We were formed 3 1/2 years ago as a supporters action group to protest against the appalling stadium that had been built for members, in particular, the lack of facilities for members and supporters of County Cricket.
After launching our own questionnaire in the ground and with national and press coverage we managed to get a number of members facilities changed for the better, ie a new library to replace the one destroyed by the Club, disability facilities upgraded and better access to the outfield and stands for supporters.
We also unearthed the relationship between Director of Cricket Mike Watkinson & the only Board Member responsible for cricket - Paul Allott. They were great friends and after overseeing five relegations Watkinson was still in a job. With the threat of an SGM (we had more than enough members who were willing to support one to oust the Chairman, Allott & Watkinson) the Club at the end of 2014 sacked Watkinson and started the upgrading of some of the facilities that we wanted changing.
The Club then started their own supporters group to help liaise between the Club and neglected membership which was called the Members Representative Group (MRG). After nearly 3 years the MRG are unfortunately in disarray. A number of the group have expressed frustrations that they have not achieved anything and basically wasted their time.
We as an Action Group interviewed one of the disgruntled members Timothy St Asaph, a well known supporter of the team recently and this is what he had to say :
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As you are probably aware the Members Representative Group (MRG) was set up by the Club as a direct response to the independent Action Group requesting improvements to the playing and Lancashire Members & spectators facilities back in 2014.
In a short space of time the Club were forced to act on a large number of our recommendations on the facility side and the bizarre situation of Mike Watkinson reporting to the board's Paul Allott, his great friend, on cricket matters was resolved as Watkinson was removed as Cricket Director.
We were extremely sceptical of the MRG truly representing Members interests so nearly 3 years since its inception we are interested to know what the MRG think of how their time has been spent and what, if anything, have they actually achieved. Having spoken to several of the MRG members they have come to the conclusion that they think it has been a waste of their time and energies and they will not be re-standing for election early next year.
We also recently spoke to well known supporter and former MRG member Timothy St Ather and here are the startling results of a question and answer session with him :
1. Why did you join the MRG Tim?
Like everyone else who became a member of the MRG, I joined in a spirit of cooperative and constructive optimism. We all believed that the Board was serious about improving customer service and communication with members. After decades of dissatisfaction with the way the club has been governed and managed, we all believed that the MRG would be an effective conduit between the Board and members.
2. How did your interview go for your position on the MRG?
About six months after I had applied, I received a communication from Geoffrey Shindler saying that I had been invited to an interview but that (six months later, remember) they were on a very tight schedule and that no other time could be offered. I protested that this was unreasonable and that I would be watching a Test match in Grenada at the time. In the event, they agreed to interview me by telephone and I was spoken to on a very crackly line at 4.00 am. I was only asked a couple of questions but when the list of MRG members appeared, my name was on it. I think they had decided who they wanted beforehand and as long as people did not turn up to the interview drunk and vomited over them, it was a formality. I am not sure whether anyone was interviewed and rejected.
3. Please list any of the key MRG achievements over the last 2 1/2 years ?
As I could not immediately think of anything substantial, I had asked for 24 hours notice to consider this question. I then asked for further clarification of whether the answer should be more than reminding staff to do the jobs they were being paid to do. When told I was being asked to think of something the MRG had achieved that would not otherwise have happened, I was genuinely unable to come up with anything other than we had ensured a regular supply of paper towels in the Ladies toilets. On reflection, not a great return for three years of effort.
4. Did you meet to a set regular timetable?
We met three times in the first year. The first two meetings were dominated by Board members and at the third we floundered about trying to work out our purpose. In the second year we did not meet at all during the cricket season. It became clear that the Board had set us up and forgotten about us. No members of the club management could find time to meet us. By this time a number of MRG members were threatening to resign. I wrote a constructive letter to the then Chairman Michael Cairns, warning him about this and saying that the Board were wasting a valuable opportunity. His response was not at all constructive. He said it did not matter if we all resigned as we were all replacable. He turned up unannounced at our next meeting saying that he was going to “read the riot act”. Instead he sat in the meeting reading through the minutes of what had been discussed during the previous two years. It was clear that he was completely out of touch and had no idea about what we had been trying to achieve. We all sat there watching him read our minutes. It was embarrassing.
5. What level of club official routinely attended meetings and was it an independent meeting?
Until quite recently, we had all assumed that the MRG was independent but in retrospect it is clear that we never were. The first meeting was presided over by Cairns and Shindler. At this time we were all like star struck teenagers, thrilled that the Board seemed to want our views and feeling that we could make a difference. The second meeting was presided over by Shindler and at the other meeting in our first year, we listened to presentations by staff members who told us that they would “look into things” and told us why things could not be done. Belatedly we discovered that the Board believes it has the right to replace anybody who says or does anything they do not approve of.
6. Did you ever set up your own meeting away from Club officials and did this help?
After two years of not being able to get members of the management team to find time for us, we decided to schedule our own meeting dates and invite management team members when appropriate. The meetings attended only by MRG members were massively more effective. Our discussions were far more constructive and although we still did not achieve anything substantial we did highlight what could be achieved by an independent MRG with real power.
7. How were you as reps made recognisable to members on match days?
It took us about a year before decent photographs were posted on the pavilion notice board. It took even longer to get minimally recognisable badges. I was only approached once by a member in three years. Members in general did seem to be cynical about our role and collectively seemed to realise that we were a waste of time, long before we did. I did actively approach members and was able to get answers to some of their questions and they were always appreciative of this. I was asked by several members whether LCCC had won or lost the case against NatWest bank but never did get an answer other that the matter was confidential.
8. What level of catering was provided pre your meetings?
At the first meeting a nice lunch was provided. At the second meeting we were given sandwiches. At our third meeting we were downgraded to coffee and biscuits. Nothing at all after that.
9. Why do you think the MRG meeting minutes were only circulated to members via the Club email newsletter?
It was very difficult to get any information circulated to members. It was always low priority for the club and when we insisted that some information must be circulated, it was done slowly and resentfully.
10. How do you think the Chairperson Amanda Fearn got elected considering she only attends T20 cricket and in your opinion has she done a good job?
Amanda was never elected as Chairperson, she was appointed to the position by the club, I am pretty certain that Amanda’s appointment was a response to my own campaigning for the club to have better marketing to women; to be able to have access to Lancashire Ladies fixtures and results and to be more female friendly. I was gleefully told by Shindler before the first MRG meeting that we had a woman as Chairman. In my personal opinion Amanda has always been conscientious and responsive although some members feel that she has been “captured” by club management.
11. The MRG were allocated a space in some of the Club Spin magazines. Were your articles censored in any way and why was there no article in the last issue of Spin?
One of the terms of our appointment was that an MRG member had to write an article for each edition of SPIN but every article was heavily censored and even quite innocuous comments were edited out. We stopped writing and the club seemed glad of it. My own article on the efforts to make the club more female friendly was rejected out of hand. We might just as well have asked the club to write articles for us but only articles praising them, of course. Even the mildest comment or suggestion is treated as an unjustified personal attack.
12. Did you find it awkward bringing up criticism of the Club with a family member of a Board Member actually being on the MRG?
Until you asked this question I was unaware that Shindler had appointed a member of his family to the MRG. It would not have mattered all that much because it was unrealistic to expect junior members to take a day off school to attend MRG meeting and they very rarely appeared.
13. What are your thoughts on how quickly club officials completed their agreed and minuted actions?
Anything suggested by the MRG was always given low priority. For club management the MRG was clearly a nuisance that required time that could be better spent on other things. Club management had been given no clear or positive direction from the Board other than to keep the lid on us and try to keep us happy. From the marketing department we have learned in three years that it is a technical impossibility to get detailed information about Lancashire Ladies fixtures, results, match reports or information on to the website!
14. Why have the MRG Members appeared to have lost their enthusiasm and their respect over the last 3 years?
I do not believe that any of the present MRG would have agreed to serve if we had realised that we would be treated as an irrelevance and that we would all have wasted our time. The club has wasted what could have been a valuable opportunity to make valuable improvements to the relationship between members and the Board. It is rumoured that Shindler is planning to appoint new members to the MRG and it is interesting to speculate whether any person of integrity would consent to become a member of what is now being called the LCCC Board poodle group It would need a much better class of biscuit for anyone to agree to make themselves such a laughing stock.
Timothy St Ather
Well that was a pretty damning interview to say the least. We personally think it is a real shame that things have gone this way for the Lancashire members who put their time and effort into the MRG and their best intentions appear to have been futile. Several members of the MRG helped us with our original dossiers on 'playing' and 'facilities' that we handed to the Club back in the summer of 2014 before the MRG was formed by the Club as a way of shutting us up.
There is so much more that can be achieved at Old Trafford, sorry Emirates Old Trafford, to become a better place to watch county cricket and to improve the lack of decent facilities that the 'new stadium' lacked when re-opened in 2012. We hope with your support we can achieve at least some more improvements in the near future and return it to what it is supposed to be a members club for county cricket first and foremost not an International cricket stadium whose sole aim seems to be aimed at providing corporate facilities and holding pop concerts.
We want members and supporters to be treated fairly and given proper discounts for International fixtures, etc and be allowed in an elevated view in their own Pavilion without having to pay for the privilege. Surely that should be a basic requirement of membership, after all Nottinghamshire seem to be able to look after their members priorities while still hosting a fantastic facility for International cricket.
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