Sometimes the very best of ideas surpasses every expectation and target one sets themselves. Occasionally one turns on a tap and rather than the expected, a tsunami of goodness appears from nowhere. Such is the story of GAGAS of at Taunton Longswords (TLA).
For a couple of years, TLA has been thinking about and discussing how we can get more women into this male dominated sport; in fact our discussions were a bit more general than that; covering races, ethnicities, gender, age, etc socio-demographics that make up our local population. However, we weren’t quite sure how to go about it and the idea was shelved temporarily.
We then started thinking about it again in July, as it came up during a chat at the pub but still couldn’t work out how to go about it. By pure happenstance, some of the committee (and other TLA members) took a trip up to Astolat 2017 to compete in Longsword (read about it here).
It was at Astolat, on the Saturday night, we got chatting to Miss Headdon of the Academy of Historical Fencing (Bristol) who introduced us to the “Give A Girl A Sword” (GAGAS) campaign that had been circulating in the global HEMA scene since 2016. With this inspiration, it was a matter of a few days before the TLA committee could get together and discuss it in person…immediately we set ourselves a two-week deadline to sort out an event for TLA and so the first session on the 21st August was decided upon.
It is probably worth looking at our objectives as to why we wanted to run a GAGAS. This is actually very simple and yet hard to explain. The TLA committee has always considered ourselves fortunate to have some ladies as part of the club but it has been a mystery why we could not encourage more. Therefore we had an established desire to equal the gender numbers. This general ‘feeling’ was reinforced by the successes of the international England women’s teams of Cricket, Rugby, and Football – why shouldn’t couldn’t we do the same for our Taunton Longswords?
So we asked our professional graphic designer to sort a poster (tigermothdog.co.uk), we put a notice out on facebook, sponsored it for £12, shared it, and sat back for the anticipated 15 enquiries, with 8 attendees, and 2 going on to train regularly (a low target that we thought may be realistic and what we would consider a success).
-Embarrassed cough- it all escalated rather quickly…134 views, 1,000 views, 6,000 views in under 48-hours with 48 shares spreading the word. This was a little surprising and indicated that around here, there are A LOT of women itching to pick up a sword!
And the stats kept climbing over the following week to an eventual event-day total of over 30,000 impressions, nearly 300 engagement actions (shares, likes, etc) and over 2,000 clicks (find out more action)!
Web traffic went nuts compared to our usual proving the vital link between having a complete digital brand/club presence reinforcing message with content:
which was a masterclass in how to do it by Chantal & Neil.
With the level of enquiries coming in from Facebook messenger, comments, and emails; the first two nights filled up rapidly and the diaries opened quickly to figure out a third night.
In all, there were 54 ladies whom attended the three sessions, and we still have a few more contacting us so it would not be surprising to have 60 in all. Naturally, its not for everyone but so far we have around 20 to 25% coming back every week to train! Our Facebook page has some very nice reviews (thank you)!
You can read about each of the nights by clicking on the relevant poster below, or get a feel for things by checking out the gallery below them.
A brilliant, marvelous, resounding success!
Despite the challenges set by the response, we can certainly say our objectives were achieved! Club membership is roughly evenly split between genders, we know there are three ladies we refered to other clubs around the UK, possibly more we don’t know about; and we have taken delivery of more club kit (smaller masks). And we have record club membership levels (signed-up/paid-up). Now we just need a larger hall!
Are you a club thinking that you’d like to do something similar? Read on:
Would we do it again? Absolutely!!! Would we do it in the same way? No.
Here are some things to consider if you are doing it for your club (HEMA or not):
- We were astounded by the demand and it nearly killed the whole thing dead. Seriously; we have a hall which is finite in size and hiring a larger hall is currently not an option in the area (all booked up). Therefore, working out maximum, ideal, and minimum capacities in advance along with a register/spreadsheet/list of names is important to give the best blend of excitement, numbers, safety, and training capability. See point 7 below also.
- Don’t forget existing members: these guys and gals are wonderful supporters of the club but it is easy to get caught up in the excitement of the special event and forget that existing attendees often travel several miles and give up a couple of hours to train…don’t piss them off! Fortunately, we briefed them as to why we were doing it and that it is for the future of the club and martial art. We also ensured that any who did attend, had the session fee waived.
- Cost. We have both a designer and a marketer on the committee, as well as Chantal as the Community Liaison. We have the people in place that often have a cost dimension. Therefore, apart from £12 (Facebook) the incurred direct costs were few. However, we still had to pay for the hall without the regular session income. We calculate that the session cost the club a shade under £300.
- Promotion. As mentioned above, we have some seriously talented people on the committee who are able to bring their strengths to bear quickly: graphic designer, marketer, web consultant, community engagement, and a ‘sensible’ person too. Even so, one needs to get the message correct. Whether it is women, men, young or old, the message needs to be tailored so that it is genuinely genuine and non-patronising. Great graphics bring it to life, and some Facebook sponsorship very useful to target geographic, interest, gender, age and so on…If you don’t advertise you are doing something, people will not come. We got a couple of radio interviews sorted (Neil & Chantal were absolutely superb and a master-class on how to do it). We had some press coverage (after several robust phone calls when they didn’t turn up initially). Keep up the promotion and reinforce the success of the nights undertaken, highlighting when the next sessions are.
- Ensure your ‘welcome pack’ or newbie induction is up to scratch. men may not mind changing in front of the rest of the club, but this isn’t generally acceptable, especially with newbies. Therefore, clearly articulate changing facilities, water, whether a post-session pub visit is in order (change of clothes?).
- Sign in sheets, waivers, and general simple forms should be completed in a sensible ‘sign in/out’ format. Not only will this confirm numbers, but is also important for safety, tracking all those arriving have also left! Data protection is vital, so no leaving completed forms out on display for other attendees to view, nor other members of the club. These details should be retained by a responsible person.
- Attendees, if they enjoy it will spread the word (lift sharing makes sense/moral support). Also, other halves may suddenly find the general chat at home is more sword orientated and so fancy a go as well…..be prepared for an official beginners course to start on a certain date, so that everyone knows when to come again.
- Finally, do you offer discounted sessions or memberships? Bulk lesson booking etc? Have all these details available just in case people decide that they love the club so much (and the current members are not sufficiently weird/threatening to discourage them), have some vouchers available. Although the initial drive is to get more women into HEMA, once this has settled down, it becomes a ‘new members’ administration factor and as every club knows; new members = new subs and healthier bank balances. However, also factor a need for more kit! We have bought some more masks in the smaller/smallest sizes as standard size were too large.