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Stratford Sports Club holds extraordinary general meeting

CONCERNS over an ongoing weekly loss estimated to be around £4,000 at Stratford Sports Club were voiced at an extraordinary general meeting (EGM) last week which also head calls for greater transparency from the club board in its communication with members.

Four motions were discussed in a packed clubhouse with an estimated 200 plus members attending on Thursday evening.

The motions were: to introduce greater transparency, to introduce greater financial transparency, a questioning of the club’s goals a questioning of the organisational structure of the club. They were addressed to club chair Peter Jones and fellow club members to consider.

Stratford Sports Club.
Stratford Sports Club.

The need for an EGM may come as a surprise to some in Stratford following the unveiling of ambitious concept plans in December 2021 to turn Stratford Sports Club into a £15 million state-of-the-art facility known as Project Rubicon but times have changed and the field of play for discussion appears to have also as members – but by no means all of those gathered in the club – expressed their frustration at the lack of transparency in two key areas of last week’s meeting; communication and finance.

Former sports club chairman, George Fisher (2010 – 2016) addressed the meeting first and proposed the motions, he said:

“At no stage have I intended or wished to query the integrity of the board, individually or collectively....though that does not mean I agree with their approach over the past 2.5 years and the perceived lack of financial sustainability which we now have.

This meeting is actually what I believe the club should have convened around three years ago or whenever the plan was hatched to change the nature of the club, to diminish the importance and relevance of the individual sections and to move (using a political analogy) from a ‘power-sharing democracy’ to something which feels much closer to a dictatorship

We have not suggested a ‘no confidence’ vote in the board; the purpose of this meeting will, I hope, be to make constructive points and ultimately to create a better club for everybody.”

As regards the first motion he said he didn’t believe the membership had been consulted sufficiently on the apparent shift in the nature of the club over the past 2 or 3 years, that communication hadn’t been regular or detailed, and there was a “perceived lack of openness and a sense that those who ask questions are either ignored or completely or bounced around between Board and section without ever becoming any the wiser.”

In respect of finance, Mr Fisher commended the a report prepared by James Spicer, the sports club financial director.

George Fisher – who has been a member for 35 years - added: “It will have been welcomed by all of us and he deserves a huge “thank you” for the time involved in putting this together but I now wish for is a ‘sharing’ approach to continue, with perhaps a quarterly update to members on the finances, at least until we reach calmer waters? It seems that we are some way away from having a sustainable financial plan, and that worries me enormously the over-spending must stop!”

The ‘calmer waters’ Mr Fisher referred to and the need for a sustainable financial plan was also raised as a question near the conclusion of the meeting when life club member, David Petty spoke at the meeting.

Earlier this week he told the Herald why he sent an email to club members reference the EGM describing the situation at the club as he saw it.

He wrote: ”As a long-standing squash member of over 45 years and squash chairman for 20 years, I have had grave concerns regarding the serious financial position the sports club has been in for some time and with four other likeminded members, we contacted the sports club chairman asking for an explanation of the situation and the action being taken by the board to ensure the survival of our club. Unfortunately, no explanation has been forthcoming and none of our questions were answered with the financial situation continuing to worsen.

One question I would like answering is regarding the massive increase in staffing costs. At a time, six months into COVID, when hospitality was on its knees, bar and clubs closing, staff being made redundant or furloughed across the country, the board made the decision to employ one of the most costly members of staff the club has ever had,

The EGM is to allow members to have their say and hear the explanation of the current financial situation and actions the board intend to take to reduce its losses, which currently stand at around £350,000 over the past two and a half years and an ongoing weekly loss of some £4,000 which obviously is unsustainable. All the £100,000saccrued over the years by the sections which went into the club “pot” has gone!”

James Spicer told the meeting that money spent at the club by the board was done to invest in its future.

There had been important building and structural improvements carried out which were needed, these included, £119,000 improvements to tennis floodlights and squash facilities. A major refurbishment of the club kitchen which if it had not occurred could have been “condemned” on health and safety grounds.

“It’s the board’s necks on the line. It wasn’t working we were not a legally compliant organisation in 2019 we did not have basic legislation. The £179,000 spent in 2022 includes £39,000 on Project Rubicon and now in 2023 our profit is a £60,000 – an improvement from this time last year. In terms of staff costs, we have one member of staff who works ten hours a week but has generated £30,000 in grants over time. The car park is a major revenue stream for us which we’ve received £110,000 from and sales of food and beverages are absolutely crucial and increases revenue. We’ve got 348 more members since 2019 and 1,600 members in the club in total,” Mr Spicer said.

Club chair Peter Jones thanked James Spicer for his work, adding: “Those are the numbers, he doesn’t make them up and he never turns me away when I have a question.”

Responding to the two other motions Mr Jones said: “The club has a sensible board, with sensible goals and plans. There is a high-level structure here and we are an integrated sports club and an underlying ethos. The is a club run by its members. We are obliged to achieve our objectives for all including youth and disabled members. We have a first-class club for all users.”

Yesterday Mr Jones told the Herald: “Following the EGM at SSC on Thursday evening all the motions on the agenda were voted ‘against’ by a combined majority of those attending and those who submitted proxy votes in advance. The club is working hard to communicate all lessons learned from this experience.”

The club’s AGM is scheduled for the end of June.

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