Potential bankruptcy and claims of bullying are threatening the survival of one of Marlborough’s oldest clubs.
The running of the Clubs of Marlborough has come under fire from anxious members who fear for its future.
About 140 people packed into the Redwoodtown Community Hall on Sunday to voice their concerns and discuss a way forward.
Members say they have been kept in the dark by a non-communicative committee and fear the struggling club may go under.
President Jason Clouston, who alongside other committee members was invited to the meeting but did not attend, came under fire for alleged bullying tactics.
Meeting chair Niel Sowry warned the crowd to be careful to stick to facts as Clouston had threatened legal action over anything libelous.
“Anyone that wants to talk, I have to advise you to be very careful that what you say is factual and can be proven.
“Social media has been alive with comments, a lot of them we cannot substantiate.
“There has been a threat of legal action if anything libelous is said, so please be careful if you want to say something.”
The move comes after sweeping plans to restructure the Club were announced earlier this month, with staff facing redundancy.
Concerned members say they did not understand why the Club had not reopened under level 2.
Sowry says the Club received wage subsidy payments for 56 staff members over lockdown.
Official documentation from the wage subsidy website shows the club received $356,000.
Members have earlier written a letter to the committee calling for a vote of no confidence in Clouston and an extraordinary general meeting.
No meeting has yet taken place.
“We could wait two years and still not see a meeting so the issue of confidence or non-confidence in anyone on committee is not addressed,” Sowry says.
“You want to do something, you’ve got to do it according to the rules, and the rules are deficient.”
Sowry told the crowd he was working with Clubs New Zealand and legal representation in Wellington.
“We have a president who tries to rule by fear and intimidation.
“It appears to be that he’s a bully when it comes to staff, and anyone that wants to stand up and oppose him, they get the treatment.
Tina Beattie says she stood for the committee and served but was forced to resigned because of bullying.
She claims the bullying had continued after she resigned.
A Committee of six were voted by members to approach the committee and get lines of communication going.
Members say the club needed a new committee to ensure it thrived.
Jason Clouston says they have advised by our Solicitors to refrain from commenting on issues arising from the Clubs restructuring process which is currently ongoing.
“Members will be notified shortly on the time and date of the Extraordinary General Meeting requisitioned by the Sowrys.”
In a statement, RSA president Chris Bamber asked members to bear with them through this difficult time.
“It is a stressful time for all concerned in the Clubs of Marlborough restructure process.
“I know it is hard for our members not knowing what is happening, hearing all the rumours, out there but please bear with us for a little longer and know we are working our hardest at getting our Club back to a stage where we can all enjoy our Clubs’ facilities and activities again.”
Bosses at Clubs of Marlborough have revealed it will open for business again soon.
The central Blenheim business has not yet reopened following the lifting of lockdown restrictions to level 1.
Committee members have thrown their support behind the club’s beleaguered president, Jason Clouston.
Some financial members have called for an extraordinary general meeting, citing a vote of no confidence in the president, citing concerns over mismanagement.
In a statement released last week, the Committee of Management says the club cannot survive without immediate changes.
Staff stand to lose their jobs in the wake of proposed chnages.
“The Clubs of Marlborough has been through challenging times in the past few months.
“An operational review concluded immediate changes were needed for the club’s survival. These cannot be achieved under the club’s present structure
“In the ever-changing hospitality environment, with declining revenues and returns, we need to make changes that will prepare the club for the financial challenges ahead that all New Zealand businesses will face,” the statement says.
The hospitality business has never achieved the profitability forecast in 2007, when the clubs first moved into the multi-million-dollar complex.
The Clubs of Marlborough brought the Returned and Services Association, the Blenheim Workingmen’s Club and the Marlborough Club under one roof in 2007.
The large complex has a gym, shooting range, gaming hall, TAB facilities and two restaurants – and shares the space with the Marlborough Convention Centre downstairs.
Management say Covid-19 struck just as the restructuring process began.
“When we reached Level 2 the government-imposed restrictions of 100 persons per building made it financially unviable for the Club to reopen.
“Our objective is that following restructuring job security will be provided.
It is acknowledged that the process has been difficult for all those involved,” management says.
Redundancies are set to be announced next week as the proposed restructure is revealed.
“While there are likely to be job losses, they are necessary if the club is to survive.
“At all times, the President and Committee have acted in the best interests of members and staff alike.
“Members will appreciate the constraints imposed upon the President and Committee due to the current employment issues involved.”
The clubs are set to open again next Monday, 22 June, at 10am, with a limited service on offer while the new menu and bar service is developed.
“It is a new beginning that we hope our members and staff will embrace. We have a superb facility that we want better utilised by our members,” say bosses.
Blenheim woman Margaret Sowry, who alongside husband Niel has gathered support for a vote of non-confidence in Jason Clouston, says she has not heard anything official from the committee.
A computer software company is helping keep one of the country’s oldest industries alive.
Blenheim-based software development company Golden Micro Solutions Ltd is helping give New Zealand’s wool market a modern twist.
Wool brokers and buyers are using an online platform created by husband and wife team Allan and Janet Udy.
And the move has helped strengthen the industry in the face of threats like COVID-19.
An online sale held last week was the first time independent wool brokers have used the system, breaking with over 150 years of open cry auction tradition.
Wool Online and Golden Micro Solutions Ltd co-director Janet Udy says the pandemic meant people couldn’t travel to Napier or Christchurch for the traditional auctions.
“The Covid-19 crisis has made everyone realise that there can be situations when it’s simply not feasible or desirable for brokers and buyers to travel.
“Level 3 and 4 lock-downs forced the cancellation of the traditional open-cry auctions in Napier and Christchurch, and this has helped focus the industry’s collective mind on the idea of increasing the volume of wool traded online.
The Wool Online system, a joint venture alongside Canterbury-based wool broker Wool Connextions Ltd, uses technology originally developed for Wool Marketing Nelson Marlborough in Blenheim in 1995.
A new auction mechanism has been added that more closely mimics the way an open cry auction works.
Developers used it as the foundation to build the new online sales software which was used at an auction in Napier last week.
After an initial glitch, the programme quickly proved its worth, says Janet.
“A technical issue in the first few minutes of the sale resulted in it being reset and restarted, but thereafter the auction proceeded well with more than half a dozen of New Zealand’s major wool buyers purchasing lots.”
Ryan Cosgrove, a buyer from John Marshall & Co Ltd, one of New Zealand’s wool exporters, says he was pleased with the way this week’s auction went.
“With the additional support of more brokers, merchants and buyers this certainly has the potential to be a staple method of sale in the exchange of wool in New Zealand.
“We hope that widespread adoption will help reduce costs while maintaining the same price discovery and transparency for growers, with the same efficiency for buyers, as open-cry auctions do.”
Rainbow Ski Area bosses are weighing up if opening this year will be possible after COVID-19 saw costs spiral.
The future of this winter’s season is reliant on community support.
And a one off $25 ‘Covid Tracing Fee’, to help cover coronavirus associated costs at the ski field, was scrapped yesterday.
The announcement of the fee was widely panned by commenters online but Rainbow Ski Area committee chair Mark Unwin says they’re on track to get the numbers needed to open.
“There are added costs we have to bear and we’re passing that on,” Mark told Marlborough Media last week.
But a post on social media last night saw Rainbow bosses ditch the controversial charge.
“We no longer have to employ staff for the bottom of the hill, put in connectivity and build the shed in the carpark,” it says.
Those who have already paid the fee will be refunded.
“We still need to be prepared in case we have to move back up the levels but at least we have the systems in place, ready, if we do,” he says.
The access road to the popular Nelson Lakes ski area was recently upgraded at the clubs’ expense – and Mark says skiers were subsidising other mountain users who use the road.
The planned ‘Covid Tracing fee’ was originally touted to cover costs of contact tracing, cleaning and to pay for the road upgrade.
“We’ve spent a lot of money on the road, we have increased costs and changed the ticketing system,” Mark says.
“It’s fairer for everyone using the mountain.
“No one wants to see extra fees but it’s all going to the mountain.”
“We’re a club field – we don’t have shareholder backing and we can’t take financial risk,” he says.
A flurry of posts on Facebook outlining the changes and increased fees attracted scores of negative comments with hopeful mountain-users raising questions about the affordability of visiting the local ski field.
“Is that per person? Not a bad price if you visit a lot in the season, will make it unaffordable for families who can only manage to go once in the season,” one commenter wrote.
Another posted: “What happened to making tourism activities cheaper for kiwis?”
Marks says they have put packages in place for non-skiers and ski rentals to lessen the burden on families and make it more affordable.
“We’d like to be able to do more, but it costs a lot of money to run the field,” he says.
“The alternative is to shut completely and see what happens next season – that just doesn’t seem like the right thing to do.”
Tickets are only available online and staffing levels have been slashed in a bid to stay a step ahead should the country be forced into a higher alert level.
Multi-day, half day and learners area only tickets have been scrapped to streamline administration and make contact tracing easier.
The field will also close two days a week to give the smaller crew an opportunity to rest.
“We normally have around 40 staff, this year we’re running about 20,” Mark says.
Usually about a third of staff are from overseas, but with borders closed that was not an option.
“We could get staff from New Zealand if we had to, but [a smaller staff] allows us to scale up and down if we need to.
“If everything changed and we had to shut down there’s less financial risk.”
Mark says the club has about 72 days to make money to pay for facilities.
The committee is also looking at opening over the summer months for tramping, mountain biking and other activities.
“It would be good to spread the cost over a longer period,” Mark says.
Staff are aiming to open the mountain on Friday 24 July provided enough passes are sold with staff saying they are about 90 per cent there.
With snow forecast Mark says they’re on track to open.
“Lots of people love the mountain. We’re hopeful that we will get the support.”