Century Range Butt 19, Bisley. Pic: Darryl Stark, Flickr

The NRA earns nearly £1m a year from commercial leases

12 June 2017 – Rumblings over rent hikes driven by an increasingly sclerotic NRA appear to have pushed the Artists’ Rifles Clubhouse into contacting The Times newspaper and starting a public fundraising appeal. But does the association really need the extra cash?

The report (here, paywalled, by David Sanderson, the paper’s arts correspondent) describes the situation, with club owner Moss Mustafa going on record to describe the shooters who use and feel welcomed in his clubhouse. The story explicitly mentions 21 SAS, the Artists’ Rifles themselves, although the regiment and the clubhouse broke their formal ties in 1967.

The annual rent increase demanded by the NRA is from £3,000 to £15,000, a rise of 500%.

A number of mid-ranking Conservative MPs (Philip Hollobone, Adam Holloway and David Tredinnick) have been persuaded to lean on NRA chairman John Webster and chief exec Andrew Mercer. The trio were even persuaded to sign a letter to the Charity Commission complaining about how the NRA, a registered charity, is behaving. The NRA’s most recently published General Council (committee) meeting minutes, from February 2017, reveals that a group of NRA trustees met the MPs. Silke Lohmann, an NRA member who emailed the GC, expressed the fear that the NRA was ignoring the MPs’ warning.

After what the NRA minutes described as “full disclosure of all communications with MPs” the Charity Commission is said to have written back and said the dispute was nothing to do with them.

Public enemy

Though Moss has certainly made his enemies on and off Bisley Camp by going public, not to mention the crowdfunding appeal for £85,000 to cover legal costs against the NRA, he is not alone. The NRA has targeted every rifle club on Bisley Camp for swingeing, immediate rent hikes measured in the several hundred percentage point region. Not every club’s starting point for rents is so low as the Artists’ – and, equally, not every club has tried to fight the increases.

Some, like Bullet Lodge, simply folded and quit the camp, allowing their old clubhouse to be turned into a private rental for a small syndicate of well-off shooters, akin to a luxury caravan. Others have, so the rumour mill has it, rolled over with only a few token murmurs of protest.

Nobody knows what the NRA is playing at by demanding these rent hikes. The association itself has not explained its actions, beyond seeding the rumour mill with lots of talk about “fair market rents”. Some insight is available in the GC minutes linked above, though the published justification leans heavily on the notion that as the people who originally built the clubhouses are now dead, there is money to be made from their successors in name – most importantly, it seems in the NRA’s eyes, money that isn’t already flowing into its well-lined pockets, which it brands as a “subsidy”. Repeated reference is made to “the law”, though, interestingly, not once is this law cited by name or other checkable reference. edit to add – this is apparently Elitestone v Morris, citing the Law of Property Act 1925.

The difference between a financial subsidy involving the transfer of money from one party to another and rents that are objectively low is a common fallacy perpetuated by those with their eyes on another’s wallet.

NRA not about heritage?

NRA chairman Webster adds, in the minutes, that “the heritage aspect is not an object of the Charity – the NRA is not here to protect buildings – the NRA is here to protect and foster shooting.” Later on he adds that “the market sets the rents”, which is a curious thing for a monopoly landlord operating in a unique bubble to tell his tenants. UKSN’s author sees his words as akin to those of a commercial property speculator, not the custodian of a unique and fragile sporting ecosystem.

In chief exec Andrew Mercer’s paraphrased words in the minutes explaining the trustees’ stance, “Mixed motive investment is an asset that produces a return for the NRA, and at the same time, pursues the objects of the NRA. Because all the 100+ buildings subject to tenancies on the NRA estate have covenants that result in their use having to be related to shooting, they all, to some degree, pursue the charity’s objects.”

This is stretching the truth: the NRA advertised the Bullet Lodge clubhouse in March 2016 (PDF link) as a “private dwelling or clubhouse in connection with members’ shooting at Bisley.” Leaving aside the questionable lack of commas, it is difficult to see how leasing out a domestic property for a sum in excess of £8,000/year, to a well-heeled couple as a second home, pursues the NRA’s central objective of promoting marksmanship.

Money, money, money, must be funny…

In fiscal year 2014 the NRA made a profit – sorry, surplus – in excess of £400,000. Last fiscal year that figure was £252,000, according to the NRA treasurer’s AGM speech of 2016. The accounts for fiscal/calendar year 2016 (both, unusually sensibly, coincide) show a net expenditure of £100k on turnover of £5.4m.

Buried on page number 24 of those accounts is the figure for estate rental income: £961,564 in 2016, up from £883,721 the previous year: an increase of £77,843, or 8% year on year. Rental income from Bisley Camp alone makes up a little under a fifth of the NRA’s entire turnover, and comes in at just shy of a million pounds a year. It is not immediately obvious whether this figure includes retail rentals (i.e. Friday and Saturday nights in NRA-owned huts, campsites, etc).

The conclusion UKSN’s author draws from these figures is that the NRA is living within its means but wants to sweat what it sees as its assets. In this regard it appears to be taking a very short-sighted, cash-driven approach.

Killing the golden goose

The hard truth is the Bisley clubhouses do not have the potential to become very much bigger than they are, in profit-making terms, without destroying the central ethos that attracts people to them.

Members spend money in the clubhouses primarily because they are social hubs and secondly because they see those premises as part of their own interest, over and above the function of an inexpensive pub-cum-hotel. Many clubhouses have installed reloading rooms for producing ammunition, while others offer food, drink and basic accommodation to their members. Almost all have armouries of whatever size, so members can securely store rifles and ammunition in them. All are run on the basis that the money generated from their trading goes, where possible, towards subsidising their shooting activities. For example, the LMRA offers an Empire match plus issued GGG ammunition for £45 per head more or less every other weekend during the competition season. At full retail price that would cost (assuming 5 per marked target) about £80/head.

Forcing higher costs on those clubhouses simply diverts money paid by their members away from shooting activities and into the commercial pockets of the NRA; money that could be being used to make the use of NRA facilities cheaper, directly or indirectly, would instead be lost to those camp users altogether.

Doing some sums, and assuming (inaccurately, but indicatively for our purposes here), if each of the 11 clubhouses on Club Row that the NRA can get money out of pays £3,000 and the NRA hikes their rents to £15,000, in total the NRA will receive an extra £132,000 gross per annum. Evidently the NRA chief exec and chairman have both decided this relatively small sum – only slightly more than the chief exec’s salary – is worth spending six-figure sums in the courts to secure. The net gain is nil and the amount of goodwill from clubs towards the NRA is not likely to hold up given its commercial behaviour.

UKSN’s author is reliably informed that commercial litigation against the NRA is active in the county court by another major club. The saga continues.

5 thoughts on “The NRA earns nearly £1m a year from commercial leases

  1. Kevin Drummond

    This piece got a full page in yesterday’s Times. The English device whereby you don’t actually buy ( unless you get “freehold”)but lease for 100-200 years and pay a nominal ground rent is being brought into disrepute. New builders are fixing periods like five years for the first hike in “ground rent” and these are doubling over relatively short periods. The nearest we ever got was “feu-duty” ( now abolished) but it was normally a nominal kind of £10 pa


  2. Glenn Haldane

    The NRA was badly run for many years and Bisley was run-down as a result. The new regime has transformed the place. Bisley facilities have improved almost beyond recognition and the NRA is doing good (and expensive) work elsewhere in the country, the new range at Frome being an example. Certainly, the idea of a market rent is questionable, but that does not absolve the NRA from its trusteeship duty to get the best financial deals it can. I am a member of the NRA but not a member of a Bisley ‘clubhouse club’: I sympathise to some degree, but times are hard and I cannot support continued financial privilege for a minority of shooters.


  3. Mark George

    Glenn Haldane may not have chosen to be a member of a Bisley clubhouse club, but that does not mean he is underprivileged, no more than those who are members are privileged. They are shooters who have made the decision to join a club for all the reasons that such membership brings. And more to the point, no one is stopping new members from joining.
    Haldane, Mercer and the rest completely and utterly fail to understand the damage being caused by clubs quitting Bisley.
    I have been “privileged” too have been shooting at Bisley since the early 1960’s. I have never passed through the gates without the feeling that it is a very special place. What the NRA completely fails to understand is that it is not them that has kept this fascinating oasis working, it is the clubs and those clever enough to join those clubs that have kept the sport of shooting alive.
    If all the club houses had not been shooting clubs but in fact business enterprises (such as the NRA are so obviously trying to create) the sport of shooting as it is today would have failed a long time ago.
    If people want to behave like sheep following each other blindly through life, let them but if it interferes with those with enough sense and colour in their souls to seek the Bisley “atmosphere”, which is not to be found anywhere else, they should be stopped.
    Bisley has been created by the shooters, by the members of the clubs. All to a man (and woman) individuals who take part in an activity the “sheep” of this world have the inability to appreciate.
    Please feel free to destroy everything because of man’s ridiculous desire to tidy up everything he sees, but leave Bisley Camp alone. It has worked just fine since 1895, leave it be. Sure, spend money on the infrastructure, make improvements where required but stop trying to destroy the ethos of the place. Have some sense Mercer, be more delicate with your improvements, leave what works well alone and stop trying to tear the heart out of the place. Oh, and instead of spending hundreds of thousands in legal fees in order to do your damage, try using that money to actually help the clubs that have for so many years made Bisley what it is and what it should always remain.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Journeyman

    “Bisley camp has worked just fine since 1895” and “Spend money on infrastructure”. How do those fit together without the NRA utilising its assets.
    Bisley needs money spending to upgrade the ancient site (legendary loos opposite Jennys cafe); the NRA needs money to function and to move on from the old management structure and limited involvement in UK shooting.

    I’m delighted the NRA is now behaving like a business and well done to Mercer and co. The clubs to use a phrase borrowed from an ex-council member have been spending the next generations inheritance.

    How can clubs square tired, underused assets and poor service delivery with modern expectations for leisure activities. People will pay and clubs will thrive when they have a proper business model, relevant customs and straight forward management. Some clubhouses are used maybe a dozen times a year and will never turn over enough to move into the modern age, but other clubs cannot use this as an excuse. Do members of those clubs really expect a building in this day and age for such limited use.

    Even the big clubs can be complacent. Up to date websites maybe would be a start and with LMRA excepted here, most clubs are poorly signposted and never push for business. Most clubs do themselves no favours.

    I recently stayed at a club, the room was dirty, and furniture broken. Why then would I want to pay to join that club. It’s just not OK to say were subsidizing shoot costs or training new shooters, I’d like a clean and safe stay. Non club members can pool a lane and get costs down. but wait is shooting mean’t to be cheap? Look at what’s spent in F-class, no the reality is that the clubs must justify there existence in this modern era. History and tradition do not pay bills. Fees may need to go up, and so must the service.

    Context and reality must be recognised. I live two hundred miles from Bisley and I’d love a range like Bisley down the road, but I have to travel. Should my contribution to NRA coffers be used to control tenant rents, no, I want them to support me as a member and provide safe and modern ranges. The NRA is meant to be a national organisation and as such we all have to contribute. For many outside the South East, the Bisley clubs are unfortunately irrelevant. My club in the South West is at the mercy of the MOD and only just got the range back after a years unnecessary closure. It surely puts fuss over rent increases into perspective.

    Liked by 1 person


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