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Boulder UK – it’s all about community and collaboration!

22nd June 2024

Categories News Partners

We had a video chat with Boulder UK co-director Tanya Meredith recently while she was on a rest day from projecting in Rodellar!  The wall has been a stalwart in terms of raising funds and awareness for CAC for several years, and has no intention of stopping!

Tell us a bit about Boulder UK?

Boulder UK is a climbing wall in Northwest of England, in Preston. We opened in 2017, replacing the original Boulder UK in Blackburn, that opened in 2003. We have a team of 27 staff, of which 8 work full-time.

What is your role there?

I’m a director and co-owner, alongside Neil Mawson. We both obviously have a leadership role at the wall as well as more operational roles like organising events etc. I’m the climbing wall’s safeguarding lead and we share the HR & Health & Safety responsibilities etc.

Alongside my work at Boulder UK, I also work as a transformative coach – it’s different to traditional performance coaching!  My areas of expertise and particular interest are around personal growth, purpose and wellbeing and clients include climbers who have their own businesses as well as leaders in education, as that was my career background before I started working more at Boulder UK.

How did you get involved with CAC?

It’s an important charity to us, for many reasons. Personally, I met John Ellison [CAC’s founder, Ed.] back in 2008.  Me and a friend had visited Boulder UK to climb for the first time, but arrived to find that the wall was shut for the Plywood Masters comp.  We were about to leave when John Ellison, one of the first people we met that day, and being the positive, friendly and inclusive guy he was, persuaded us to “come and watch the finals.”

Over the years I also got to know John quite well, climbing there and as we both lived near to each other. When he got his diagnosis, he talked very openly about it at the wall.  I also remember him bringing in the very first designs for the CAC T-shirts to get feedback. So, for me, there’s obviously a personal connection with the charity and this is also the case for many of our customers. When we opened the new wall, all of us wanted to have a strong link with CAC, and we had a CAC stall on the opening day, 1st September 2017.

I think there’s also more synergy for us with CAC too.  When John got his diagnosis it would have been a huge thing for him to process. He was an incredibly positive person and amazing at networking – people enjoyed his company and cheeky sense of humour! John decided to use his unique strengths, love of climbing and links within the climbing community to create something that’s had a huge positive knock-on.  It also gives the climbing community something to get behind.

Within the type of coaching I offer, clients experience more success in their personal and professional lives when they get more clarity on their, values and unique strengths and explore how they can then use these in a way that’s authentic for them, to have a positive impact.

This is also something me, Neil and the wider team enjoy being able to do via Boulder UK – we get to use our passion for climbing and unique skills, to make a difference and this gives us all a lot of purpose. For a lot of people “work”, is a “job”, for others it might be a “career”, and for some it’s a “mission”.  If you can find this, it will make you feel good AND a positive impact on others.

Where do you see Boulder UK going in future?

In terms of our mission and what we want to achieve with the wall, we want it to be even more inclusive and have a wider positive impact, like John did with CAC.

When you’ve got a facility like ours, we both feel like we’ve got a responsibility to our staff and community to continue to evolve and improve our business.  One thing we’ve not changed much is our original mission, from 2017 – we’ve always wanted Boulder UK to be an inclusive centre of excellence, somewhere that motivates beginners through to experienced climbers, to fulfill their potential.

We want it to be welcoming and somewhere you have a positive experience, no matter how hard you climb or how long you’ve climbed for, whether you climb indoors or outdoors.

Almost two years ago, when we reviewed and updated our original mission with our current team leaders, they were adamant that reaching “potential” was not just about climbing harder and, instead, more about “personal growth”.  Obviously, you want people to fulfill their climbing potential, if that’s important to them, but climbing provides learning for life, a way of gaining increased self-awareness, overcoming limiting beliefs, improving confidence, determination etc.  This is something the team want to integrate into our adult and youth coaching programmes at the wall.

The team also want to continue to make the wall as inclusive as possible, so more people from different backgrounds have the opportunity to access and benefit from climbing.  So, we’re collaborating more with schools and other organisations who share our values.

We’re also actually the first bouldering-only wall to start working with Sarah Jones from Access Sport to increase participation of young people who are underserved, neurodivergent or have a learning disability.

Andrew McVittie (Process Physio), who is based at Boulder UK, is another expert we have available to consult with- as well as supporting 1000s of climbers with rehab for climbing injuries, he has a wealth of experience supporting people with neuro-physio. More recently, we’ve also made links with Jake Williams at Sense to start working to increase participation of adults with more complex complex learning differences or disabilities, in bouldering.

The people and organisations we choose to collaborate with are all about empowering others – and focus on starting from a place of what people CAN do, rather than what they can’t.  We all want to ramp up this area of work over the next few years.  The coaches who have worked with these groups have also found this area of work enjoyable and great for their development as coaches.

CAC : Hold that thought, because one of the reasons that we decided to make a grant to Rocheplane medical centre in Grenoble this year is because we wanted to expand into ‘living with and after cancer’ projects not ‘just’ research. But individual projects often are for small groups and lack the leverage we’d like to achieve. The appeal of Rocheplane’s project [outdoor climbing for cancer patients] is that they have undertaken to do a qualitative evaluation. We’re hoping we’ll end up with a kind of ‘how to’, which would explain how to get started with this kind of thing – what you need, what pitfalls to avoid,  here’s what works, here’s what doesn’t which is often more important. That way we could help people not to have to reinvent wheels. There are lots of projects like this around, but it’s quite piecemeal. Ideally we could get all of them talking to each other, learning from each other… 

Well, that’s definitely the power of community and sharing good practice, which myself and the other director of Boulder UK, Neil Mawson, are definitely keen to support.

We’ve also just started liaising with Sophie, Corporate Engagement Partner from St. Catherine’s Hospice, a local charity that support end-of-life care.  As we’re talking now, I’m wondering if there aren’t some more synergies to be found there with CAC… watch this space!

In terms of where Boulder UK is going in the future, we also want to support the future of British competition climbing, by continuing to host GB team training events, junior comps and the Plywood Masters (PWM) competition.  We’ve got some exciting ideas in store for PWM next year and will want to use this as another platform to promote CAC more!

Neil is also a former GB climbing coach and has extensive experience coaching top indoor and outdoor climbers.  He’s currently working with Megan McDermott (our Head of our Junior Programme) to strengthen our in-house coaching team and evolve our Junior Programme.

Finally, it’s also important to us that we continue to invest in our centre, host more cool events for our community and set even more creative boulder problems, using the latest holds, to inspire and test the skills of our climbers!

How do you see CAC developing in future?

Going back to purpose and mission, many businesses talk about corporate social and moral responsibility and wanting to use their business to make a positive difference rather than just money – it’s important for both their teams as well as their customers. You may find some companies who are happy to donate employee time or other resources, for fundraising, or other support?

Partnering with walls is definitely a good idea of yours. It’s easy for climbing walls to get involved – why wouldn’t they?  It’s often just about doing something you were going to do anyway, in a slightly different way, that has a positive impact – in raising awareness and or money for charity, via events with raffles etc.

It’s also about harnessing the power of the climbing community, isn’t it.

Climbers identify with their local wall and community.  At Boulder UK, we have a donation box, but I wonder if there’s scope to have different QR codes assigned to different CAC wall, so that customers’ online donations also get allocated to a centre– you could have a CAC leaderboard!  ‘Signing up’ local gyms also means you’ll reach more leisure climbers.  In other countries it seems as though CAC is better known in competition circles.

The communication side and online visibility of the charity has definitely improved over the past year or two. If you could get more of your ambassadors or CAC walls writing posts about fundraising opportunities, events etc. inviting CAC to “collaborate”, you could reach more people and get content for your own Instagram without any extra work on your part.

Yes, I’m not sure people realise there are only 4 trustees and one part-time employee at CAC, so anything we can ‘delegate’ is definitely good news!

It’s amazing what’s been achieved, I think that’s why people automatically assume it’s a much bigger organisation. This can also be an advantage – people often prefer to give to causes with low overheads as more fundraising money will go directly to where it’s needed and will have biggest impact.

A final word?

At some point in our lifetimes, all of us are likely to be impacted by cancer in some way.  Working with CAC allows our community to continue to support the good work John started, by raising more awareness and funds to support important research. At Boulder UK, we’re keen to be part of that.

If you are interested in becoming a CAC wall, or you want to encourage your local wall to become one, you’ll find some useful information here. Or just contact us through our social media, email or phone.