Chairman’s report 2011
It was about 1977, some eighteen months after retiring from competitive fencing, that I discovered Oxford Polytechnic Fencing Club in a school off the Cowley Road. It was a small and friendly group focussed mainly on rather classical non-electric foil. Almost at once I agreed to be treasurer, and in every subsequent year I have held one of the club’s offices, often all simultaneously. Since 1977 the club has moved site several times and has had more than one change of name, the least snappy being Oxford City and Polytechnic Fencing Club. It has had both healthy and lean times, and once came very close to extinction.
The club’s fundamental problem was always that it could not build up a large enough core of experienced fencers. There were often a few very good fencers in the club, but there was not a sufficient range of opponents to ensure that newcomers of a high standard would be tempted to stay for more than a short while. Low overall numbers also made it hard to retain the many beginners who came to the club. There was a lack of interest in competitions outside the club or in electric fencing within it. This vicious circle was really only broken five or so years ago, and the real expansion of the club was made possible, fortuitously, by Rye’s building of a large new sports hall in 2008.
The club immediately began to fence not once but twice a week and started to retain newcomers on a significant scale. Rising income was used to buy new equipment, especially new recording apparatus. A single box on club nights was replaced with almost wall-to-wall electric pistes. We now have a genuine three-weapon club, with different pistes dedicated to the different weapons each night. Furthermore there are now three official coaches in the club, and a good deal of serious but informal coaching besides. The conversion of beginners to long-term members has improved significantly, and the number of children fencing in the club has risen dramatically. The very wide age-range in the club, like the good balance between genders, is encouraging. Now a remarkably high proportion of members takes part in competitions, whether internal events, inter-club matches or local, national or international events, and often with outstanding results. At the same time we continue to cater for purely recreational fencers, who form an important component of the club. We have also benefited from an influx of members from both universities, not just as occasional visitors as in the past, but as regular and active members. And the club’s clear and easy to use website has been a great boon. The club is unrecognizable from what it was just five years ago.
The growth in the club’s size and activity has called for a much greater administrative effort. Gone are the days when one person could run the club singlehanded—and indeed have time to fence everyone present on a club night. Fortunately many members have been prepared to share in the responsibility, and we now have a very active committee. This year it has been vital to the progress of the club to have a dynamic secretary in Sam Hughes and a most efficient treasurer in Jane Magé (good to have a non-fencing parent playing such an active role); Gordon Hardie has worked tirelessly organizing competitions and supervising younger members, Martin Carter has been an expert and obliging armourer, Mark Leech has had the thankless task of bringing us slowly into line with Swordmark, Jorge Esteves has contributed his expertise to training sessions, and Will Knight, when he has not been singing elsewhere, has generated excitement on the piste. Beyond the committee Kevin Allington, for instance, went to great lengths to establish the club’s striking new visual identity, as seen both on club kit and on the website. More generally our experienced members have been generous with their time in helping novices and intermediates, which is crucial to the good health of the club.
One essential feature of the club that has not changed since 1977 is the very friendly way in which it welcomes newcomers of any age or ability. OFC is now the substantial kind of club that should be supported by a town like Oxford. We must not be complacent, and the major challenges facing us include finding more effective ways to guide the development of young fencers and instilling an attitude in which taking individual lessons is the norm rather than the exception. But as I hand over the chair I am very optimistic about the future, and I am most grateful to everyone in the club for their support and encouragement over the years.