The Future of Camps

Whilst browsing the SharePoint today I came across an interesting little directory entitled “Camp Study” -

It makes for some very interesting reading - comparable in many ways to some of the discussions we’ve had on here over the years, with topics including -

[li]Downsizing of the RAF[/li]
[li]Lack of local RAF Stations[/li]
[li]Lack of space on remaining RAF Stations[/li]
[li]Using non-RAF Venues[/li]
[li]Joint services camps[/li]
[li]Flying/gliding on camps[/li]
[li]Green camps[/li]
[li]Value for money[/li]
[li]Overseas Camps[/li]
[li]The role/training of ACLOs[/li]

The who
[/ul]le folder is packed full of interesting snippets which could well be shaping the future of the ACO & Camps. Well worth a read if you have 5mins!

I’m sure that our station ACLO would have loved some training/decent guidance other than being told ‘You’re it!’

My Sqn OC tells me of a time almost everyone at the Sqn went on summer camp, now were lucky to get enough places for a quarter of the Sqn.

We’ve always got reserves for camp and it’s a shame they don’t get the opportunity to go.

my first camp as a cadet was to RAF Brawdy in about 1989 - not only did pretty much every enrolled cadet on my Sqn go (35+), but pretty much every enrolled cadet from the two neighbouring Sqn’s went as well. it wasn’t just the experiences that made it so valuable, it was the fact that everone went together - it was a massive, massive moralé/espirit dé corps boost for all the Sqn’s involved, but now the RAF summer camp scene is not unakin to the old RAF Germany camps where each Sqn got to send one cadet (usually an NCO, and never ‘Cadet Average’) once a year… (i went on three Germany camps, just in case anyone thinks i’m bitter…)

personally i think the loss of the ‘everyone, all together’ thing is the most fundamental loss, and having done it both as a cadet and as staff, i very much think that what matters is that everyone goes, not where you go - so we went to an Army camp for a week every year: just booked accommodation, training areas, catering and transport and went - we got far more out a week by all going together (regardless of what we did) than we did by sending half-a-dozen to RAF Wherever…

i’m of the view that if something is only available to a few then it should be on the back burner - if its free (in terms of effort by the ACO to procure it), then fine, but i don’t believe that the ACO should be investing a large wedge of its finite time, effort and money in what has become a minority sport.

there are other options - Army barracks/camps, Local Authority centres etc… we should be looking at them very hard.

The Future of camps do not only affects cadets. When is was a cadet in the 80s it was not just every cadet on my Sqn it was every cadet in the Wing or if they wanted to go every cadet in the corps (more or less). I can remember a camp at Lyneham 6 weeks of camp for the wing and 80 cadets per week; 480 places. This year 4 weeks and 40 places; 160.
This as a knock on staff ratios, in the 80s as I remember if a staff member wanted to go to camp then they could go especially Cis, it was a jolly for them, a reward for the hard work they did throughout the year. Now there is a limit on numbers and many staff don’t get to opportunity to regularly attend camps on RAF station.
As an officer and a Sqn Cdr I would in the past I would be expected to attend summer camp and take one of the exec roles Comic, trg or adg. Go out onto the station and scrounge activities for the cadets get kit and experience life in the mess and the social time in the bar. The bar was where you would meet the regulars and find out that an aircraft was going to Gib which was half empty and if you want you can put a few senior cadets on for the experience.
Today it is different, I have never been a camp comic or an exec on camp and I think it has distracted from my development as an officer. Also large camps were a way of getting to know large sections of other staff the wing quickly and building up the connections that glue an organisation together.

[my old war story]

when it was my turn as a Cadet there was a good handful from each Squadon in our “area” and we were joined by another Wing in the Region, a 50/50 split.
it was great fun getting to meet Cdts from the Wing and further afield!

nowadays i get that experience from Easter and Autumn camps.
whereas Summer tends to be a “Sector” get an allocated Week the other two annual camps are Wing wide and i meet Staff i wouldnt normally.

With the ATC/ACO growing larger than the RAF and lack of accommodation it is no surprise the places are limited.
but it is the less “appeal” these camps have worry about. i have seen the reduced interest from the Cadets. it is always the same 4-6 showing interest year on year…the lack of “excitement” of visiting an RAF Station we went to last year, or typically isnt a flying station has stunted interest…

sounds familiar, and in my experience it has a damaging effect on moralé.

staff (and cadets who know better…) are pressured to go on camps they wouldn’t chose to go on if you paid them - dead-end tips like Sealand, Halton and Manston where theres nothing [strike]exciting[/strike] happening, the Messes are dead, and everything you do has to be travelled to, and whats even worse than having to give up a weeks valuable holiday to go to such place, but you have to pretend to the other staff and cadets that its going to be great and that they should go - its soul destroying…

for me, it would be better to not bother with such camps and use the resources to do other things - my last sqn sent a CO, an Adj, an FS and 7 cadets (from 45 on the Sqn…) to an annual camp six hundred miles away, they had a great time at a great station, but for the other 38 cadets it was a massive use of finite staff and transport resources for which they got absolutely nothing.

Two years ago our Summer Camp was cancelled in it’s entirety due to HQAC “double booking” as station (no lie). So, we used our own resources and did other things instead!

Each staff member took one days leave on “camp week” and took responsibility to organise something for the cadets that particular day. We had a day trip to London, an interflight golf tournament, trips to the RNAS museum, a trip to Portsmouth docks, the submarine museum and the Spinaker tower and a fieldcraft day. The cost per cadet came in cheaper than a Summer Camp. AND we got to take 16 cadets to every event (24 cadets for two of the days IIRC!). And no staff member needed to give up a full week of work to do something they didn’t want to do.

Yes they missed out on the interaction with cadets from around the Wing. They missed out on the "staying on an RAF Station (which, given some recent camps, is the only actual thing you do on the camp!). They missed out on the “mess experience”. And they missed out on immersing themselves in the room inspections, drill and constant uniform changes and faff. However, for the cadets that did it, they had a cracking time.

I’ll continue to encourage cadets to take up the offer of summer camps (we always manage to pick up a fair number of places where other squadrons couldn’t even meet their allocations of 2 or 3 cadets!) - but - for some of the destinations, especially places like High Wycombe or Halton - it’s a hard sell!

I’ve been a cadet for 5 years now and in those 5 years I’ve been on four annual camps. There is a definite disinterest amongst cadets, fair enough when you consider the camps we’ve had in recent years both Halton and High Wycombe although we have also had Boscombe Down and Northolt which are marginally better. One sector in the wing have lucked out and have been given Brize Norton which has the rest of us foaming at the mouth!

Ah yes, overseas camps… Those would be the ones for which HQAC banned pay for staff or publicly-funded support (such as MT or CILOR) about five years ago…

For the last seven years, we’ve been running an annual overseas camp without any Wing support whatsoever. It becomes my third full-time job (after my actual job and running the squadron) for several weeks running up to the camp because WHQ flatly refuse to support the admin. We also run a few training days in preparation for the camp which similarly require more admin time and again attract precisely zero pay or support. Not only that, but our own Squadrons take a massive financial risk, should a camp go bosoms-up for whatever reason.

Silverback has exactly the same problem in planning, training and running the Wing’s Nijmegen effort.

By contrast, a two-week overseas adventure training camp (with very little adventure training element, but lots of soaking up the sun and culture) can attract the full 14-days pay for the staff attending.

I would suspect the lack of interest comes from either going to camps where there is little to do, or from lacklustre OC’s who aren’t interested in the hassle. I’ve just come back from a week at BZN, and it was great. We went here there and everywhere. We only just filled our slots though, and could have taken more or two more I believe. We had two two staff and a cadet from one squadron drop out, including the CO and camp com. Not a brilliant example in my book.

Also. should stations be more interested in who the ACLO is? They can sometimes make a difference. The ACLO at BZN was good, but I’ve met poor choices also

Sadly I’ve seen ACLO duties palmed off because a JO couldn’t be bothered and someone else being told that he was it even though due to deploy…
There definitely has to be a better way.

[quote=“papa november” post=20370]
There definitely has to be a better way.[/quote]

Yes there is. Quote said lack of support in the CC debrief form. I can’t get my head around why it’s das verboten to have a constructive pop at something or someone. That’s what the form is there for, so TG2 can chat with Auntie Dawn and then she bend’s the Staish’s ear. Said ACLO gets a naff report year end and thinks twice about being a grey man in future.

Some years ago (15 or so) and following decades of poor ACLOing by fresh-from-IOT Acting Plt Offs, the role of ACLO became a primary secondary duty, alongside things such as sitting on the Stn Audit Board or on the Mess Committees. Thus it became a prime secondary duty to get for those planning to gain promotion to Sqn Ldr (or FS/WO) and as a consequence, the role attracted a lot of senior Flt Lts and Sgts. The average quality of ACLOs suddenly improved markedly in the early 2000s and we finally had people who could plan a good programme and actually get things done on Stn.

So has it slipped back to a low-grade secondary duty?

It’s encouraging to see some thought going into this. The only criticism is why not ask us for input? We’re the ones who go on the them so will know better than people who don’t.

Annex A seems to make the most interesting reading.

We’ve got a folder going back some 40 years with camp photos in it. This comes out when we have intakes and other times when we are open to the public; a few ex-cadets have seen themselves. A couple of years ago a cadet was looking in it and said there weren’t many on that camp, only 23 cadets and 5 staff, when I said that was just our sqn and there were 4 other sqns with similar numbers, they were amazed. I know because I was on one of the other sqns.

For me the last few camps I’ve been on have been bloody hard work, compared to my earlier camps as staff. Mainly due to a lack of staff numbers, you end up having to do a bit of everything, whereas in the old days staff would be given jobs and that was that. As such there is little what I remember as enjoying going to camp, as staff down time has practically disappeared. Yes we’re there to support and provide cadets with an experience, but you need time to yourself and not tearing around to get one in as the bell rings or just winding down properly before going to bed.

‘In the old days’ we went on camp with sqns from all over which as some have said were excellent for what is now called networking. Now we seem to go with the same 4-5 sqns and from them the same staff always seem to go.

When I look at camp programmes I’ve seen an increase in visits to public places now either programmed or contingency, compared to years ago. I don’t know if this is laziness, due to an ever shrinking RAF or operational duties affecting things. This detracts IMO from the blue camp experience which should be all about seeing the RAF in action and not umpteen visits to public places, which can be done at anytime. We used to get a couple of hours in the nearest big town/city and that was it. Mind you that seems to be a thing of the past.

The lack of availability of places to actually go is becoming a major stumbling block, in terms of getting cadets there (cost) and selling if other cadets thought it was a crap camp. I also think accommodation is an issue. I agree with sentiment in annex A that just having more tents is not the way forward. If the stations kept one H Block (in a dormitory configuration) and dedicated it to Air Cadets, there would be the potential for people to use it as a base for other activities in the area throughout the year, rather than just 6-8 weeks of camps in the summer. A bit late now but would have been ideal.

When there is a long distance to travel we seem to lack any imagination in getting cadets there. Looking at annex A LASER were quoted £67K in 2010 for flying 400 people to Aldergrove over 4 weeks, it makes we wonder if they’d dealt direct rather than through an agent how they would have got on, assuming the agent would have a fee. Not saying that you want it for nothing, but I’ve been on internal UK flights for work, the cost is nonsensical when you consider the same carriers will fly you to europe for not much more if not less and we get a preferential rate. There could be negotiation, if not pushing the youth organisation element. But as I have said many times and got shot down … we need people with business experience and acumen for contact negotiaton at HQAC, who are given a broad brief and not interfered with by ex-RAF types who are living in the past and get caught up in procedure. We’ve got contracts with all manner of suppliers which get us huge discounts for what we use.

There will need to be a radical rethink IMO about the provision / allocation. A potential problem is looming in the shape of the proposed reduction of the school summer holiday from 6-4 weeks and the restructuring of the school year into 4/5 terms. We had a camp in term time 3 years ago and only managed to fill 4 of our allocation of 7 places, when I’ve normally filled all places and got at least 6 reserves. This was when taking time out of school was at the discretion of headmasters/mistress’ unlike now “only exceptional circumstances” for term time holidays. Yes I know you can send a letter saying it’s not a holiday BUT it is still whether or not parents want to and if the headmaster/mistress will allow it. Even if they change the rules and allow holidays in term time, as a parent are you going to say yes you can go camp, when they could go on a family holiday costing up to half what it would be in the holiday period? It states in Annex A that each year several weeks of camps are ‘lost’ as they are in term time. Given the current situation around taking term time holidays, it seems folly to keep allocating them to ‘open’ squadrons in England.

There doesn’t seem to be any recognition of the need for proper IT at camps with a printer, despite alluding to printing things out. We’ve had requests in the past for people to take a printer on the promise of a set of inks or purchased one which has subsequently been purchased by a member of staff for their sqn or for personal use. I’ve taken my laptop and a printer from the sqn in the past. Probably breaks all the rules, but needs must when the devil drives. Internet access isn’t so much of an issue as most have a smartphone or similar device.

Something that isn’t mentioned (or I haven’t seen it) is when we get notified and the timescales for returns. It seems the notification gets later and the timescale for returns gets shorter. This is for UK and overseas. This makes it a nightmare for staff looking to get time off in prime holiday time. Not to mention parents needing to say yes and in the case of overseas maybe a deposit. Then once the forms have gone in, there is anything from 6-10 weeks before finding out if they are allowed to go. Each year there are last minute calls for staff. I had 4 staff that wanted to go 2 years ago, but the CC picked one and then 2 weeks before asked if the others wanted to go. Oddly none of them could as they had arranged to do their own thing or had regained some holiday. It appeared to me the mindset was they were sitting around with a week’s holiday booked after getting turned down, just in case they got the nod.

[quote=“GOM” post=20396]Some years ago (15 or so) and following decades of poor ACLOing by fresh-from-IOT Acting Plt Offs, the role of ACLO became a primary secondary duty, alongside things such as sitting on the Stn Audit Board or on the Mess Committees. Thus it became a prime secondary duty to get for those planning to gain promotion to Sqn Ldr (or FS/WO) and as a consequence, the role attracted a lot of senior Flt Lts and Sgts. The average quality of ACLOs suddenly improved markedly in the early 2000s and we finally had people who could plan a good programme and actually get things done on Stn.

So has it slipped back to a low-grade secondary duty?[/quote]

ACLO’s are only as good as the team supporting them - more in the team, better the work load. That said it is a secondary duty and sometime’s needs to be a prime certainly during summer camps - also a focal consistent point of contact is good - at Odi there is an ACLO group mailbox which is great and things don’t get missed - I also sit on that team which is good for them as if they have ACO questions they are not sure of I assist and guide…

agree completely!

i liaise with the ACLO regularly as we use the local 25m barrack range and training rooms monthly for IWT and LFMT and use the ACLO as the middleman between our needs for stores and the Stations contacts.

he does a great job. it may well help me and him were Cadets together but with that knowledge he knows what we want and in his situation knows who to talk to and how to meet the needs