5th July 2012), naturist forums were buzzing with mild excitement about this show mainly because the red tops wrote in large banner-type headlines that its presenter, Alex Polizzi, was going nude for the show. If naturists, and non-naturists, watched in expectation of seeing a member of the Forte family – the aristocracy of the hotel world – naked then they would be disappointed. As she admits in a self-penned article for The Daily Telegraph promoting the new series, her ‘naked’ appearances were down to some clever camera angles.
Like any review, this is just one person’s opinion and as I’ve never sampled the delights The Clover – as I will call it – has to offer, it is hard for me to judge. Yet, I cannot help thinking that the advice Polizzi gave was good advice, born from her own and her family’s long experience in the hotel trade and should not be ignored lightly. Her judgement was confirmed by the changes she made to a garden that was little more than a large lawn, into an asset that the guests could use and enjoy in more ways than just laying down to soak up the sun.
Polizzi’s main concern was the strict nude all areas policy. Tim Higgs, the proprietor and naturist for 30-years, believes that this is what his guests demanded, somewhere they can be naked from entry to exit. Only, his guests are far and few between. At the beginning of the programme, Higgs showed the camera his bookings for the week ahead; there wasn’t any. The advice that Higgs received was to widen his target audience by relaxing his insistence that guests are naked during their stay, and potentially attract new comers to the naked lifestyle by allowing them to be dressed in the dining and living rooms. This is not radical thinking, as it is common for guests to be dressed while eating at European naturist resorts.
We know, from leaked details of an unpublished survey by British Naturism earlier this year that there remains approximately 2 million people in the UK who enjoy the naked lifestyle, mostly it would seem while on holiday abroad. For them to sample the lifestyle in this country there must be some form of ‘halfway house’ where they can stay without making an overt commitment. The Clover then, seems to be ideally placed to entice these “newbies” as Polizzi called them, if Higgs followed her advice.
Although the programme at first put Higgs’ objection down to pig-headedness, it later transpired to be more practical. A simple door separated the living room area of the hotel, where Polizzi suggested guests should be clothed from the spa area, where they could be naked; where then could the guests dress and undress? What was really needed here was a compromise, why not have the dressed areas clothes optional? The debate about when and where to allow people the option of being nude or wearing clothes has been blowing hot and cold for sometime in naturist circles, without a conclusive answer. Stéphane Deschênes, the owner of Bare Oaks Family Naturist Park in Canada (www.bareoaks.ca) and host of The Naturist Living Show (www.naturistliving.bareoaks.ca), has argued that allowing the option of wearing clothes in clubs such as his would undermine the ambiance he is trying to create, one where social nudity prevails. Letting guests wear clothes for reasons other than for comfort in cold or wet weather could lead to a situation where none of them are naked at any point during their stay, as shown by what has happened, is happening, to Cap d’Agde. In that case, why promote yourself as a naturist venue?
The argument is a strong one and for establishments that are a mixture of club and resort, like Bare Oaks, I can see the point. The Clover, however, isn’t a club but a hotel and it needs people to occupy its rooms. For a naturist to argue against social nudity may seem odd, but in these circumstances I believe a softening of the policy is justified if the hotel is to survive. The figures do not lie; the UK naked-tourist market is just not big enough to sustain a hotel of the kind Higgs has created, even if it only has seven rooms. Higgs admitted that in creating the hotel, his heart ruled the head a little bit. Yet, if he had given more thought to where his guests are most likely to originate from before he embarked on the substantial changes to a large residential house were made, the alterations would have taken it into account. The reception could be strictly clothed, the dining and living rooms could be clothes optional, with the rest of the hotel – the larger part incidentally – strictly clothes free. It isn’t a matter of all nude, dressed or clothes optional, but what is most appropriate in any given circumstance.
Another part of the hotel operation that rankled ever so slightly with Polizzi was Higgs’ version of fine dining. As Polizzi admitted, it was good tasty food but it all come out of a packet and the kitchen resounded to the ping of a microwave rather then hiss of a gas ring. Having spent, by his own calculation, the better part of £1 million to create his hotel, why Higgs hadn’t engaged a part-time chef to create the evening meals from scratch is a question I waited in vain to be asked. At least that would be more in keeping with the niche hotel that Higgs was trying to create, with rooms costing between £70 and £140 per night.
What we must recognise, however, is that Higgs and others like him are pioneers. Nude tourism barely exists in this country. Yet there is a nascent industry developing, mostly B&Bs, as evidenced by the website Naturist Accommodation UK (https://naco.org.uk), and little is done to encourage further development, increasing the number and broadening the range of accommodation offered. In an article for the travel section of the South African-based Independent Online, Journalist Cynthia Johnston was able to quote the American Association for Nude Recreation (AANR) as stating that US nude tourism is worth around $440 million annually and that it had risen by 10 per cent over the last decade. Can anyone tell me what the British nude tourist industry is worth? I fear not, as this data is not collected.
I know it is a bit of a hobbyhorse of mine, but I cannot shake the gut instinct that nude tourism has a place in UK naturism too, providing an extra revenue stream for clubs. The history of UK naturism differs markedly from that in the US, of course, where the profit motive has been used to increase the range of facilities provided. In the UK, almost all of the clubs have developed to satisfy the needs of its members and tourism has played little or no part in its development. It may be decades away, but like any new industry, UK nude tourism must start somewhere. Some data about what already exists would be helpful, a quality assurance scheme, similar to that already offered by the British Tourist Board for B&Bs, would be even better, as it would confirm and drive up standards. Yet, the two organisations for which this role would be a natural home are silent on the matter.
In creating The Clover Spa and Hotel, Tim Higgs has placed his family’s life’s savings at risk and it would be a pity if this brave adventurer were to go under. Maybe Higgs needs to listen to the voice of experience in Alex Polizzi, but UK naturism should definitely give him and others, more support.
[CORRECTION: I have been told by an impeccable source the BN survey referred to above showed that potentially there are 4 million naturists in the UK, not 2 million as I wrote. Surely, with a potential market this size for niche hoteliers, B&Bs and clubs with holiday accommodation it only needs the right kind of support, to get established. RWB 21/08/12]
A footnote on the “did she or didn’t she” argument about Alex Polizzi’s “naked” appearance in the show. The programme’s narrative suggested that she did sample the hotel naked, but it wasn’t filmed. It is just a shame that high profile personalities are so reluctant to admit even a brief dalliance with naturism.