From steady decline to a thriving, innovative club with hundreds of young anglers, Hull and District Anglers’ Association is a success story with the local community at its heart. Dom Garnett spoke to Youth Development Officer Derek Pye to discover how they achieved their remarkable change of fortunes.
Right across the angling world these days, similar issues tend to be stuck on repeat. From ageing participants, to lack of funds and ever more distracted kids, heads nod grimly in agreement. But is decline inevitable?
One club bucking the trend is Hull DAA, who are not transforming fishing in their community, but have created a roadmap that others could easily follow. Speaking to Derek Pye, who has been one of many instrumental individuals to their success, you can’t help but feel inspired by the many ways they have rejuvenated angling in and around the city. Here are just some of the key lessons and factors in their transformation.
Start with simple, positive steps
It can feel daunting to try and change anything, but by taking simple, positive first steps, it’s amazing how goodwill tends to grow.
“Our efforts started with a simple conversation about how we might stop club’s decline” says Derek. “Older anglers weren’t being replaced by new kids- and we needed to reverse that trend.”
The change wasn’t built overnight. Any club relies on volunteers and at the start there were just four to start the coaching. From this modest beginning and small early successes, however, came much greater efforts and a kind of snowball effect.
Build partnerships and reach out for the right support
What do the Trans-Penine Express, Crime Reduction Unit, Tesco and Environment Agency Rod Licence money have in common? The answer is that all have helped fund vital work for Hull DAA. Nobody loves paperwork; but being bold and hitting a wide range of potential sources can pay off hugely.
Of course, there is dedicated support in the angling world today, too, such as the Get Fishing team (getfishing.org.uk), who can help any angling club to grow their participation and run successful events.
“There are various pots of funding to bid for and that sense of community partnership is so important” says Derek. “The Crime Reduction Unit have been huge for us; but they know what we’re doing works to engage youngsters from tough backgrounds.”
The railway group were perhaps an even bigger surprise, but as Derek points out, many companies are keen to help their local communities and generate positive headlines, especially in the era of social media.
Urban fisheries and accessible waters are vital
With such huge numbers of us living in towns and cities, urban venues are the starting point for countless anglers and it’s vital we don’t lose them.
“These places are so important!” Derek concurs. “We might be Hull Anglers’ Association, but at one point we had no city fisheries; the older venues had become no go areas.”
Thanks to the club’s efforts, however, Hull DAA now have two rejuvenated urban gems that are key to what they do, with Oak Road Pond and Willows Pond offering cheap, accessible fishing in the heart of suburbia. Critically, the club have renovated and protected these sites, forging a good relationship with the city council and making them safe and secure
Support from rod licence money via the Angling Improvement Fund, not to mention stocks of roach, tench and crucians from the Environment Agency overseen by area officer Mike Lea, have helped no end here to create better access and features such as secure fences and gates to combat vandalism. The result? Great venues for coaching right in the city, available to all.
Sessions have to be safe, free and friendly
From an early stage, Hull DAA realised that sessions had to be free to get good attendances. “Times aren’t easy and a lot of families in the city don’t have much money” says Derek. “My generation used to just roam about on bikes and go fishing but those days are gone. Parents are much more concerned about safety, and everything has to be properly done, with qualified, CRB checked coaches and volunteers.”
Talking of parents, the club are also keenly aware that these are as important to win over as the kids. “Mums and dads are so important- so we make events very sociable. Shelter helps and we always have the kettle on!”
At just £10 for annual junior membership, or £40 an adult, the club also keep memberships affordable. No surprise, therefore, that juniors have joined by the hundreds after the sessions.
Get families and female participants onside
While many angling clubs are fighting against decline, could the sport be missing a trick by not engaging enough with female participants? Derek thinks so.
“Fishing can’t keep doing the same old, same old” he says “we have to reach out to girls and mums. This has to be the future.” The results are there to see, too, with the club encouraging more girls to join their dads and brothers on the bank.
“We had 199 girls attend our events last year, which has to be a step in the right direction,” says Derek. “One of our girls also finished first place in the cadet level of the Junior National Angling Championships!”
Take their fishing further!
While it’s great for any fishing club to get youngsters trying fishing, a key challenge is to keep their interest up over time. So often, this means providing different routes for further development.
“We wanted to give kids variety and show different kinds of fishing” explains Derek. “Otherwise, you sometimes get those who will just come to the pond and float fish every week, without having a way to develop other skills.”
To address this, the club have branched out to get kids into different kinds of angling, from special winter pike sessions with the PAC, to rig tying classes and overnight carp fishing sessions.
“Some of our kids from the city estates have never been out in the countryside enjoying wildlife,” says Derek. “We have a barbeque and get them camping, and they absolutely love it. It just shows you that kids haven’t changed. Yes, they have more distractions these days, but they still love fishing and camping and all those other things we all used to do.”
Match angling is another great route to progression and the club are immensely proud of their results. Regular contests really sharpen the skills of the participants and in the Junior Nationals, the club had three anglers in the top six at cadet level.
Bring the generations together
Although the club’s “learn to fish” sessions attract lots of young anglers, all ages are encouraged as both coaches and participants. “One of the unintended positives is the coming together of different generations” says Derek. “Some of our guys are retired and at a bit of a loose end. The sessions give them a real sense of purpose and enjoyment, passing their skills on.”
“Quite a lot of our kids, and especially the boys, don’t see a lot of male role models or get positive interaction with men of grandparent age. The way they get on is wonderful to see and you find the youngsters not only come back again but will ask for coaches by name.”
Of course, another knock on effect is that alongside the kids, parents and grandparents will often get into fishing at the same time, or return to the sport after many years away. A huge boost not only for the club but for local tackle shops.
Make it rewarding for your coaches and volunteers
While so many angling clubs depend on volunteer efforts, a significant leap has been made at Hull DAA by giving some support and financial reward for their coaches. This is by no means a fortune, but has made a big difference in encouraging and retaining coaches and making sure they are not out of pocket.
“We ran for 3 years only providing petrol money and a bite of lunch” says Derek, “but our numbers doubled each year until it got to a tipping point where we said we’d have to either scale back or get more coaches and pay them expenses. Perhaps not every club can do this, but with it has been key to us to keep growing and encourage volunteers.”
Expenses range from £20-£30 depending on the experience of the coach, but this simple step is hugely significant in rewarding volunteers and making them feel valued. It also helps, you suspect, in getting wives and partners on board, as the coaches then have some reimbursement for their time to show when they return home.
Give kids responsibility and set expectations
A huge part of the progress made by the youngsters at Hull DAA is the way they are set boundaries and encouraged to take responsibility.
“We always say that the price of entry to our events is good behaviour!” says Derek. By setting out clear expectations, it is rare that anyone needs telling off- and the only recent time this happened actually turned into a positive. We had a couple of boys throwing maggots about, just silly stuff, but they were quickly dealt with and left the session. It said it all that next week they came straight back saying they were really sorry and asking we would take them fishing again.”
The club know for a fact that the sessions are a big help to kids who struggle at school or find it hard to concentrate. The feedback from local schools has been incredibly positive and some of the parents even use the sessions as a reward for good behaviour.
Make today’s learners tomorrow’s teachers
Talking of giving kids responsibility, one of the best aspects of Hull DAA’s programme of coaching is the smart way they turn today’s learners into tomorrow’s coaches. This way, you have a model that is sustainable and take the key step of inspiring tomorrow’s leaders and role models.
“We make a real priority of our younger guys- many of whom get their level one coaching badge at just fifteen to sixteen years old,” Derek says. Again, it’s a great step for angling but also has huge wider importance.
“These young people are often quite shy when they start, but you can see their confidence grow. One of the really wonderful things is seeing the development of those who are perhaps not the most academic but have a natural ability as coaches and mentors. All our young coaches get paid expenses just like the older coaches, too, and in many cases they open their first bank account as a result.”
Besides priceless confidence and life skills, all the youngsters who take this road gain a qualification and positive experience to take to employers. Even better, they inspire and support others, with several young coaches now involved with peer mentoring and worthwhile projects with the likes of HeadStart, which helps young people overcome mental health difficulties.
Make the most of Angling Trust membership and fishery forums!
We’ve already mentioned the club’s record of smart networking and picking up new contacts and ideas, but another excellent source for this is to attend regional Fisheries Forums (which is where I first met Derek and heard about their excellent work).
Organised by the Angling Trust, these meetings are completely free and provide a wealth of local contacts and ideas. Clubs like Hull DAA are always willing to share their knowledge and exchange ideas- and this exchange of good practice and knowhow is truly priceless!
Of course, you needn’t be in the Angling Trust to attend, but as a member club, Hull DAA have made great use of the advice and support available, whether that means coaching pathways, peace of mind with insurance cover or help with practical matters in growing your organisation.
Take heart – and be the change you want to see!
Along with all the lessons learned over years of effort, the overwhelming message you get from Hull DAA is one of hope. You don’t need to have friends in high places or huge budgets to make a difference, just a willingness to do your bit and build the right connections.
One of the phrases that comes up again and again in conversation with the club is “unintended positives”. In other words, all those brilliant things which happen as things improve and more people get on board. From the social impact on youngsters, through to hundreds of new trees being planted and healthier green spaces in the city, the effects have been widespread.
“We wanted as many people as possible to be part of our success” says Derek, “and as you do that, the club’s reputation grows and everyone can see the positives. These days, when police, social workers and medical practitioners meet with the council, fishing has a seat at the table. You only have to ask teachers, parents and social workers in the city to see the difference angling makes to local youngsters.”
Long may that continue- and who knows, perhaps your local club could be the next success story to build a brighter future for angling and communities alike.