Rockfax and Bolt Funds

We recently made a couple of donations to bolt funds – article here – which promoted some discussion on UKClimbing.

Just to clarify, Rockfax have made donations to local bolt funds for many years and you can find out news about our major donations through this news item compilation link.

A question was asked on a UKClimbing forum thread by Will Hunt and I gave him an extensive reply which I thought it might be worth reproducing and slightly expanding here.

Back in 2010 Adrian Berry made some creative suggestions for ways which Rockfax could start helping local bolt funds in sport climbing areas covered by our guidebooks. Up to that point we had made donations but they had been sporadic and unstructured.

We initially adopted a method of paying around £1 from each copy of a book sold for the initial sales of new books. This was capped at the first 2000 copies for all sales. After that point had been reached we then dropped back to online sales only. The result was good initial payments that then drop back as the guidebook ages. NOTE – We have now changed this policy and now allocate funds from the full print run.

This has worked well in the UK where areas have organised bolt funds with PayPal pages. We created the website to bring the various funds together into one place and allow climbers to find bolt funds in areas they visit easily. So far we have given a lot in North Wales, Dorset, South Wales, Yorkshire, Cumbria and also a fair amount towards Gary Gibson’s bolt fund page.

The success has led us to target environmental projects from non-sport books like the paths around Portland from Dorset Bouldering, and now hopefully the bridge at Harrisons Rocks by working with the BMC ACT from the sales of Southern Sandstone.

In Spain and France contributing is much more difficult to arrange. Most of the areas don’t have public bolt funds, and the concept of climbers donating to bolting is fairly alien to them. I never really understood why they make a thing about guidebooks funding bolts in these areas but seemed to not put much effort into creating guidebooks that sell well, appeal to the masses and are easy to get hold of. There are few initiatives directed at getting the climbing public to actually contribute – PayPal funds don’t really exist, there are few rattle tins, and little text or explanation in guidebooks about how bolting is funded and how readers can help.

I recently had a very revealing conversation with Pedro Pons and Nuria (refuge owners at Chullila) where he explained to me that the system of public donation just doesn’t seem to get traction in Spain (and France I suspect). He told me the story of the rattle tin they had at their refuge for 6 months and, in the end, it had €23.50 and 20 of that was a single donation he witnessed from an American climber.

I don’t think that bolt funding systems in France and Spain are inferior, they are just different. The systems clearly work in most places since there are lots of well-bolted routes. I have my reservations about the quality and availability of local guidebooks these systems lead to but I also don’t think that better produced international guidebooks have much effect on the system.

In order to actually contribute in Spain and France we have had to take a different approach. In Mallorca, working with ex-pat Derek Watson, we arranged for around £1500 bolting materials to be bought but the whole process to around 18 months and lots of emails (not Derek’s fault). In the Cote d’Azur, Mike Owen has put us in touch with some locals in one of the areas covered and we have made a few decent donations of around £1200 so far and Mike has donated his own commission as a small contributor to the book. This does indicate a problem though since the donations there are only going to one of the areas covered in that book. In El Chorro we are in contact with two groups of active bolters with donations are around £1800 so far. We have also helped establish a PayPal system in conjunction with the Olive Branch. In Kalymnos we have donated £1500 to the Glaros Bar bolt fund in a one-off payment, £500 of which was a personal contribution from author Chris Craggs.

So far we haven’t linked anything to the digital sales since those haven’t been significant enough until we went to subscription last month, so it does need looking at.

However, it hasn’t all been a success. I have been in touch with bolters in two areas in Haute Provence – St. Leger and Dentelles de Montmirail – and offered them money and help with communicating the bolting message. They have been friendly and cooperative but have so far not accepted any money despite at least two years of trying.

The main thing I take away from my struggles to contribute financially to the bolt funding in some areas is just confirmation of my theory that this debate has never really been about actually funding bolts. It is about localism and who has the right to document information in their own areas – climbers resent outsiders covering their climbs. It is understandable but it isn’t going to stop us producing our books since I think that the climbing community itself is better off for the benefits our more professional approach allows us to develop.

So that is the picture in  September 2019. It is still all a bit ad hoc and there are areas like the Costa Blanca where we certainly need to put some work in, but I think we do our bit now. Hats off to Adrian Berry who was the driving force in getting our system going.

Alan James


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