Chiswick Confined – My Corona blog Week 11

Keith Richards, writer and resident of Chiswick, living on his own, has started writing a diary of his Corona lock down. Beginning on 24 March, he’s documenting the experience from his last pint in a pub onwards.

Day 73 – Friday 5 June 2020

I hardly thought, not much longer than a year ago, when I agreed to become the Chairman of Old Isleworthians Rugby Club (OIRFC) that I would be helping to co-ordinate our way through a pandemic. I have talked about the club before: how it is one sports section of Old Isleworthians Association, (the others being football and cricket) and how we grew from being for alumni of the old Isleworth Grammar School (now Isleworth and Syon School) to being an open club for the local community and beyond.

Local sports clubs of all kinds, particularly for team-based sport, have struggled in the last few years as falling player numbers result in declining income. Not that long ago many local clubs were running multiple sides over a weekend but now struggle to get one or two out and this is not just rugby but football, cricket, hockey and others as well. In my playing days into the ‘90’s we were still getting three and sometimes four rugby XV’s out but now it is just one, with the occasional 2nd XV or veterans match.

Societal changes are a key part of the problem. Teenagers preferring to stay at home playing video style games, the growth of gyms and the increase in accessibility of individual sports such as cycling, golf, rock climbing and martial arts being some of the most obvious.

I could write whole articles about the need for team and communal sports as a channel for frustration, as an opportunity for youth from BAME populations and for the provision of a community to provide support for disenchanted and isolated young people. Indeed as we learn more about the impact of the Covid crisis on mental health I believe community sports should become even more valuable. In addition, the UK’s response to Black Lives Matter and the disproportionate number of Covid related deaths in the BAME community, have highlighted the need for improvements in recognition and incorporation of the needs of the youth of various ethnic groups, and clubs such as ours have a role to play in that.

Putting all that aside for the moment, once the consequences of the pandemic and the commencement of Lock Down became apparent, it was clear that in common with many local clubs we were in a battle of survival. For many clubs it is the income from match day fees and bar revenue that enable their financial survival. For us both the rugby and football seasons were truncated and the start of the cricket season delayed so, apart from the player’s frustration, the impact on revenue was immediate.

It was particularly galling for OIRFC as we had also achieved promotion as winners of our Middlesex Merit table with two matches still to be played so there was the presentation and the celebrations to look forward to. In addition, we were in the Final of the Middlesex Vase. That may still happen at some point but we have lost the momentum that a successful season had generated in team spirit – and bar income. However, Old Isleworthians Association are luckier than many clubs as we actually own our own Clubhouse and the greater part of our ground and have been able to generate income from it.

We have also been fortunate that our local partners in these enterprises have been supportive. We also have a strong and capable management committee, all of whom are longstanding members and played various sports over the years. It was only when I joined as Chairman (after years of working away overseas) that I appreciated how much effort many of these guys had put into running the club over the years. However, I know from my own interactions with other sports clubs are not so lucky, either in financial terms or in having a proactive volunteer management team.

Our first step was to assess our ability to survive in the worst-case scenario of losing all our revenue. We had to model how long we could continue with no match day income. Several weddings and birthday parties that had booked our hall and bar were obviously now impossible and what would happen if our partners’ businesses could no longer afford to continue? Suddenly, we were all learning how to use Zoom for our meeting to share spread-sheets comparing alternative outcomes.

Managing our overheads was critical while the clubhouse remained closed. It was clear there is a limited time that any organisation can continue without income. Hounslow Council’s grant for community bodies has gone a long way to ensuring our ability to continue until such time as sport gradually starts and we can re-open our bar. I know that many clubs would simply have gone under with out it. Even now it is possible we will see many local clubs struggling to start over post lock down. It is not just the clubs directly. OIRFC’s sponsor is The Royal Oak in Isleworth. Like may pubs they are suffering. In their case, even when some local trade is allowed it will be even longer before their all-important revenue from matches and other events at Twickenham starts again.

Apart from ensuring financial survival we have had to become Zoom experts to meet (easier said than done for some of us oldies) to discuss how we communicate and keep in touch with members, to consider any issues round wellbeing and now, how to gradually start some activities in line with government guidelines. As Chairman I am planning how the club does it’s first ever Zoom AGM. It would be possible to just postpone until we fully reopen but we feel we should be pro-active. In any case, how long will it be until a full meeting inside with an operational bar will be permitted?

The other big issue for us is how and when do we start limited training? Rugby is all about the contact and will therefore be amongst the last to get going again but Club Captain Stuart and his players are desperate to do something. In theory, we could start in groups of six at a time but feel we should wait until the next easing of restrictions in, hopefully, a couple of weeks time.

So, when I agreed to become a Chairman I envisaged propping up the club bar, buying the odd jug for the lads and imparting some sage advice. Instead I have had a crash course in coping with a pandemic. What I have learned is how clubs like Old Isleworthians have a keep part to play in the community that will become ever more apparent as the weeks progress. I have also learnt that they are dependent on the good will and management skills of a disparate group of volunteers. So, I shall Blog about when rugby training starts again and, probably more important, when the bar re-opens. You will be welcome than but in the meantime support your local sports and community clubs wherever you are. When we try to heal from the collective trauma of this crisis we will need communal places to gather, to share experiences and to support those that need it.

While I am not going to say too much about the announcement that several local streets, including Devonshire Road and Turnham Green Terrace, will be at least partly pedestrianised let me at least congratulate Hounslow Council. Obviously, as I have been blogging in favour I am very much in support but I recognise there is still work to be done in liaising with local traders before confirming the full details. I would add one comment however. In the responses from traders and those that oppose the idea there are complaints of over rigorous parking enforcement. I beg to differ. I have spoken about how the reduction in traffic has apparently led to some to believe reckless driving and anti-social parking is acceptable.

I am not going to become some parking vigilante but here is a case in point. This example certainly qualifies as my second ‘Dick of the Week’. As can be seen from the photo, the increase in parking on corners, even if “its only for a few f*cking minutes mate”, is dangerous. Here it has forced a young mother with her pushchair and child to have to detour into the road round a van parked across the pedestrian access. In this case, just as another car is also coming out of the side road, that has no vision because of the parked van. This is clearly potentially dangerous and, despite traders’ claims, this happens all too often and they too need to discourage it.

Those that regularly read my Blog will know I post some of my, and my friends’, old Vinyls. This started as a kind of link to the nostalgia and introspection that has come out of isolation and lock down and, though we are moving away from this period the feature is still popular. I try to find local links to the album and the artist where possible but in the last couple of days have featured songs that play to the protest against the fight against racism and in support of Black Lives Matter, not just in the USA but closer to home in the UK too.

The Byrds Greatest Hits featured here was released in 1967 which is a bit of a misnomer because they released eight more albums after this date. I tried to find if they played locally during their infrequent trips to London but the closest were Fairfield hall, Croydon and Flamingo Club, Soho in 1965 (their first ever tour) and a few times at the Royal Albert Hall in 1968 and the ‘70’s.

On the back of the cover is a sticker that says 32/8. For those of you somewhat younger than me that is thirty-two shillings and sixpence or, in today’s money, one pound sixty-three pence. Out of interest, I Googled what the real equivalent price would be today and got twenty-eight quid! That’s why we tended to save up and could only afford a few L.P.s in our collections! There are some classic songs that these days are really thought to hark back to the hippy era of ‘Peace and Love’, probably my favourite being Eight Miles High (which we often were).

In fact, the song I am featuring, Turn Turn Turn was written by Folk singer Pete Seeger and first recorded in 1959. It counts as a Protest Song and was often used in marches against the Vietnam War. However, it is not just about peace and love. The song is actually based on verses from the Bible (King James version, Ecclesiastes 3 i-viii) and if you know anything about the Old Testament you will appreciate ‘an eye for an eye’ was a routine response. The whole point of the biblical context is that there is a time for peace but there is also a time for war. It is very, very seldom you will find me quoting the Bible but ……….

A time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up;
A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance;
A time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together;

I suspect the Black community have made their decision on which time it is for them.

Please comment by email to keith@outsiderinside.co.uk or on twitter @outsiderinside1 – check out the daily Blog on my website outsiderinside.co.uk