We’ve gone overseas this month to Strangford Lough Activity Centre (SLAC) in Northern Ireland.  SLAC have been established for just over a year and we were very happy to welcome them as a new member to the Mutual when they joined  last year.   Please continue to share your member profiles and thank you to Rory for providing such a great insight to the work at SLAC.

What do you/your organisation do?

Strangford Lough Activity Centre (SLAC) is a relatively new mobile outdoor activity provider.

We are situated in a unique and beautiful location next to Strangford Lough in Northern Ireland. It is the largest inlet in the British Isles which is sprinkled with ‘Drumlin’ islands formed by the ice age which makes it an awesome place to explore.  We offer quirky & bespoke adventure activities throughout Northern Ireland.  We love to adventure too, so exploring new places and creating really exciting packages for our clients is at the heart of what we do. Activities SLAC currently offer include; Wet Bouldering, Bushcraft, Canoeing, Kayaking, Paddle Boarding and Team Games. I have just purchased Archery & Laser Tag equipment as well as a Mobile Climbing Wall and am hoping to open a Glampsite in the near future incorporating Bell Tents, Tipis, Yurt and Geo Desic Dome.

How long have you been an AIM Member?

SLAC has been in existence for little over a year, so whilst still in our infancy, we have grand plans for world domination! I have worked in a range of outdoor activity organisations and around 25 years’ experience. Having previously owned a bike tour company, I found AIM professional, easy to deal with and like the thought of being involved in a mutual that have a direct understanding of the industry.

What’s the best part of your job?

I love carrying out scoping studies to see what is viable and dreaming up bespoke packages for clients. Every time I do it, it feels like an adventure. By offering bespoke packages, it means we are always up-skilling and never get bored of the same old thing. From working in large activity centres offering ‘splash and dash sessions’ I gained a huge amount of experience however I feel it is important to keep adventuring too. Meeting new people and dreaming up adventurous programme solutions to their unique requirements is something that keeps me going. I love running personal development programmes and working with marginalised young people who have not had the best start in life or the same opportunities as most children. It keeps me grounded. Having a range of activities to deliver and being a mobile unit keeps the job varied.

What issues do you think the industry faces this year?

For self-employed instructors, the issue will most certainly be cash flow. They will likely have to take another job outside of the industry until we re-open for business. It will be interesting to see how many return when it’s all over. So staffing could become an issue. Cash flow problems will likely be an issue for upstarts like myself. Unfortunately I am one of the 5% that fall through the gaps when it comes to government help. I don’t seem to qualify for any of the schemes. Thankfully I am still able to deliver on a part time contract that I undertook with a National Governing Body when all other work dried up, so am very thankful for that. My wife is on maternity leave at present so things are getting very tight financially!

We are now well into the season where we need to be making money to get us through the leaner winter months. We will have to be really creative to stand out from the competition. For larger centres job retention and cash flow will be a major issue, however welcome government grants for rate payers, the furlough scheme for staff and breaks from insurance and mortgage companies will be welcomed.

What benefits have you gained from being an AIM Member?

As a new member, I suppose I am only really getting to grips with what AIM offer. Having a direct point of contact has been useful. The understanding of industry dynamics means that I am not having to constantly explain myself and the activities I am delivering. The constant updates on how they can help during the pandemic have been useful and I welcome the delayed payments for insurance during the pandemic.

What exciting projects do you have lined up for the future?

I have welcomed some new environmentally focused organisations on board this year including schools, businesses and charities. So I have undertaken some train the trainer’s courses and partnered with other like-minded organisations to create a unique package where they can undertake some adventures that help them with their corporate social responsibility and team work.

I have developed 2 new unique events including;

  • Sunrise Sup & Island Yoga Experience (with breakfast)
  • Sunset Paddle & BBQ

I am working on a few others at present and hopefully will be able to schedule them soon. Our tourist board are keen to promote unique and immersive experiences as part of their ‘Embrace a Giant Spirit’ campaign. So am working to promote them. 

The break from the busy period has enabled me to focus on my e-marketing and search engine optimisation. So whilst I have a lot of experience in marketing. It has allowed me to plug any knowledge gaps, re strategize and get creative. My next plan is to keep networking via whatever means possible to let people know that SLAC exists. I have two kids under 3 which I am enjoying spending time with. My one hour of daily exercise with screaming kids in tow, is helping fitness to improve too, although working from home means you’re never too far from the fridge!

What’s your favourite activity?

I can’t say that I have a favourite. I love all outdoor sports and love exploring new places by different means. Northern Ireland is not that big a place, so you’re generally only a few hours’ drive from somewhere special. Whether it’s Canoeing on Lough Erne, Sea Kayaking at the Giants Causeway, Hill Walking, Climbing or Mountain Biking in the Mournes, I love it all. I am a recent convert to SUP – Stand Up Paddle Boarding, so am enjoying that at present. I am lucky enough to work for myself now in this cool industry, so I think it is important to have a variety of skills to improve and develop. Once I’ve got to the top of the instructional tree in one, I often move onto the next and enjoy it. I do love water sports and have competed internationally in Sailing from a young age. 

What activity do you want to try?

I’m like a kid in a sweetie shop when it comes to new activities. I have to be the first to try something new. I am lucky enough to have travelled a fair bit and have ticked off some of my bucket list. However it keeps growing! Having dived the Great Barrier Reef, jet boated in New Zealand, bungee jumped in Bali,  zip-lined in South Africa and caved in Barbados. I have seen some of the most beautiful places on earth.  Although I believe Strangford Lough is the jewel in the crown. I have lived here all my life and still find lots to explore and enjoy. With over 2000 species of wildlife, the AONB is best to enjoy at a slower pace by Dinghy, Canoe, Kayak or SUP. Although when seeking adrenaline I love the thought of flying and para-motoring looks like some craic.

You can view our other member profiles by clicking on the links here