Plans to move the British Mountaineering Council and the Alpine Club (AC) to the same building in Sheffield have been revealed in a House of Commons Early Day Motion. The plan is the most radical shake-up to how climbing is represented in the UK since the formation of the BMC in December 1944. It promises to refocus both organisations and make the Alpine Club's highly regarded library more accessible, but some critics will resent a perceived Peak District bias to British climbing.
Angela Smith, the Labour Member of Parliament for the Sheffield Hillsborough constituency and the BMC's parliamentary representative for mountaineering, put forward an early day motion for the House of Commons on Tuesday 23 October.
Early day motions (EDMs) are formal motions submitted for debate in the House of Commons. Very few EDMs are actually debated. They are used for reasons such as publicising the views of individual MPs, drawing attention to specific events or campaigns, and demonstrating the extent of parliamentary support for a particular cause or point of view.
In the EDM Ms. Smith was big upping the Alpine Club (AC), the British Mountaineering Council (BMC), climbing and mountaineering's positive role in health and fitness, and Sheffield as the centre of British Climbing.
This is what she put forward:
"That this House notes the importance of mountaineering to the UK in terms of its status as an elite sport; further notes that mountaineering, rock-climbing and other mountain-related activities such as hill-walking enjoy high levels of participation across the country, hence making a major contribution to the country's health and fitness agenda; recognises the critical role played in the development of mountain sports culture by organisations such as the British Mountaineering Council and the Alpine Club; further recognises the particular importance of the city of Sheffield to the UK's mountain sports culture given its status as a world-class centre of rock-climbing; and places on record its support for Sheffield's ambition to promote further its mountain sports culture as an essential part of its sports and recreation on offer." (link)
What is Ms. Smith's motive here?
In short, sources who didn't want to be named told UKClimbing.com that there are plans, speculative at the moment, to move the Alpine Club (website) and the BMC (website) to Sheffield, specifically to the Graves Gallery in Sheffield.
The Alpine Club is based in a five-storey Victorian warehouse at Charlotte Road, London and was founded 1857; its purpose is to promote alpinism and to provide a club for alpinists. The Alpine Club's library contains over 25,000 books, journals and maps, and is an important resource for research and the documentation of alpinism worldwide. The Alpine club was also instrumental in the formation of the British Mountaineering Council from 1944 onwards.
However, many think the AC is getting out of touch and the majority of members aren't getting any younger. A move to Sheffield would put it in touch with more active climbers and importantly by the sale of its property at Charlotte Road would release capital for various projects.
Some believe that the Alpine Club could take a more active role in British Climbing, especially if housed with the BMC in the same building. This would also put more emphasis on alpinism at the BMC who some see as concentrating too much on rockclimbing and competition climbing. Being housed in the same building would make it easier for the weighty Alpine Club and the BMC to execute joint projects. Sheffield's Alan Rouse library could also be housed alongside the Alpine Club library at the same location.
The BMC moved to their present HQ, a former church in West Didsbury, Manchester, in March 1995. At that time other locations were also considered including Plas y Brenin, a country house in the Peak District and office accommodation at the Foundry climbing wall in Sheffield.
We asked Dave Turnbull CEO of the BMC to comment on the above story, this is what he said,
"The idea of a Sheffield location isn't new for the BMC. Sheffield was on the table 11-12 years ago (the last time the BMC moved office) but we decided to stay in Manchester at the time - partly because it was seen as more 'neutral' - partly because of its proximity to Wales.
Over the years there have also been thoughts about a Peak District location - bringing the BMC to the climbers as it were. The BMC and Alpine Club have had outline discussions on a possible joint venture for at least 5 years; moving offices would be a major upheaval however and we would have to be absolutely convinced that there were very real benefits before taking such a big decision.
The BMC has an excellent office in Manchester and it would take an exceptional offer or opportunity for us to move.
Any such relocation would clearly require thorough consultation within the BMC. We're interested in talking to people who might be able to help; by pooling resources and with the right level of external support there must surely be the potential to create a great new show piece facility for British climbing."