Clay Shooting’s Julian Fellows visited Ian Coley Sporting recently to see how they had fared since lockdown, and how they were feeling about reopening. He spoke with MD Adam Broomfield.
How have the country’s top shooting grounds been handling the challenge of re-opening, and inviting back their long missed clients, and friends, while still adhering to strict new hygiene and social distancing rules?
I was lucky enough to get to visit the beautiful Ian Coley Sporting clay shooting ground in the heart of the Cotswolds to learn from their managing director, Adam Bromfield, how they have weathered the storm and how they were able to re-open their clay shooting centre in a safe and responsible way.
“For us the lockdown actually started at the end of play on 21 March,” explains Adam. “Like many others, we’d had the trickle down of information from the government through the press, and were expecting some form of lockdown.
“I felt we were morally obliged to try and do our part in helping to stop the spread of the virus, and to ensure the wellbeing of our team and our customers, so we closed our doors a few days before the official lockdown began.
“Apart from selling electronic gift vouchers online, every aspect of our business closed. One of our staff members, Shooting School Manager and Senior Instructor Matt Davis, lives on site, so the decision was made to keep him here to look after the grounds and do any work that we would struggle to do with clients onsite.”
As March passed into April, and then April into May, there was great uncertainty as to when clay shooting grounds would finally be able to re-open again. Then, in early May, the government announced that from 13 May, ‘outdoor sporting activities [would be] permitted.’ A huge relief for Adam and his team, no doubt, but they remained cautious, and kept their doors closed for a few more days.
“We had always been expecting an end of May or start of June date for re-opening, so the government announcement wasn’t a particular surprise,” Adam says. “But we were not ready to re-open on the 13th.
“We wanted to make absolutely sure that we could open in a safe and responsible manner. After we had all been through so much, we didn’t feel that rushing into opening was fair to our clients or our staff.
“There was a lot of work to be done before we felt comfortable inviting the shooting public back. We wanted to take the time to think through and implement our social distancing measures and to add in additional sanitisation processes.
“We had to create a one-way system with large bottles of hand sanitiser every few stands, as well as waiting points in case any shooter catches up with those in front of them.”
“By 28 May, these processes were fully in place, and we felt it was the right time to re-open, with restrictions. We would only offer pre-booked practice for licence holders, with time slots staggered 10 minutes apart to allow plenty of space, and time, for shooters to enjoy their round.
“Using our Claymate system, we are able to pre-load cards with a number of clays, which can be used then simply deposited in a box at the end of a round, ensuring as little human to human contact as possible. Our café, shop and club room facilities remained closed to the public too.”
With so many restrictions in place, you might imagine that the estate would be a ghost town, with any shooter who did appear being exceptionally nervous about their return. But that could not be further from the truth.
Peter Dodson is an Ian Coley’s regular from the nearby town of Cheltenham, and he hasn’t stopped grinning since he arrived on site for his pre-booked session. He arrives alone, but he starts chatting and laughing away—his friends are already here, in the form of the grounds staff.
“I’ve really missed coming up here,” Peter laments, if only for a second. “Of course it’s been a shame not to do much shooting this year, but it’s the atmosphere I’ve missed most.
“The restrictions haven’t put me off at all. I think the team have been doing a great job in keeping us all safe and looked after, and I’m more than happy to follow their Covid rules, if it means I can come up and shoot. Now I can get some practice in before they start up registered competitions again!
“This has been a common opinion among our clients,” adds Adam. “We’ve had no difficulties in enforcing any of our new policies—everyone who showed up here has adopted the safety measures with their usual helpfulness. I think everyone has been getting used to all businesses, not just shooting grounds, having such measures in place.
“And, when it comes to competitions,” Adam continues, “We should be resuming our CPSA Registered shoots by the time this article is published.
“These will run on the first Wednesday of every month until October—we’re also considering hosting a Winter Series, but we will have to keep our eyes on governmental guidelines and see how things unfold.”
Not just a pretty range
There’s a lot more to Ian Coley Sporting than the onsite stands and competitive calendar. It is a full-blown shooting centre, with a well-stocked gunroom, country store, dining facilities and sporting agency. Every aspect of this clearly successful business has been affected by Covid-19 and the subsequent restrictions, as Adam explains.
“The shop re-opened on 16 June, on an appointment only basis, in order to reduce the numbers of people within the building at any one time,” he says. “Though, unfortunately, we will not have any café facilities on site until further notice.
“The Sporting Agency has not been organising as many days as usual this season, but we have seen confidence growing, with new enquiries coming in each day. Fortunately, most of the estates that our Roving Syndicate visit are offering alternative dates later this season, or alternatively allowing funds to roll-over until next season in the event of any cancellations caused by Covid-19.”
As each part of the business springs back to life, it’s clear that Adam and his team have coped surprisingly well, despite having to close their doors for so long. If anything, the grounds look better than they ever have. “The lockdown gave us the chance to give the place a really thorough spring clean,” says Adam, “and we’ve set an entirely fresh course for everyone to come and try.”
“It gave us the chance to start planning for the future too, with a new online store set to go live this year. We also have some very exciting plans for our 50th anniversary celebrations next year, including a brand new layout and very special 120 English Sporting competition to look forward to.”
This positive mental attitude and forward focus has come to define how the shooting grounds across the country have met, and also overcome, the challenges of this unprecedented global crisis. We, the shooting public, owe Adam, his staff and their counterparts at shooting grounds across the nation a great debt. They have kept our sport alive, and have given us all something to look forward to through dark times.
Stay up-to-date on all the latest events and activities at Ian Coley Sporting by visiting www.iancoley.co.uk