This autumn Warwick Skydiving capped off an extremely successful year by winning the Real World Awards national competition for most improved club in the United Kingdom. The results were announced on September 10th, securing the club the prize money of £3000.
Warwick Skydiving began last year with 99 members, but by the end of the year had more than doubled its membership to 250. Before 2007-8, the club had been primarily focused on success in the British Collegiate Parachute Association League, with emphasis on training and advancing experienced skydivers. But at the end of the 2006-7 academic year the club’s leadership fell into the hands of the less experienced members.
Left with only three qualified skydivers, the club rethought their strategy. Knowing they did not have the reserves of experience necessary to succeed in their competitive league, Nick Ellison, then Publicity and Recruitment Chair, and his fellow officers developed a new philosophy; “We thought: ‘Let’s not concern ourselves with winning competitions, we’ll just make the club as good as it can be. The rest will follow’.”
The new officers, led by Robert Smith as president, developed a business approach where they put a great deal of effort into persistent advertising and publicity. As Nick Ellison recalls, “One thing I would say really helped was a new effort at branding and giving a business like image to the club. A new logo, new designs for clothing, a new website and new efforts towards professional looking publicity all helped.” Their aggressive campaign of posters, stalls in the piazza and kitchen visits, coupled with increasingly subsidised training, led to a dramatic increase in membership.
However, the real innovation that bolstered the club’s success was The Great Warwick Jump, where students raised money for charity by participating in a sponsored skydive. Nick Ellison and Robert Smith came up with the idea for a weekend long charity event, expecting the participation of fewer than 100 students. The interest far surpassed their expectations, with 110 students jumping and a staggering 20,000 pounds raised for charity. This has made them the number one charity event at the University of Warwick.
Importantly this event was not limited to experienced skydivers, but open to newcomers who were able to complete a tandem jump strapped to an instructor or a beginners’ static line course. Up until last year tandem jumps were not a feature of the club, as they do not gain the participating skydivers any points in the national skydiving league. But Smith and Ellison decided that any participation in the event would be worthwhile for the club, regardless of the points system. This has again proved inspirational, as many of the participants have continued with the sport.
This year they plan to make the event even bigger and better, with both Nick Ellison and Robert Smith entering new roles as the Great Warwick Jump Chairmen. They have already secured the sponsorship of Deloitte and hope to dramatically improve on the fundraising total from last year.
New President, Louise Barnett, is keen to build on last year’s triumphs. With a new training ground, Weston DZ, closer to the University, she hopes to increase recruitment and participation in wind tunnel trips, beginners’ courses and further team activities.
The skydivers’ success was first recognised by Warwick Sport where they were awarded with the Most Improved Sports Club in June, following it up with first position in the British Collegiate Parachute Association’s Achievement League. The latest acclamation from Real World Magazine this autumn cements a year of phenomenal accomplishment for the club.
The Warwick Skydivers’ achievements represent a lesson for others wishing to rejuvenate a club. The officers’ firm commitment to publicity and subsidised costs for first time skydivers paid dividends when many of the beginners decided to continue with the sport. As Nick Ellison puts it, “The club’s successes can be attributed to the professional work ethic of the executive committee, which adopted a business style approach without losing focus on the sport.”