The OIA Conference and AGM 2020 took place at Shrigley Hall, Macclesfield in a challenging and testing time for the whole industry.
Understandably under these conditions, there was a reduction in the number of delegates who attended due to the current situation, however, those in attendance praised the smooth adaptation and fluid nature of the agenda which reflected the shift of discussions towards COVID-19 and the impact on the industry.
As is traditional, the OIA Conference began with some outdoor activities in the Cheshire countryside around Shrigley Hall and included a trail run, guided walk with mountaineer Alan Hinkes OBE, road cycling, mountain biking provided by British Cycling and even Footgolf. The conference started with an open forum hosted by OIA CEO Andrew Denton and discussion about the impact and challenges ahead, the effect of COVID-19 on the industry, including up to date feedback from MP’s and the latest facts and figures. There was an active debate amongst delegates and sharing of thoughts and views from various sectors about the knock-on effect on retail sales and the supply chain. Ellis Brigham Managing Director and OIA Chairman, Robert Brigham provided an update from the retail perspective and AMG Group Managing Director Stephen Newlands updated attendees on the situation regarding the snowsports market. Other member representatives from manufacturing, retail, insurance, charity and activity provider backgrounds contributed to the overall debate which highlighted the economic and supply chain issues that now face the industry.
The outcome of this first session, which replaced the planned breakout sessions, was that now, more than ever, the industry needs the OIA to work with government departments to lobby for the reduction of the impact of COVID-19 in the outdoors industry. The OIA is planning to work closely with associations such as National Trust, The Camping & Caravanning Club, UK Active, YHA and the Tourism Alliance to put together a combined statement, following government guidelines to provide encouragement for people to GET OUTSIDE safely, and that participation and exercise in the outdoors, as long as social distancing rules are observed, is the best recipe for stress relief and good mental health and that this advice should be encouraged in these difficult times.
OIA Chairman Robert Brigham delivered the formal part of the AGM presenting the association’s annual results which were simultaneously e-mailed to all members in the form of the Annual Report. Andrew Denton then provided a summary and review of OIA activities during the year including information on OIA’s partners, Ordnance Survey’s Get Outside campaign and the launch of the new consumer show, the National Outdoor Expo in March 2021. This was followed by the streaming of the live press conference by the UK’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson and more debate about the latest announcements and their impact on companies, brands and individuals in the room. The presentation of the Winners of the UK Outdoor Industry Awards 2020 was hosted by Chairman, Robert Brigham who announced the ‘Product of the Year’ chosen by the judges as the Rab Mythic Ultra Sleeping Bag. Before dinner Professor Greg Whyte, OBE, physical activity expert brought a much-needed lighter tone to the conference with his tales and insights of human endurance and mentoring work with celebrities such as David Walliams, Davina McCall and John Bishop during their Sport Relief challenges.
On the second day of the conference, Andrew pressed on with the climate crisis theme and urged members and attendees to consider an industry-wide pledge to support a carbon-neutral industry, this was agreed by all at Shrigley Hall with a suggested deadline for the industry to be carbon neutral by 2030. There will be further information and a survey to engage with all members on this new initiative via the OIA website and communication channels once the imitate COVID-19 crisis has passed. Dr Catherine Flitcroft from the British Mountaineering Council and Josephine Lavelle from Forestry England followed on the theme and presented examples on how these organisations are implementing projects to tackle and combat climate change in the UK.
Scott Nelson from the European Outdoor Group provided more insights into the organisation’s Single-Use Plastic project and how the industry can get involved. Concluding the conference, Richard Leedham from Outdoor Gear for Good urged manufacturers and retailers to get on board to ensure that instead of ending up in landfill, unwanted outdoor inventory including product samples and unwanted returns get reused, recycled or donated to schools or charities.
Commenting on the OIA Conference 2020, OIA CEO Andrew Denton said: ‘This will go down in history as one of the most challenging OIA conferences ever with 170 delegates initially registering to just under 80 attendees and a quick change to the agenda to adapt to the changing situation in hand. Feedback has been very positive from all delegates and I am currently working 24/7 with over 20 organisations to have a statement ready to encourage people to enjoy safely the outdoors, thus minimising the impact of Coronavirus to our industry. I usually get asked why would I join the OIA? What does the OIA do for me? I wasn’t asked this once this year! There was a great sense of togetherness in the room that was great to see. I also wanted to thank (and I have done with many by phone or e-mail), all the delegates that registered but did not attend, for their understanding in this impossible situation that we found ourselves. We will keep the industry updated in the coming weeks through our website, newsletter and social media on COVID-19 advice, grants and measures that can help get the outdoor industry through this temporary crisis’
We would also like to thank our sponsors, as without their help the OIA Conference would have not been possible: Ordnance Survey, Lowe Alpine & Rab, The Camping & Caravanning Club, Pertex, Keela, Hoka One One and OutDoor by ISPO.