As chairman of the CA Development Committee, I appreciate and welcome Ian Beecroft's e-mail and clarification of the misunderstanding that occurred with his application for help with his schools initiative. For my part, I accept Ian's comment that a letter explaining the Development Committee's strong support for his efforts - to be given via the Yorkshire Federation - would have clarified the situation, and I accept responsibility for that omission.
It is CA policy not to give money for equipment to clubs or individuals for any development project, but to channel money through Federations, so that ownership of the equipment is retained to pass onto other clubs or individuals when a project is completed. Normally, this proceeds with a minimum of paperwork through the Federations. The difference in Ian's case was the uniqueness of his circumstances - tackling the difficult task of developing croquet in an area remote from other clubs and which had defied significant past efforts by the Yorkshire Federation, supported financially by the CA, to establish a club in Sheffield. Ian's application to the CA requesting equipment was dealt with expeditiously by Mike Evans. CA grants/support for schools development projects have been given to clubs and individuals in the past with successful projects over a number of years and this possibility is available in this case.
Ian Beecroft's letter to the Gazette described croquet development in its most challenging circumstance, but all croquet development is challenging. Development of clubs - new and existing, large and small, has been a CA priority for years. During the past six years, club development grants have been given to four or five clubs per year, grants for schools initiatives have been as high as nine in a year, approximately half of the Federations have been given grants in each year for new club and schools development, and in this year, substantial sums from CA reserves have been granted to Southwick, Budleigh, Cheltenham and Southport to develop the sports major clubs. During my presence on the Development Committee over the past six years no application for financial support by a club, a Federation (for help in club and schools development), or by an individual has been turned down. The shortage is not money but people willing and able to plan and implement development projects.
The CA can easily be criticised; sometimes it is justified, often not. On occasions I have been asked what the CA does for the sport by members of clubs who a year or two earlier received a grant or loan from the CA The CA is not a corporate body with paid individuals. For a period up to six years ago, the CA had a full-time development officer financed by the predecessor of Sport England. In his day, Chris Hudson would have been available to directly help Ian Beecroft, as he did for many groups trying to develop croquet. Today, we rely on a few volunteers, many of whom work or have other commitments, but who are prepared to reach out beyond their own clubs to help enthusiasts like Ian Beecroft get off the ground and generate new interest in the sport and new clubs. The sport will not successfully develop if the body of membership has insufficient individuals who are prepared to contribute to it's future.
Ian Beecroft described the cultural and social divide he sees as existing with croquet. That the divide is perceived to exist is not surprising, especially in a huge conurbation area remote from other croquet clubs. The social and cultural image of croquet is of the past, but not likely to go away. In reality, at least as far as the CA and its committees are concerned, there is no such perception or attitude. It so happens that of the three CA people most associated with Ian's efforts, two - Mike Evans and Keith Smith both went to the same school in a Yorkshire colliery village, and myself, as the third, was educated and raised in a northern cotton town. Such perceptions can be overcome; it has been done in the past, but only with the effort and dedication of people like Ian.
There have been a lot of disappointments in croquet development during the past six years; the substantial efforts with schools and juniors have produced only limited immediate results, but the seeds may be sown for the future. In other there have been real successes, and hopefully, the drive and optimism that remains associated with development in the CA and in many of the Federations will achieve a just reward.