During the 2022/23 season Sedgefield RA and Stockton RA took the decision to amalgamate and form a brand new Local RA commencing in 2023/24.
This has been an incredible success and has seen a dramatic increase in membership numbers, and more importantly a significant rise in attendances at meetings.
I would strongly encourage other Local RA’s to consider doing this, particularly if you’ve found numbers dwindling over the past few seasons!
Here’s how we did it…
Both Sedgefield and Stockton were relatively small in terms of catchment areas and also located within close proximity geographically. This made signing up new members particularly challenging.
Although each society was getting high percentage numbers in attendance (when compared to membership), this would only equate to on average 10-15 members present on meeting nights (most of which were inactive match officials).
Stockton RA in particular, were struggling to fill their Officers’ vacancies and without intervention were likely to cease to exist (sadly this has been the way for two of our Local RA’s in the North East over the past two seasons).
Prior to covid, Sedgefield RA met with a number of Local RA’s to discuss the potential of amalgamation.
Unfortunately, some Local RA’s were unwilling to embrace change and felt that they would lose their history/identity by joining forces with another Society, even if this risked their future existence.
Following covid, Sedgefield RA revisited the amalgamation and were delighted to begin talks with Stockton RA; and with the two Societies only 10 miles apart geographically, it made sense to consider joining forces.
We formed a small steering group with members of both Societies meeting every two months during the 2022/23 season to discuss the pros and cons, as well as terms that could be shared with members for consideration. In addition, Stockton had lost its regular meeting venue due to low numbers so the Stockton members were also encouraged to attend Sedgefield meetings during the season to get a feel for how things might look, if the amalgamation were to go ahead.
· Venue – initially we considered whether we should rotate the venue for meeting nights, i.e. one meeting held at Sedgefield and the next one at Stockton. However, we decided that this would be confusing to members and we could run the risk of only Stockton people wanting to travel to Stockton and Sedgefield members only travelling to Sedgefield! We were lucky to have already secured a great venue for Sedgefield RA and agreed to hold all future meetings there. We were also concerned that people may not be willing to travel a little bit further to the new venue, however this was not the case and attendances have been excellent
· History – both Societies have a long history of high profile members, plum appointments, awards and refereeing achievements. Whilst this is something that we are very proud of and will of course continue, it was more important for the survival of the RA to start afresh in order to progress and grow
· RA name – we came up with a brand new name for the Society to create a new identity, with the “South East Durham RA” being created
· Committee – a new committee had to be formed, with an election process taking place for all positions. This consisted of members from both former Local RA’s being part of new committee
· Finances – a new bank account would need to be created, with both sets of finances combined
· Constitution – a brand new constitution was written, which was a great opportunity to bring us up-to-date with the 21st century, as well as removing unnecessary information
· Formal Agreement – The agreed terms of the proposed amalgamation were put to the respective members of each branch at separate meetings, where a vote was held to obtain agreement. Stockton voted first at their AGM in April and Sedgefield followed soon after in May. With almost a unanimous vote in favour; the new South East Durham RA was formed.
Contributions to the Success
· Venue – previously the two branches met respectively in a Working Men’s Club and the bar of a local football club. Whilst there was no charge for the use of the rooms, they were not the most salubrious of places to meet and certainly not appropriate for youth members to attend. We now use a hall at the local Community Association (at a cost of £20 per month), which still has a separate bar for those wanting a social drink. The meeting room is large, bright, airy and much more suitable for our younger members and their parents/carers to attend
· Meeting Night Attendance - meeting attendances are excellent with around 35 members on average participating in events. A lot of members, from both branches, have said that previously they lacked motivation to attend meetings in the past because sitting in an empty room held no great appeal. The same members are now saying that they look forward to the monthly meetings because they are so well attended and you know you’re guaranteed an enjoyable night!
· Tables/seating arrangements – in our previous venues we had a number of smaller tables with groups of chairs, which meant that attendees tended to sit in their own groups, meaning that it was sometimes difficult to bring people in to discussion. We now have the room set-up in a horseshoe shape, which has worked brilliantly to bring everyone in together and encourages much more participation
· Formalities – these are kept to an absolute minimum on meeting nights, with as much correspondence sent in advance via email. This ensures that attendees can focus on learning and development, rather than having to listen to formal ‘business’
· Agenda – we always include a monthly laws of the game quiz, which is a great ice breaker and results in lots of discussion and debate! More importantly, we have brought ‘match discussion and advice’ to the beginning of the meeting, as this for us, is the most important part of the night and gives people the opportunity to raise any issues that they’ve had in recent fixtures
· Guest Speakers/In-House Session – we alternate our meetings so that one month we have a guest speaker and the following month we have an in-house session (with video clips for discussion from local matches). This ensures greater variety and interest, which in turn encourages participation and debate
· Buffet – we have a light buffet available at each meeting, which we take a short break to enjoy, whilst also allowing the attendees the opportunity to chat, socialise and catch-up
· WhatsApp Group – we have a South East Durham RA WhatsApp group, which means that members can seek advice quickly via the group and also share clips from matches
· Mentoring – each referee has the opportunity to have a mentor at their games (even senior members). This ensures that each match official feels fully supported in their refereeing journey and has a familiar face as their point of contact
· Kit – with referee kit being so expensive, we have a range of second-hand kit available, which we offer to our newly qualified members to assist them in getting started
· Fundraising – in order to help us cover costs of room hire and the buffet, we run a blind card or raffle at meetings
Benefits and Successes
The amalgamation of Sedgefield and Stockton RA to form South East Durham RA has been a huge success, with countless benefits.
Ø Membership currently stands at 76 (and growing) – a new record for both societies!
Ø Meeting attendances are excellent with around 35 members on average participating in events
Ø We have managed to sign-up quite a few newly qualified referees and a good proportion are attending meetings and (more importantly) coming back on a regular basis
Ø The monthly meeting audience is now very diverse with an even spread of inactive match officials, newly qualified referees, promotion candidates, established County referees and referees in the pyramid system and professional game
Ø We have been able to attract better guest speakers, including EFL Championship and Premier League Referees
Ø Increased participation and discussion at meetings, particularly with youth members feeling comfortable to make a contribution without any fear of intimidation
Ø We now have a much larger support network available to referees, due to greater numbers of members
South East Durham RA continues to go from strength to strength and whilst there were some reservations from a small number of members initially, these soon disappeared once we formally met for the first time.
Meetings are fun, vibrant, informative, supportive and have a real buzz about them - we even have referees who are members of other Local RA’s coming along!
I would strongly recommend for any Local RA’s who are struggling with membership and meeting attendances to consider joining forces with another Society.
The benefit of having a large group of referees of all ages, genders, and levels in one room receiving high quality training and advice, supporting one another cannot be underestimated.
I firmly believe that continuing to provide this level of service and education to our referees will undoubtedly contribute to securing the future of The Referees’ Association.