Tuesday, 16 December 2014

Trouble in Nudeville

It's been a few days now since the Naked Village documentary (mockumentary?) was aired on More4. I didn't write anything straight away as I wanted to wait and see what the reaction was going to be. It's been interesting to say the least.

First off, I should say that I've never been to Spielplatz (3 hours drive from me), although I'd like to visit if there's a good reason like a social 'meet up' or a special event. I've visited six naturist clubs in the UK, and having seen the documentary, I can well believe that there are huge parallels between all of them (with the exception of maybe one). I've enjoyed all my visits and I'm keen to keep touring around, but I'm not likely to ever join a club given that it's just too far for me to attend one regularly enough. Distance is key, rather than motivation.

The other thing I decided not to do is to comment specifically about the issues at Spielplatz because it has become clear that the programme editing has been massive. Reels and reels have hit the cutting room floor. Despite what some naturists dreamt of, this show was never going to be a pure 'advert for the lifestyle'. There was always going to be an angle in which the producer would want to hook the viewer until the end. Showing a degree of conflict, some controversy, or some 'on the edge' footage was always going to happen. On top of this, I gather that there have been significant top level changes at the club since the programme footage was taken, and that one figure of controversy (he of the 'you must undress' attitude) has departed.

My reaction to the programme can be summed up by one word - sadness. Some folks have been very angry about it, some ambivalent, a few optimistic, but on watching some of the highlights again I just couldn't help feeling a overwhelming sense of dejection. This was compounded by the objective part of me being satisfied that the programme makers had indeed shown club naturism for what it is. The stereotype is confirmed. Joe Public would feel vindicated to claiming naturism is as eccentric, outdated and outmoded as they initially believed.

I am sad and increasingly frustrated about the general direction organised naturism is headed. British Naturism and club naturism have a great deal in common; understandable given their common history. Injecting the effort needed to change the stereotype of BN and naturist clubs equates to the effort needed to turn an ocean liner...the momentum is great, the time headed in the same direction long....and the world has changed around it.

What's the problem? Well in my opinion it's two-fold. First is a lack of genuine effort. Second is a lack of direction. Many in naturist circles talk a good game. Many openly agree that naturism needs to change to catch up with modern cultural and societal modes. Unfortunately it seems to stop there.

First...effort. Naturist clubs membership numbers are declining, as are those of BN, so there are less hands available. I also think that there's a bit of fibbing going on. Naturists are very quick to talk of change, but underneath I sense that secretly a lot of naturists are just fine with the status quo i.e. on the one hand they will agree that more young people and families are needed, but on the other they love the peace and quiet of the 'retired couple' atmosphere at clubs. One club secretary openly admitted to me that he puts off young people and families with young children from attending his club, whilst writing on online forums that he hopes the club attracts 'new blood' to keep it going for 'the next generation'. Complete contradiction.

BN is similar in this regard. BN has at the top level several 'departments'. One of these is Marketing. Marketing includes managing the brand, educating the public, spread the word on the virtues of nudity, and working with the Campaigns department on the goal of 'normalising nudity'. However the current BN Commercial Director is utterly preoccupied by the internal quarterly magazine and any other kind of marketing past the odd interview on broadcast media is completely absent. It's not helped by his apparent lack of clear accountability in his role which is the only unelected position at the top-end of the organisation. Instead, BN are pushing their events...events for BN members. This doesn't help with bringing newcomers to naturism though. It preaches to the already converted. As with clubs, BN talks a good game, then doesn't go through with it.

The other key point is direction. Even when the effort is available to try and tweak the momentum and bearing of organised naturism, either folks don't know which way to steer or else everyone steers in a different direction! Personally, I find the fascination with trying to attract young people and young families to clubs and BN incredible. I think it plain as the nose on my face that young singles, couples and families have a plethora of reasons why they would not join a club or BN. The world changed...but not enough naturists have realised! Clubs are still dreaming of the 1950s and 60s, where the nuclear family would visit the club every weekend and the children would do a nature trail and sit reading whilst the dad mowed the lawn and the mother helped to set the picnic. It's not like that any more! Clubs and BN are in cloud cuckoo-land continuing to think that those days will return.

The answer to the problem i believe is also very straightforward. BN and clubs are largely composed of singles and couples over 50. BN membership is 85% over-50s and I can well believe that club membership is the same. So why on earth are the two obsessed with young people?!?! Market at the target that will most likely join...market at the over-50s!

The MORI poll in 2011 tells a story. It tells a story that naturism in the UK is alive and well but that the number of folks wanting to join organised naturism is small and falling. BN and clubs would do very well to simply accept the situation rather than continuing to chase a dream. Market to those who are most likely to join you and accept the demographic that is organised naturism right now. There will always be over-50s. I find the concept of 'next generation' very strange. Pass on the club to over-50s. What is the next generation? Keep marketing to the obvious target market and you'll have continuity. Again this is dreaming of the good ol' days; days in which multi-generational families' lives revolved around their club.

All of these thoughts went through my head upon watching the Spielplatz documentary. Yes it was a shame that younger people weren't much in evidence, but there's a reason for that. Clubs and BN can survive. It needs a coherent, definitive, common-sense strategy passed down via BN with everyone working together to make it work. Forget the youngsters and families who won't be interested and entice those who it is shown will still be attracted...the over-50 crowd. Meanwhile there are still plenty of naturists in the UK getting older.


  1. You have some very interesting thoughts on the 'recruitment' issue. While the focus in on younger folks, the market lies elsewhere! All the reasons we hear about why youngsters don't join are true, as you say, but many of those things cannot be changed even if today's paying members agreed to it. So why try?

    Many young nudists/naturists will find their way anyway, but there's a world full of folks who fit the demographics perfectly, if only they could be brought into the community. Perhaps that's where the marketing should be, We're guessing you may find a lot of resistance to that idea!

    1. I truly hope so! Many thanks for your comments. Sometimes when everyone in a discussion is too close in terms of view, the wood isn't seen for the trees! Conservatism runs deep. Continuing a course simply because it's always been done like that is blinkered thinking. Maybe the best course of action is a leap of faith...

  2. I tend to agree that in reality most clubs and BN simply pay lip service to the idea that naturism in Britain needs younger people coming in to survi've. I see very little actual effort made to attract younger people. I'd be less concerned if there was serious effort but it was misdirected. At least then there could be a discussion of what is and isn't working.

    Yet there are examples out there. When clover spa put on a youth day everyone was surprised how many turned up. What lessons can be learned from this? Firstly the event was cheap enough - something like £10 for the day. Secondly it's in a place that can easily be reached by public transport or car - ie not somewhere like Cornwall.

    I think BN as a matter of priority should recruit a youth rep and pay them a wage, full or part time, ideally a woman. That would be a start. Then organise one national youth event - a premier event with lots of publicity, it's own website, and all the major social media channels covered, that doesn't require membershi - a really exciting event where people can try naturism.

    1. One premier event aimed at youth sounds good but there are two issues. Firstly is that youth wanting to participate in organised naturism is very low. <200 are BN members under 30. The Clover Spa event looked good but that was largely due to a real concerted effort on a team's part into making it work, and using social media to attract people, and the fact that Clover Spa as a commercial business was able to bring their marketing effort to bear. As soon as an event is scaled up to the 'premier event' you imagine at a club, numbers don't appear that equate to the effort by the few hands willing to promote it. The INF Youth Rally in 2013 was held in the UK but numbers were disappointing and too low for cost neutrality.

      Secondly, the trouble is that a lot of members of BN (who are largely 50+) do not feel that the youth should be 'seperate' and that instead everyone should be one big happy family with only events open to all. YBN, the youth partition of BN, do have their own events and YBN Director (a male volunteer), but these receive only promotion via YBN itself, and numbers are too low to get the word out sufficiently. If BN really want to help YBN (and they pay lip service to wanting to) then they should help to promote youth naturism whilst respecting the autonomy YBN need. However as I mention in the blog, current BN marketing effort is close to zero. Here lies the key problem. BN are far to inward looking...which is why membership is falling.