11 Feb 2016 – The NRA has almost finished its revamp of Cheylesmore Range, on Bisley Camp – and it seems the association is mounting a direct challenge to established Bisley clubhouses by providing its own competing facilities.
In a Facebook post featuring photos of the upgraded range, the NRA said: “We are happy to be providing our members with a new heated multi-purpose room and separate gun cleaning and reloading rooms.”
Cheylesmore is a 25m no danger area range for gallery rifles and pistols. It has been neglected for a number of years and the current revamp is good news for range capacity in the future.
However, the new facilities, to UK Shooting News’ way of thinking, sounds remarkably like the sort of thing one expects to find in a clubhouse. Certainly the Civil Nuclear Constabulary, one of the biggest corporate users of the camp and its short ranges, has no interest in reloading facilities.
On the flip side, Cheylesmore is on the far side of the camp from Club Row (somewhere between a quarter and a half mile, once roads and paths are taken into account) making the provision of non-shooting facilities on the range itself vital to attract paying customers.
Will the NRA take direct control of Bisley’s crown jewels?
With concerns growing over the viability of many Bisley clubs as clubhouse rents are raised by the NRA to double or more their current levels – Bullet Lodge’s recently advertised lease price, at £8,000, was double what the previous occupants were paying, while the English XX Club has been repeatedly advertising for another club to share its building with them – it could be possible that the NRA is preparing to take direct control of what it sees as the most profitable clubhouses on Bisley Camp.
The Muzzle Loading Rifle Association of Great Britain had the renewal of its lease on the Exhibition Hut refused by the NRA in mid-2013, shortly after current NRA chief exec Andrew Mercer took office, though the Grade II-listed building has stood empty since the MLAGB’s removal. Rumours swirled that the NRA was planning to turn it into a visitors’ centre, though a planning permission application was withdrawn in 2014 by Mercer.
UK Shooting News understands that the NRA is also in dispute with the operator of Bisley Pavilion, which attracts a large amount of shooting and non-shooting business throughout the year. Shooting trade fairs are a common sight at the Pavilion, as are weddings and other social functions; the building is an obvious takeover target for an organisation looking to boost its income.
Killing the golden goose
A combination of punitive rent increases aimed at pushing tenants out of lucrative buildings and provision of competing facilities run by the NRA in the interim could reveal a strategy of taking direct control of the more lucrative buildings at Bisley.
Replacing member-led clubhouses with a series of in-house commercial offerings would allow the NRA to add six or seven figures to its turnover for little or no additional investment, other than hiring minimum-wage staff to run the bars and expanding the NRA’s existing accommodation services department.
While this may well drive a short-term boost in NRA income, in the medium and long term it will drive regular shooters away from Bisley. The attraction of the camp is not just its ranges and the bare fact that beds are available on site, but the social atmosphere and range of offerings that the clubhouses – and their members – create. You can have a slap-up meal overlooking Century Range at the LMRA, toast your fellow sportsmen at the North London, sing until the small hours in the Surrey, or aspire to an invitation to set foot in the Artists’ Rifles. The clubhouses have been the beating heart of the camp since it was built in the 1880s.
Why bother staying at Bisley if the atmosphere (and prices) are going to be no different from a commercial hotel or pub? For all its flaws, Bisley is not Center Parcs and the camp should not be divvied up into a series of identikit hostels. If that’s the future, you might as well take a room in Woking, dine in a restaurant with your fellow shooters and enjoy a leisurely 20-minute drive to camp the following day.