The directors present their report and the financial statements for the year ended 31 March 2021 (as published 23rd September).
Full Directors’ Report and Annual Accounts can be found here.
The year ending March 2021 can only be described as unprecedented and the impact of COVID on our sport, members, clubs and partners has been significant.
Back in March 2020, our operating environment significantly changed and our focus naturally changed to supporting and protecting our sport and members.
Emerging from this our strategic objectives remain broadly intact although the way that we will achieve these has necessarily changed.
Our vision is for a strong, successful, and sustainable fencing community with a mission to inspire and enable people to start, stay and succeed in fencing, underpinned by our core values of honesty, respect, and excellence.
Our strategic objectives also remain unchanged:
1. Leadership, Culture and Governance
Underpinned by the BF values of Honesty, Respect and Excellence, the BF Board has continued to provide transparency through updates to members throughout the year and to support the BF executive team in meeting the challenges of COVID.
Whilst much of the in-person interaction with our members has declined, Board Members have joined the Executive team in connecting with the community through a variety of online Community Discussions and Listening Events.
The Board regularly discusses culture within our sport in terms of its importance in encouraging diversity, promoting well-being, and ensuring a safe environment, particularly in the context of recent events in other sports. The Board believes our sport has a positive athlete culture and we continue to monitor and identify areas for improvement. As part of this we get feedback from the elected GBR Athlete Panel.
On diversity matters, we believe we have made good progress on our Board and in our staff, but we need to renew our efforts around diversity in participation of our sport, especially around gender and ethnic diversity. We have been providing more education to ADP coaches around topics such as well-being, gender discrimination, menstruation and mental health issues and we will continue to do this. The Board receives an update from the CEO on safeguarding at each meeting.
The Board is pleased to report that BF continues to comply with all aspects of the UK Code for Sports Governance. It remains our aim to be a well-run National Governing Body conforming to best practices according to this code.
During the 2020-21 year, three Board Directors left the Board. John Troiano, Chair of the AGRC, Anne-Catrin Sallaba and Reedah El-Saie. Joining the Board as elected Directors were James Williams and Pat Aiyenuro.
2. Sustainability and Core Services
In the years prior to the start of the pandemic the Board aim was to set and meet a broadly balanced budget each year.
Following the significant reduction in public funding for the 2017-21 funding cycle, BF underwent several rounds of cost reduction activities to reduce operating costs. This left little room for further cuts through the pandemic.
In March 2020 we prepared a revised budget for the year to March 2021 showing a deficit of around £90,000 because of expected reduced revenues. This was based on an expected return to some form of activity in Q3. In November 2020 the Board approved a further revised budget that showed a better result in 2020-21 than originally thought, but which extends the impact into the next financial year. This is largely due to the revenue recognition model which means that membership income is not 100% recognised at the time of receipt, instead recognised on a monthly basis for the 12 month period of the membership. Across the two-year period we are aiming for a combined deficit no worse than one third of our pre-COVID reserves.
The Board believes that if necessary this would be an appropriate use of our reserves and does not prejudice the financial stability of BF. Indeed, it would allow us to sustain resources to support our members now and in the future, ensuring a better restart and recovery.
Through the pandemic, the Board continued to monitor financial management and risk through the Audit Governance and Risk Committee, reviewing financials monthly to ensure we kept on top of the situation and put in place mitigation plans to manage any impact next year.
From March 2020, BF continued to deliver adapted services to members and stakeholders in accordance with Government advice.
We are extremely grateful for the flexibility and additional support from our funding partners – UK Sport and Sport England – which has played a vital role in achieving operational and financial stability.
It is important to stress that, thanks to the support of our membership and funding partners, BF is managing to retain a solid foundation and this will enable us to support a quicker re-start and rebuilding of our sport in response to easing restrictions.
Commercial revenues from Coach Education and Licensing fell significantly. This is a vital area to focus on in 2021-22 as surplus generated through these is used to fund our core activity in supporting and growing the sport of fencing. Our Primary School Resource Pack and our License Partner Programme will be a primary focus to support commercial partners, as levels of activity in schools and activity providers return. Rebuilding our commercial revenue streams will be a vital part of our long-term financial sustainability.
Read the full Commercial update here.
The Board continues to monitor the impact of the pandemic on the operations of BF, its members, partners, stakeholders and on the wider society, ensuring that both resources and processes are in place to best mitigate any further disruption to operations, whilst also putting in place measures to protect the long-term sustainability of the organisation.
As mentioned above, the Board expect the impact of reduced membership revenues will continue to impact BF into 2021-22, but they are confident that reserves are sufficient to cover the expected deficit.
3. Membership & Club Support
During the 2020-21 financial year, membership declined by almost 40% over the year finishing with a total of 6,457 in March 2021 (in comparison with 10,630 March 2020).
The effect on all membership categories were broadly the same – no single membership type was affected worse or better than the others.
The membership numbers were reflected in the financials where membership revenues fell to £350,281 (compared to 2019-20 £414,755, 2018-19 £415,352). 40% of membership fees (£131,018, exc. finance charges) were paid on to the Home Country Associations leaving £219,263 available to BF to support delivery of those services. Coming out of COVID, rebuilding membership and the associated income will be vital to re-building a financially resilient organisation that can deliver continually improving services to members and clubs.
During 2021-22 BF held over 30 online community discussion and listening events – with an average of 30 members attending each event and over 270 (60%) affiliated clubs represented in total. A significant effort was put into communicating with our members and clubs, providing information, resources and access to funding to help them throughout the pandemic. A cross Home Country Working Group was established to facilitate the consistency of messaging across the UK, recognising that each Home Nation faced different restrictions and different timelines.
England Fencing continue to fund a Development Officer for Clubs and Regions, providing valuable support in the absence of public funding to support this role. BF was awarded a Sport England grant to undertake an independent review of Regional Governance practices on behalf of England Fencing and BF. Working with the Regional Chairs this project continues into 2021-22, identifying areas of best practice and governance improvement to underpin the work of the Regions in developing fencing.
Read the full Membership and Clubs report here.
4. GBR Athlete Support & Development
We continue the work to extend the ADP programme from the Sport England funded U23 activities into the Seniors space thanks to support from UK Sport, BF Charity and The Epee Club.
Following the postponement of Tokyo 2020, UK Sport extended Medal Support Plan funding to support our highest world ranked athlete, Marcus Mepstead.
Thanks to successful Continuity Funding applications to UK Sport, BF was able to create the opportunity for small groups of athletes across all weapons to train using the government Elite Exemption structure, designed specifically to support athletes on a pathway to Tokyo. Partnership working with PentathlonGB created the opportunity for joint elite training in Bath and we also welcomed wheelchair fencers into our London training sessions.
This government Elite Exemption was also used to allow senior athletes to participate in competitions in preparation for the April Zonal Qualifiers.
There was a significant amount of administrative support from BF required to meet the strict government guidelines and provide this opportunity for athletes to train and compete.
Following the publication of our pathway framework (https://www.britishfencing.com/athlete-development-programme-zone/athlete-development-pathway/) we have started work on embedding this as the foundation to all the athlete development work we do.
We were delighted to launch a strategic partnership with Scottish Fencing for performance and pathway development in Scotland which sees SF adopting the pathway framework and aligning their pathway activities with the BF pathway framework.
Much of our ADP athlete delivery moved online – our 6 online ADP ’Camps’ engaged with over 100 ADP athletes and, where practical, we opened up some of these learning sessions to our wider fencing community.
The majority of our work in the ADP continues to be funded by Sport England (£139,984 in 2020-21) and no membership income is allocated to this programme.
Following a successful bid, we were awarded an indicative £1.6m of UK Sport Progression funding as part of the 2021-24 investment cycle targeting 2032 success. The primary purpose of Progression funding is to develop a cohort of athletes and coaches for 2032, whilst also creating a ‘World Class Ready’ system and structure to support future medal hopes. A small and specific National Teams budget is designed to support a more formalised structure for the senior teams representing GB at the highest level of competition (Senior European and Senior World Championships). The next step will be to bid for targeted UK Sport funding to support seniors with evidenced trajectories to medal success in Paris and/or LA.
Planning for the 2021-22 competition season continues to prove challenging in light of domestic restrictions and uncertainty over international travel and we anticipate a difficult time ahead as we aim to support the restart of GBR selection and representative competition.
In light of a number of postponements and cancellations of competitions at the highest level the BF Board would like to take this opportunity to formally recognise the achievements of those selected athletes who subsequently missed the opportunity to represent GBR.
The full report on the Athlete Development Programme can be found here.
5. Insight led, participant centred Projects and Programmes
We continue to support some great programmes, majority funded by Sport England, working with partners and stakeholders including London Youth, Maslaha (Muslim Girls Fence) and The Scout Association. These projects continue to make a measurable difference to a range of communities. These underpin our belief that fencing can and should be a sport that is accessible to all, increasing exposure of more people to the benefits of sport and physical activity as well as improved mental wellbeing.
Some of our Sport England funded programmes like Muslim Girls Fence and Scouts have been able to sustain themselves well through the pandemic, supported by new online resources. Our focus since the end of the summer has been to help remaining programmes like London Youth and Higher Education, in restarting and recovering.
During the 2020-21 financial year, in-person delivery across our portfolio of Projects and Programmes was significantly reduced. Our focus moved to supporting the set-up of online delivery, staying connected with partners and supporting people to be active.
For all the challenges that the pandemic has bought us and the physical distance it has created, it has also given us the opportunity to be more connected than ever with our partners. We have used the power of technology to connect and share learnings with partners and grow our understanding of what we can do to better support the delivery of fencing across a variety of settings.
We developed a series of videos to support the Scouts #TheGreatIndoors project to support them in their delivery at home, moved our Muslim Girls Fence sessions online, with the first session taking place just over two weeks after first lockdown was announced and continued engagement with over 50 Higher Education Club Officers to ensure they had the most relevant and up to date information on COVID restrictions.
Through 4 film screenings of ‘Nobody’s Metaphor’, we shared the powerful story of Muslim Girls Fence with both national and international audiences.
Towards the end of the financial year, working with the BF Charity we secured funding to launch a project to explore the role that fencing can play with young people with Autistic Spectrum Disorders.
Read the full Projects and Programmes report here.
6. Events, Competitions and Calendars
Lockdown brought the postponement and subsequent cancellation of all our 2020-21 major events, starting with the 2020 Senior National Championships. As the months went, continual re-planning activities took place as government advice and restrictions were subject to change in different ways across the UK.
As we start to plan for 2021-22 it is evident that the impact of the pandemic has affected venue availability and addressing this, along with supporting our event officials, are two areas of future focus.
Prior to 2020-21 we had been consistently improving the financial performance of the BF events portfolio, almost reaching breakeven (excluding staff cost). It is anticipated that costs for events will now rise and there is a strongly possibility we will be facing a deficit in this area in 2021-22.
The pandemic provided an opportunity to work on the new automated ranking service to support the restart of ranking competitions, and over time ensure that fencers have access to the latest appropriate rankings.
To help provide fencers (BF recreational level membership and above) competitive sparring opportunities in affiliated club settings, we have launched ‘The GB League’, a recreational league which removes traditional competition boundaries of age groups and gender.
Read the full report on Events here.
7. Coaching & Workforce Development
As in-person education and development opportunities could not take place, we adapted our delivery to provide alternative methods for those wishing to continue developing their skillsets, whilst also supporting them to meet minimum registration standards in preparation for the restart of fencing activities.
New provisions of online education, training and resources were developed including Core Coach modules, Introduction to Coaching Fencing (ITCF), Safeguarding & Protecting Children in Sport, Welfare Officer training, and updated content through the Explore Fencing App.
Moving forward we expect to retain a hybrid delivery model for coaching and workforce development, using the learnings from this year to identify which training mechanism works best for each topic, situation and learner.
Read the full Coaching and Workforce Development report here.
8. In Closing
Overall the Board recognises that this has been an incredibly challenging year. Thanks to the support of our funding partners and the exceptionally hard work of our small but dedicated staff team we have continued to be able to serve and support our community, albeit in very different ways, minimising the impact on members’ reserves.
Of course a massive thanks also to the volunteers for their commitment in support of our sport.
As at 31st March 2021, 5/11 Board Directors are women (45%). 36% of the occupied Director positions are ethnically diverse (4 of 11) and 27% are Black (3 of 11). The Board met its targets in respect of gender diversity (minimum 30% of either gender) and other identified protected diversity characteristics. The Board continues to work towards maintaining gender diversity and increasing representation from young people, diverse ethnicities and people with disabilities.
As at 31st March 2021, 4/7 members of the BF Executive Team with area management responsibilities were women (57%).
In November 2016 a new Code for Sports Governance was published which sets out a range of requirements that BF and other organisations in sport must meet to be eligible for public funding.
BF became fully compliant in 2017-18. The Board regularly reviews this status. Much of the work to remain compliant is now embedded into the work programme of the Board and policies and activities were reviewed and performed in accordance with the annual Board work programme. There were no areas of outstanding compliance identified.
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