How to Support the Outdoor Industry During COVID-19 Article

© Greg Pittam

As a small but growing industry, the outdoor sphere will be severely impacted by the effects of COVID-19. One thing we've got going for us, however, is a tightly-knit community of climbers and walkers who have already demonstrated acts of solidarity towards climbing walls, outdoor freelancers and other small businesses. Crowdfunding pages have been set up and social media has been put to its best use in fielding support for the vulnerable and most hard-hit people during this time of need.

Supporting the outdoor industry will enable everyone to enjoy gear, walls and adventures in the future.  © Greg Pittam
Supporting the outdoor industry will enable everyone to enjoy gear, walls and adventures in the future.
© Greg Pittam

Here are some ways you can help keep the outdoor industry afloat and keep others in good spirits.

Firstly, though, the best way to ensure that the climbing industry - and the rest of the world - gets back back on its feet is by staying at home and putting climbing on hold. Read our UKC article for our stance on climbing during COVID-19.

  • Keep up your wall membership payments, donate or buy vouchers

We know this isn't an option for many people, but if you have the funds, consider keeping up direct debit payments and supporting your local wall to help them through to the other side. Walls are social hubs which contribute to physical and mental well-being. Some walls are freezing memberships while walls are closed and starting opt-in schemes for customers who would like to continue paying, or encouraging people to buy punch-cards and gift vouchers. Prior to yesterday's lockdown, The Climbing Hangar chain were using membership money to keep staff on and give them a paid day off to help others, while also refurbishing walls and supporting microsuppliers. Any food left over from their cafés went to food banks.

The Climbing Academy chain say that the biggest challenge facing the climbing industry, like all others, is the lack of cash flow. 'Now that the government has stepped in and is paying 80% of salaries, the cash going out has slowed down significantly which is a great help,' Chief Executive Rich Emerson told UKC. 'However, we will all still have cash going out. Rent, bills, insurance, paying invoices for goods received in the past few weeks - they all add up.'

In response to the wall closures, the climbing community has assisted TCA - and many walls around the country - by keeping up payments. 'We've had a huge number of people say that they will continue to pay their monthly memberships which is both amazingly generous and a massive help,' Emerson continued. 'However, we know that lots of people are in a really difficult position, where their income is going to be cut and they will face huge personal challenges.'

'Probably the best way that people can help our industry is to follow the government guidelines on social distancing and self isolation. That way we will get through this more quickly and come out the other side. As soon as we do, we just need everyone to come back into the walls and to start spending again.'

  • Buy online from (independent) outdoor retailers

While the postal service is still functioning, consider buying some kit for all the future trips you'll now have plenty of time to plan. Even easier - buy products or a gift card online to email to a friend and keep their spirits up, or treat yourself and keep it to spend in-store at a later date.

Outside is a popular, family-run outdoor shop based in Hathersage. As of 22 March, Outside shut its doors to customers to help prevent the spread of Covid-19 as people flocked to rural areas and vulnerable communities. Director James Turnbull told UKC:

'We made the tough decision to shut the doors. As a business that relies heavily on customer face to face service more than just online sales this is extremely worrying. However, whatever future this brings for our 33-year-old family business we know we have made the safe and right decision. Some things are just more important.'

Turnbull explained that people's favourite and local shops may have websites without the prominence of some larger retailers. 'Many of these may not be not as cheap as the online-only sites or bigger chains,' he said. 'While footfall drops, the bricks and mortar retailers will be hit hardest and people will look online for their products. Buying from these local shops online will support them through the hard times and hopefully allow doors to open again after the crisis. So now we are going to embrace these hard times as an opportunity to develop the business and maintain our presence in other ways.'

He also praised the community response to the shop's predicament. 'We have had an influx of positive messages about our choice to close and it is this support that will hopefully see us through the crisis. Please support us at and look out for cheesy posts and videos on social media that will aim to inform and entertain at the same time,' he said.

The other factor on buyer's minds will be the desire to be frugal during the crisis. 'This will be a difficult balancing act, if we all spend no money the economy will crash,' Turnbull commented. 'However, overspending could be a bad idea at time like this. When choosing products it will be worth considering both where you buy it and buying something that is of high quality and will last. You will also look after it better if you do, and it might just bring you much-needed pleasure at a time like this.'

The vast majority of outdoor brand Alpkit's staff are working from home. Stores closed on Monday, with a skeleton crew being maintained at HQ. Managing Director Nick Smith told UKC: 'Most of the gear you buy, we know you probably can't use a lot of it right now. But you will. The orders or gift vouchers you buy do help a lot, but at the moment it's about things we can do to protect our future.

'At this time we need people to believe passionately about our outdoor spaces, care about the effects they have on others and hope we see some change in behaviours.

'Our focus is on coming out of this as strong as possible, so it's been fantastic to get so much support over the last few days, we have an Alpkit Foundation meeting tonight (No Pub Grub though!) and I'm sure we will have a heavy focus on what we can do today for the wider community.

  • Buy some climbing books

Sheffield-based independent publisher Vertebrate Publishing has been especially hard-hit by the impact of COVID-19. 'Most of our income came from events, high street shops, and author activity - all that is now zero,' owner Jon Barton told UKC. 'Amazon stopped booking-in our deliveries last week to focus on household items. So we are left with our direct web sales and audio/ebooks.'

How can bookworm climbers help? 'The best thing for us is for folk to go onto our website and buy a book. To encourage this, we've got free UK shipping and 30% off. Alternatively, buy one of our books from a climbing store who sell online, or Amazon, or grab one of our books as an audio or ebook,' Barton explained. 'Buying our books now really does keep folk in jobs. Also, many of our authors are self employed and they rely on book sales for their income.'

'Hard Rock is the best one to get,' he added.

  • Donate to a Crowdfunding campaign, or start one up

A crowdfunding campaign to support freelance routesetters was initiated this week. Consider donating to support your local move-makers and keep them in pocket.

Cailean Harker and Ben Norman started Impact Route Setting to run courses and workshops for people interested in route setting. Fortunately, both are currently employed as head routesetters at a wall and have a steady income through this difficult time. 'But not so long ago, this would have not been the case,' Norman told UKC, 'so we understand the real difficulties that a lot of people will be going through.'

The pair decided to set up a crowdfunding page to support self-employed setters. 'So far the support has been overwhelming and we are around halfway to our target of £5000. We are asking anyone that believes they could be eligible to go here and fill out the form,' Norman explained. 'From this, we will be able to ascertain those most in need (those without any other form of income, struggling to support dependents or unable to make payments on rent and mortgages) and split the money equally between these people.'

Impact are also offering a free route setting course to 10 people who donate to the fund. These will be randomly selected from those that have donated, irrespective of the size of the donation.

  • Book an instructor or coach for an unspecified date

Nobody knows how long COVID-19 will disrupt our lives, but why not book a session provisionally with a guide, instructor or coach for sometime in the future, which can always be rescheduled, and pay up front? Some walls have booked-in routesetters and coaches in an attempt to keep them afloat.

  • Buy some climbing/outdoor films

While there's plenty of free videos to watch online, consider buying or renting a film from independent adventure filmmakers. Some of the most well-known with films to stream include Hot Aches Productions, Dark Sky Media, Posing Productions and Lightshed Pictures, a couple of whom are doing discount deals and/or online photography/filmmaking sessions.

  • Download and subscribe to the Rockfax App

We won't be climbing anywhere for a while, but this doesn't mean you can't browse your favourite destinations and plan big trips for the future. Membership costs either £3/month if paid annually (£36/year), or £4/month if paid monthly, which gives you access to the entire Rockfax catalogue. Sign up here.

  • Build a home wall

Get creative and construct a home wall, as many are doing, and buy some holds to support hold manufacturers. Share you best ones with us, as we'll be doing an article on the best ones!

  • Share your training/keep-fit routines/expertise

We're all in need of some inspiration at the moment, so join in the social media challenge trends and share some tips with friends and followers. #See10Do10Share10, #bananalockchallenge, etc. There's plenty of motivation on social media just now.

  • Look out for older and vulnerable friends and family

Climbers or not, check in with at-risk friends online and make sure they're doing OK. Give them a call, or drop supplies at their doorstep after a shopping trip if you are asymptomatic and not under self-isolation, while taking all social distancing precautions and following lockdown guidelines.

If you have any good ideas for how to support others in the outdoor community, let us know in the forum comments below!

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