Having made the decision earlier this year, Sport Imperial began charging for a mountain hut used by various Clubs & Societies as a rest stop during outdoor trips. At first, the hut was free to use by societies and houses approximately twenty-five people. Prices of £50 for booking weekend use were introduced without a consultation period, focus group or notification to the clubs.
Prior to the merger of several medical schools to form the Imperial College School of Medicine, the hut was donated to St Mary’s Hospital Medical School with the intent to encourage students to take part in outdoor activities without incurring further costs. Yet, students believe charging goes against the original aims of the donation.
Baffled students in various outdoor clubs took to Facebook with an online page and petition in protest. In the petition, which gained 206 signatures at the time of writing, students posted comments such as: “this goes totally against the spirit of the charitable donation of the hut”, “charging… is simply unacceptable, particularly without consultation”, and “as a club we simply wouldn’t have been able to take so many people into the outdoors so frequently without it, and we really appreciated this charitable donation”.
Recreational clubs which were affected include the Fellwanderers, Mountaineering, Canoeing and various other outdoor societies, who collectively believed that “charging for use… goes against the original intentions of the donation and is the first step in commercialising this charitable gift”. The 123 strong Facebook group’s description said that “the financial impact on the clubs who use it regularly is not negligible… members will bear the brunt of the cost”.
Having spoken with Deputy President (Clubs & Societies) Monya Zard, Felix found that she met with Sport Imperial and raised the issue at their Sports User Group Meeting on 14 February. Despite their efforts, the initial response was that they would not reconsider. After Chair of the Recreational Clubs Committee (RCC) Dominic Andradi-Brown gave a report at the RCC General Meeting on 16 February, a severe backlash occurred along with the creation of the online petition.
Years of not charging and pressure increasingly mounting last week caused students to hold a meeting which resulted in Sport Imperial rescinding the charges. Also, they agreed to continue to let outdoor clubs use the mountain hut free. Notably, they introduced the condition that they produce a sport/club development plan. Numbers for free weekend bookings will be allocated annually after this is reviewed based on how often the club uses it. Instead, for clubs which do not include use of the hut as a core activity (at least once annually), the £50 booking charge remains.
Numerous clubs associated with the RCC already face an increase in costs of running trips, with the Union increasing charges to hire minibuses and fuel prices. A final comment from Brown noted that “trying to stay true to the core RCC recreation sports value of providing cheap opportunities for students to get out of London and get involved in an activity is becoming increasingly challenging”, and many clubs have had to increase their trip costs this year.