Georgia was a successful junior orienteer growing up in Australia, before moving back to the UK where she was the founding president of the Exeter University Orienteering Club (OROX). She went on to intern for British Orienteering, delivering projects to improve the university orienteering experience, including setting up a universities training camp alongside JROS. You can read more about Georgia's background in her full biography in Meet the Board.
We caught up with Georgia to find out more about what drives her enthusiasm for orienteering:
Orienteering Foundation: Aside from getting through the current situation and returning to normality once Coronavirus is behind us (!), what do you see as the main challenges facing orienteering at the moment?
Georgia: I think the main challenge will be addressing the loss of the ‘periphery’ orienteers. The committed athletes will have continued to seek out ways to orienteer - whether that’s in the elite league, MapRun or even using old maps and running in the local area. However, those orienteers who just recently graduated, or recently got involved, may have fallen off the bandwagon. I think outreach to that group of people could be important - whether this be local clubs identifying specific people absent from regular events and targeting them for specific support or whether there is an overarching drive (from British Orienteering or Orienteering Foundation) to incentivise people to rejoin (e.g. offer people with only 1 year British Orienteering membership a discount to their next year).
You were instrumental in getting OROX established (partly assisted via a grant from the Orienteering Foundation). What do you see as the main challenges facing university O clubs today, and what advice would you have for anyone thinking of starting one?
Universities face the unique challenge of a high turnover of members and sometimes uncertain committee handovers. Committees therefore need to be able to create a community of orienteers very quickly while facing the yearly loss of skill and experience. This challenge then feeds into other obstacles - one year, you might have several students who have cars, in the next, the club may have none for example. Unlike local clubs which can operate in timelines of several years, University clubs have to operate on a year by year basis and this presents a challenge of retention, long-term strategy and longevity of the club.
My advice would be to invest in the people in your club. At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter how many successes one student has had or how many BUCS points the team wins, the only way the club can continue to thrive is if each year, people take on the mantle of the year before. I’d advise lots of team building (trips and weekends away do that brilliantly), training and empowering people into a ‘coaching’ role, and involve people in the community of Orienteering as much as possible, such as taking them to national training camps, organising ‘lectures’ from the local club experts and encouraging volunteering at the local club events.
Awareness of the Orienteering Foundation is still growing. If you had to explain its purpose in 30 seconds, what would you say?
I think the Orienteering Foundation’s purpose is to invest in the future of Orienteering, whether that be in the people, the technology, or the infrastructure. And by simply existing as an organisation that believes in the future of Orienteering and can drive the development of the sport, the Foundation brings meaning to Orienteering on the ground level too.
What role do you see the Orienteering Foundation playing in the future of the sport, as distinct from other bodies e.g. British Orienteering, or clubs just funding projects from event income?
As a charity body, the Orienteering Foundation has the freedom to see the bigger picture, unfettered by the budget and goal-setting restrictions required of British Orienteering and local clubs. For example, the Foundation can consider investment in the next technological innovation. I think the Foundation also has a position of being an advisory body for clubs and the national association, as an organisation that is on the ground level with orienteers via the Ambassadors and Trustees who are orienteers and on the forefront of orienteering innovation and growth.
The current orienteering demographic is aging. As someone recently out of university, what do you see as important in retaining or attracting young adults like yourself to the sport?
I think the first step to retention is creating a new type of funnel for students graduating, separate to the elite funnel. The first step in this funnel could be to address the chasm between leaving university and moving into a new area of the UK. If a student leaves my club in Exeter to live in Manchester, who is reaching out to her? Who can she reach out to? Students who have joined orienteering at University often lose out on what the orienteers who grew up in an orienteering community had, such as involvement in the club their family was in, volunteering at events, being part of JROS - and it makes it easier for them to fall through the cracks when they move to a new area. There has to be a way of bridging this - whether it be helping local clubs be more proactive in reaching out to those students or encouraging university clubs to help graduate students find those clubs. Alumni university clubs (like Drongo or Spook) are brilliant and absolute gold, but that’s hard to build if it doesn’t exist already, let alone in a pandemic.
Another step in this funnel should be identifying students who have the capability to be organisers, mappers, planners, and controllers and giving them a way to move forward with these skills. Some students from OROX are prime examples, one who won the Young Volunteer Award and another who has mapped five new areas - but are now lacking any community around them to support those skills and give them a way to work upwards. Obviously, there is a lot of focus on the elite side of young student Orienteers, as there should be, with there being a clear way of going from elite junior to elite senior. Reaching out to students who were in the committee who have done the organisational work for their club and committed to Orienteering in a significant way, should feel just as supported and have a similar funnel as the Junior and Adult elite program.
There are many ways the Orienteering Foundation raises funds. Which do you see as the most effective, and how can the average orienteer on the street (or in the forest!) help support the Orienteering Foundation?
I think it would be interesting to allow normal orienteers to help invest in the future of the projects that are being offered. For example, setting up a page on the site which allows people to select a specific cause (e.g. a new technological innovation, a new University club, or support for clubs coming out of lockdown) and then donate an amount to that specific cause via Gift Aid. By donating, that person then receives all the communication on updates on that cause and can see the outcome of their donation and feel like they did something important for the orienteering community - which they did! I’m not sure how you would encourage people to get to that page and you would need some thinking about how to make that person’s experience worthwhile. Another thought could be releasing some Foundation merchandise - a sleek o-shirt could go down nicely - but that would take some time on the website to make it e-commerce friendly.
Thanks Georgia, and we look forward to having you on the board!