How many times have you booked onto an event at Copehill Down, just to have it moved, restricted or just plain cancelled? Have you got to the front gates of an event, only to be told that the game time has been cut in half or rules imposed that limit what can actually take place? If so, this article might a answer some questions and maybe give you a little insight into what hoops have to be jumped though to host a game at some of the U.K.s most interesting sites.
So, let’s start with the sites themselves… As far as I’m aware, all FIBUA sites within the U.K. (such as Longmoor, Copehill Down and Sennybridge) are on land that is owned by the MOD (some might be leased on long term government contracts but for our purposes, the MOD is for all intents and purposes considered the landowner.
On many of these sites, specifically the ones that do not have a directly attached garrison or base (such as Copehill Down or Sennybridge) the site is maintained and managed by Landmarc. This company is a private entity who manage the day to day aspects of running the MOD’s various training areas and ranges. They do everything from land management to helping the MOD facilitate the use of the land for conservation projects and third party usage.
This last part is where we airsofters come in, as third party users of restricted training land, we’re considered quite low on the priority food chain and conversely are also seen as high risk users.
Each training area will have its own special set of rules and regulations which will impact who can use it and for what purpose. These regulations are primarily in place to ensure that if there is a military or government exercise that requires the land (even at short notice) that Landmarc are in a position to ensure that it is available to their customer (Her Majesty’s Government) within their agreed service level agreement (SLA).
In short, this means that should any unit require the use of an MOD training area, all commercial customers such as Airsoft event businesses will be told that their arranged dates are no longer available. Often, this is done with a few months to spare. In some extreme circumstances, it happens days before the event.
This all sounds like common sense, and to be fair I can’t raise one single objection to why this happens. Our military training areas are of massive importance to the readiness and combat effectiveness of our military and also provide our emergency services some additional training areas for joint training exercises in scenarios such as natural disasters and terrorist incidents.
So the first step that’s made to secure a FIBUA site is to see if the requested area is actually free and available for use on the requested dates, some sites are easier to secure than others… Some sites can be completely off limits to Airsoft whereas others have a regular presence (with Airsoft almost as frequently on site as the military).
On one end of the scale you have Longmoor, whose arrangements with Ambush Adventures, Airborne Airsoft and (more recently) Legion Airsoft Events have seen Longmoor FIBUA village being used on almost a monthly basis for the last decade or so.
On the other, you have highly desirable training areas such as STANTA and Rype Village that have remained virtually closed to the Airsoft community for many many years. Sometimes there’s no reason given, it’s literally a flat no or there’s zero availability listed and sometimes (in the case of STANTA) it’s actually due to the actions of airsofters themselves that have caused us to become Persona Non Grata.
So once you’ve had your dates approved, provided all your risk assessments, proof of insurance and all the other bits and pieces Lardmarc and the MOD require, there’s a pre-event briefing around a month or so before… It’s not so much a briefing as an interview. Fuck it up and the door closes. With all that done, all you now have to do is fill the event with players, organise the event and make sure you’ve got enough staff.
Now comes the frustrating part, at any time up until your planned event dates you might get a call to say that it’s no longer available. In theory, you could get booted off half way through an event although it’s not happened (yet).
You’re also responsible for making sure that nothing untoward happens whilst you’re on site and putting it back exactly how you found it (sometimes that means getting your customers to mop the floors 😉).
With all those hoops and the cost of running an event, it’s of little surprise that there’s so few event organisers out there. Whilst we’re here, let’s talk about costs… Some sites can cost an organiser up to £10’000, which even with a high entry fee and player count can swallow upwards of 50% of the total game funds! Add the other insurances and costs onto a game and you might clear a couple of grand at the end of it.
Fuel and transportation costs also make up a massive part of the bill, as an example… After chatting to Stirling Airsoft’s Matt B, the average cost of bringing their Saracen APC to a game is around £800, that’s purely to get it to the event and back home. Running and repair costs also swallow into their profit margin, and then there’s the actual time involved…
Most people who run weekend events will have another “Day job”, most of them will be far more rewarding financially than running an Airsoft event, which begs the question “why bother?”. Usually it’s passion, the better events tend to be the ones where the organisers throw themselves into it.
So with the difficulties in finding a suitable venue and the various costs involved and the demands of your potential customers, will this result in FIBUA sites becoming harder and harder to play at?
Yes, unfortunately it is. We’re seeing more and more restrictions at MOD sites that effectively make them almost impossible to host an event at. I’d love to see games hosted regularly at Rype Village (arguably the best FIBUA venue in the U.K.) and for Copehill Down or STANTA games become a staple of the Airsoft calendar.
However, we’re likely to see a further restriction of sites that are available and also fewer organisers that are willing to take the risks involved to plan and run a game where you could be told to cancel it the week before or be told that pyrotechnics or night games are now not allowed.
So what does the future hold? Well, some arrangements will carry on as normal, the relationships built with organisers and lardmarc/mod staff can cut through a fair amount of red tape. But you might start seeing a shift towards organisers using private land or preexisting Airsoft sites.
UCAPs Sandpit was a perfect example of what can be achieved with private land being used to run regular skirmishes but also having the ability to run bigger themed events. This is the direction we should be heading in, how many times have you passed a derelict building or piece of land and thought “that’d make a good site”.
Some of the most interesting sites in the U.K. are quarries, disused factories and other empty buildings, so the next time you’re out and spot a potential site that has potential, let the right people know!