Mario Costa-Sa (Herts TRF) rounds up the last of the three Directors that have helped shed a little more light on what it takes to run the TRF. Volunteering 3 years ago to help shake the fellowship up, modernise and prepare for the next chapter of trail riding in the UK, he has gone about it with gusto.
As the club has progressed, it’s not always been plain sailing and at times tough decisions have had to be made. Here he sheds a little light on his approach, the vision for the club and why it’s important that more members step up, volunteer, and help move the club forwards.
So Mario, you’re TRF Director of Marketing & Membership as well as being Group Chairman of Herts TRF and a Herts TRF Senior Rights of Road (RoR) Officer. How did it all begin?
I only took up trail riding a few years ago in my mid 40’s. It was prompted by my kids really as it’s something they are interested in. In terms of riding, I still class myself as a barely competent novice, for me it’s about ease of ride and ownership over ultimate performance.
I’ve owned Land Rovers for a long time and first ventured into “green laning” in the 90’s in and old Series Land Rover. When my daughter was born in 98 the cars took a sabbatical and ponies took over. This lasted until about 2010 when I stumbled across a rider on a BMW 1200GS whilst taking the kids on a round the world trip. It seemed like a great way to get out and explore with a little less family luggage.
Having said that the kids have become bikers with Lola (16) taking her CBT and Joshua (12) having completed the Coast to Coast pillion on the BMW1200GS and now both kids happily ride the KTM 450 solo. Even my wife has contemplated taking her motorcycle test. We have just gotten into Trials and joined the Berkhampsted motorcycle club (BMC&C) which was the forerunner of the TRF.
Herts TRF has a great energy to it coming from great people., We’re always leading ride outs, generally 1 a week moving to 3 in the summer , and there is no shortage of talent for events or Rights of Road (RoR) work where we have 12 ROR officers including myself. My favourite lanes include Thetford Forest on the CRF250X or KTM 450 , fast dry lanes in the Summer around Norfolk on the Hunstanton run on the CRF250L and the Stella Alpina trails or with Devon TRF on the CRF230.
How did you end up becoming a Director of the TRF?
I joined the TRF simply to find out about lanes in my area. I met a great New Members Officer, John Fox, who was very helpful and despite a few issues in Herts TRF I could see that there was plenty of untapped potential needing better organisation.
It was pretty soon after joining – I was made Chairman, simply because I offered to do the job when no-one else wanted to and the last guy wanted out.
I have learnt a lot from the TRF. Where & how to ride, but above all the teamwork and camaraderie from riding in a small group and nailing a decent run. As a TRF Director my sole reward is the same as any other TRF member - to be taken to some amazing places and ride with extraordinary people.
I wanted to give something back where the TRF was clearly falling short. Marketing and membership sign up was the main area, but also understanding and sorting out its conflicting positions in “Rights of Road” – which is all much clearer now with some excellent initiatives coming out from my TRF colleague John Vannuffel.
I am a reluctant Director – I don’t get paid a penny from the TRF, and frankly would rather be riding my bike or leading a TRF run. I enjoy what I do at the TRF and I believe it’s an important job, but it would be great to have other members on board as Directors, it would give me a bit more time in the saddle! Having said that once I have taken a task on I try and do it to the best of my ability including putting in a ridiculously high amount of time and energy for a volunteer job. One thing I am not is a “meddler” I only fix what is broken, and there are plenty of areas of the TRF I have left alone. As such, I can see an end to my contribution to the TRF and when the time comes will happily step aside passing the reigns on to younger, more competent individuals – including people like yourself, Greg :-) as well as others I am keen to recruit.
So what does it take to be a Director day to day?
Well it’s a long list which I have started to put together on the TRF Forum. Currently I spend around 6 hours a day every day on TRF work. Easily over 40 hours a week of my time which equates to a heck of a lot of my lost earnings spent on TRF business. Some of the 40 hours is taken up with :
Signing our presence - website & logo rebranding
Linking our Rights Of Road strategy to marketing and exploring possibilities
Formulating Corporate Social Responsibility initiatives
Finding out who to work with - and who won't work with us
Economic value of trail riding - a big project
Corporate governance - company articles
Recruiting more volunteers, officers, directors
Communication the above with the members through website articles, forum, Facebook, emails, phone calls and the “meet the directors” programme.
Running the TRF social networking plans and monitoring our social network presence
Replying to individual member queries - approx. 10 per day
Monthly directors meetings approvals and minutes
Negotiating Events insurance and lane clearance protection
Running the membership department and working with Debbie & Sharon our membership secretaries
Running the IT area working with Adrian and the IT steering committee
Evaluating Electronic Voting options for the TRF
Running the marketing area and working with our contractors
Supervising press release creation
Working with the MCIA
Organising the MORE attendance with a local group (wilts in 2015)
Working with LARA and GLASS
Linking people in different parts of the TRF
Running the TRF Events programme
Publicising events on FB Forum and website
Staring up our Facebook members only group
Organising TRF stands Major events
Writing monthly trail email cover
However the most important part of my work has been formulating new, contemporary strategies for the fellowship, where in the past we have been seen by members as a “secret society”, unfriendly and cliquey, with a riding strategy that wrongly centred around “apologising for our presence”
Well Mario, that’s certainly not a short list. It’s great that you can spend that much time on it and it’s clear to see why you would like more Directors to help share the responsibility. What’s your vision for the club? Where are we going?
At a high level – in society as a whole, I want Trail Riding to be seen as a perfectly acceptable leisure activity, as deviant as playing “golf”. ☺
For this to happen TRF these are the are 4 key areas we need to work on:
Accepting mainstream trail riding and not apologising for our presence.
In the short term the Directors are working on delivering the TRF to a positive AGM where an informed membership can vote for their choice of motions and the directors to take them forward.
In the longer term and if re-elected I would be looking to work on the following areas
Partnering with organisations
Political engagement /lobbying
Reversing negative trends from our ROW defensive approach and positively affecting legislation
A clear Conflict of interest policy to allay fears of working with other organisations
In terms of Structure in the past we have formed as a business and operate like part time amateurs. In the future I would like to look alternative structures, closer aligned to ideals of being of service to our members and to the wider public benefit. This may include charitable status for the TRF in place of corporate, as it could bring both benefits of respect for our organisation and financial benefit through reliefs to charities and a more prevalent use of Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) in place of spending tens of thousands on an increasing burden of court cases.
However, it remains at an individual level where most work is needed, increasing the number of volunteers in the TRF and increasing the mutual trust in fellow TRF members. I am proud to have doubled the resource in Membership ,and there are many more people now active in National Marketing across the various groups than any other time in the past.
This approach is driving results for the TRF with Marketing and Membership delivering the highest number of members since 2009 and more importantly a coherent and clear Rights of Road strategy that mainstream Trail Riders can get behind and back.
In the future, - my vision is that many hands will equal light work.
Something that is quite apparent in the club is that you can be a bit of a “Marmite” character. You seem to be quite direct and that doesn’t always get agreement with all members. What would you say to this?
Have you ever watched “Sons of Anarchy“ on TV? The TRF is a bike club. Fighting is normal! Seriously - even the world’s great leaders historically have had their critics and I am here to do a job, not win public affection.
If I walked into a UKIP meeting with a message of “Everyone Welcome and Share everything” it would come as no surprise to anyone when I got a rough ride. Add that to the need to act fast and reform the TRF quickly with legislative events events such as the Deregulation Bill threatening to lose us more land and clashes are bound to happen.
Having said that, there are a very few out of the thousands in the TRF that are clearly “fighting their own demons”, Those who actually take time to meet with me quickly realise that I am clearly not one of these demons and am actually on their side!
I listen to all feedback, positive and negative, and act on criticism where justified. At the end of the day we all want the same thing, to be able to continue to ride green roads. Some of the comments that are raised are very emotive and that’s understandable, but it’s when this can be matched with well thought out reasons, and ideally solutions, that progress is made. It also helps if people are willing to roll their sleeves up. I’s easy to point out the problems, it’s actions, energy and courage that fix them. We want you to get more involved, see a problem? Then help fix it and make the club better for you and all the Fellowship.
Finally I am a great supporter of free speech and democracy in the TRF. We have a forum for members to openly air their views and annual voting of directors which is the members opportunity to vote me in and vote me out.
One of the key observations of the “old” TRF is that we don’t have few opportunities to “break bread” with one another and socialise after a ride. This will be addressed as we move forward with more evening events to go along with the already excellent riding, and truly make everyone welcome and aid communication in the fellowship.
It’s encouraging that all the feedback includes the acknowledgment that the TRF Directors are in the process of dragging the TRF kicking & screaming in the 21st century. Sure there will be a few tears, scrapes and bruised egos – but what worthwhile journey doesn’t have a little pain & strain on the way.
Thanks Mario. Any last words?
That’s an easy one - Summer’s up. Bikes & Rides are on my agenda at present there are some great “adventure trail rides” to be had in the TRF in the UK and further afield in Europe and even Asia. The newly launched TRF Facebook Groups site is pivotal in achieving that aim. I’ve even been invited out for a ride by “Mario basher” Rod Jackson which I am very much looking forward to, simply to find out what we have in common and enjoy North Yorkshire & The Peak District together!
Let’s ride ☺