Wednesday, November 28, 2012

New Range and Targets by Rob Riddett

“How do you like your range grass cut John; stripes up and down...or stripes across?”

Here, Rob Riddett the National Small Bore Coach for the Welsh Target Shooting Fereation describes how a dream of a new 50m shooting range turned into reality.

In July 2011, Welsh High Performance Manager John Dallimore was asked at a planning meeting what Sport Wales could do to help Welsh shooting develop following its promotion to a category ‘A’ sport. ‘You could build us a training range out there’ said John half jokingly, pointing out of the window to a patch of ground besides the Sport Wales National Centre car park and behind the ‘Mochyn Du’ pub. The reply?

‘......Hmm, we’ll see what we can do; leave it with us’...stunned silence!

A few weeks later following a review of available space, an area approximately 70m x 10m was identified on a football training pitch adjacent to the Glamorgan County Cricket SWALEC Stadium. A full competition standard range was neither feasible nor desirable on sustainability and usage grounds so the plan was for a heated 6 firing point 50m training range with full electronic targets and batch testing facilities. The ground available meant that the range would be situated in the dead ball area beyond the touch line bounded on one side by a fence and dense conifer hedge alongside an important access road and on the other, the pitch - approximately 200m from the nearest houses. As the pitch pointed approximately northwards, the site was ideal.

Let's build a range here?

I have to admit here that having seen the space when we were marking it out,. This was going to be unlike any range I had ever even envisaged let alone shot on!

Chris Meredith an architect and member of Torfaen Rifle Club was asked, and agreed, to draw up suitable plans and oversee the project. In line with the Welsh Assembly Governments goal to fully supportallWelsh sports and make Wales a force in the international arena, and coupled with the realisation that smallbore rifle was one of the few Olympic sports which Wales was unable to provide facilities for visiting teams on holding camps, funding was agreed and put in place.The willingness to support and provide this level of funding was refreshing and exciting to say the leastbut compared with many of the facilities for other ‘category A’ sports such as cycling, swimming and athletics,the amount needed was relatively small; but an enormous and well received boost for our national squad!

A preliminary assessment visit by Ali Aitkin of the NSRA proved very encouraging and he could see no reason why a ‘no-danger’ range should not be sighted on the proposed area. Nick Lia of SWNC worked tremendously hard with John and Martin Watkins (WTSF Chairman) driving the project forward and maintaining momentum; nothing was too much trouble and he was an almost daily visitor on site to check on progress. Planning permission was sought which some of us, from previous attempts at range provision, thought might have been the final insurmountable hurdle. However, having got this far, confidence remained cautiously high especially as we were fully supported by Sport Wales as well as by the local Assembly Member and the Minister for Sport.

There were few formal objections in writing to Cardiff County Council however one local resident assumed we would be shooting at steel plate falling targets and he thought that this might be very noisy and not ‘in keeping’ with the sporting usage of the parkland! An open public meeting held in a local church hall nearby and was reasonably attended. Once again, Sport Wales in the guise of Malcolm Zaple did a magnificent job for us calming any fears about visual impact, noise while fending off prejudices against guns and shooting in a calm, well informed and friendly manner. Those local residents with lasting fears were invited to attend an air training and sports science session the following week to see who we were and what we did as a sport.

Helen Warnes, one of our elite athletes, was receiving sports science support and taking part in air rifle training on the day the one resident who took up our offer came to visit. This residentwas so impressed by the professionalism of all involved and the obvious fact that shooting was a serious sport on a par with any other she had experienced that on leaving, she actually asked was there any form of document that she could complete and send to Cardiff County Council to support our application; and this was from someone initially opposed to the development!

No other serious or valid objection was lodged in the time allowed so on to the next stage; sanction of planning permission. The planning committees only meet monthly so another nail biting wait.However, permission was granted without any real difficulty save one or two amendments to building materials usage and colour schemes but this mostly aesthetic in order to reduce visual impact and fit in with the listed status of the parkland.

All of the sports facilities in this part of Cardiff are built on land granted in perpetuity in 1947 by the 5th Marquess of Bute ‘for the leisure and enjoyment of the people of the Cardiff’ and as such is designated as Grade 2 listed parkland. This in itself necessitated sanction by CADW, the Welsh Government's
historic environment service but bearing in mind the enormity of the SWALEC stadium it would hardly have been equitable to decline our small facility; they didn’t so we were on our way...once Planning had approved the alterations and the revised building materials, actual examples of which had to be submitted for inspection. The range had to be as unobtrusive as possible with specific wood effectcladding and correct shades of green used for the firing point building and the butts wall. As one can see from the photographs, it all blends pretty well into the hedge-line.

In March, after what seemed like a rather long delay, the time lapse was queried. The reply? “I’m very busy with other reports at the moment, is there a rush for this?”err the Olympics in August? Visiting teams possibly needing training facilities?...things started moving again.

In the meantime we turned our attention to range equipment. While we have a generous allocation of Megalink air and cartridge units now, it was decided to purchase Sius targets for the new range. Megalink’s are portable and great for occasional short term training at home venues by individual squad members but as most major competition venues are equipped with Sius, then that was to be our system of choice in order to prepare out athletes with the best equipment available. As noise had been initially perceived as a possible problem, the new silica-bead filled bullets catchers from Meyton which we had seen at ISAS Dortmund seemed the quietest option and potentially the cleanest; no clanging steel plates and fragmented lead bullets. Orders were placed and all the kit was in store and ready for the final inspection and hopefully the issue of a Range Safety Certificate.

Things moved again and in April 2012 ground works commenced.The estimated ‘build time’ was 6 – 8 weeks. The simplicity of build i.e. one large wall, a slab of concrete for the firing point / prep area and
construction and 50m of fencing meant that work progressed rapidly. There were few problems beyond those usually encountered in most construction jobs and nothing that a bit of re-measuring and adjustment couldn’t solve.

Inspection time

The firing point and preparation area with electric roller shutter security and protection

Finally on 27th June 2012 we had another visit from Ali who thankfully was able to fit us in to his extremely busy pre Olympic schedule for which we were extremely grateful. John, Dave Phelps and I set up a couple of Megalinks primarily for the inspection but also to check heights and distances. WTSF Chairman Martin Watkins, the builder Andy Ward of Coronation Construction and Nick Lia of SWNC joined us while Ali carried out his review of the facility. All went well and very few questions needed to be answered, such was the quality of the design and the build. All was well and other than a minor query as to angles of elevation for shooting prone (either from tables or the floor) approval was granted and the certificate duly issued in Mid July. Now we were nearly there, next came the installation of targets.

The frames for the targets and bullet catchers needed a bit of 'tweaking' and Rob Warnes, our invaluable tech support spent hours checking and setting up the target hardware and understanding the more complex side of integrating the units. Final set up testing took place on 21st July with live rounds fired to test the targets. As I'd been shooting league cards in the morning and had my kit with me, I got to fire the first rounds on our pristine range; well someone had to make sure the targets worked ok!

Apart from one minor, but time consuming hiccup which was solved by 'phoning Michael from Sius at the Olympic range in London, by the end of the day the range was daisy chained and working perfectly. Without Rob we would have been floundering as, if it isn't 'plug and play' then most of us wouldn't have had much of clue. Building on his now expert knowledge of our Megalinks it is planned to sent Rob on a Sius training course in the near future which will help get both maximum benefit out of the system and also longevity of use.

As can be seen from the photographs, the ‘footprint’ of the range is minimal and one wonders how many clubs and associations around the country looking to establish a small outdoor facility could use this example to support an application? It looked a bit of a leap of faith at the outset but it has convinced me that we don’t need out of the way places with miles of open ground or quarries hidden away from public for our ranges; this one is situated literally 10 minutes walk from the centre of the capital of Wales next to a major cricket ground and at the home of Welsh sporting excellence!

One of the few conditions of planning permission was that use of this range is limited to Welsh Squad members between the hours of 0900 and 1800 (or dusk) and when in use, the pitch facilities are not
available to other sports making the area secure and safe. When it is seen how well this works then who is to say what is possible in the future.

Blending in – view from the football pitch with the SWALEC Stadium just visible in the trees

Ali was very impressed with the quality use of space and the final ‘product’ which has come in on time and within budget; as was the builder Andy whose first rifle range this is. It is possible that this design could be used for other facilities around the country where space is at a premium. Considering its location and size, this is a pretty unique range but it would be nice to think that it could become the norm.

So thanks to the hard work of John, Martin, Rob, Nic and the SWNC team and ‘Team Wales’ our High Performance cartridge and talented athletes now have and state of the art, full electronic training range with heated firing point and preparation area. All of this is within easy access of our Sports Science support team, our air training facility in the National sports centre with ample parking and all in the heart of the capital city of Wales

Oh yes, I almost forgot, the 'Stripes up and down or stripes across' bit? That was John the groundsman's first question when the inspection was complete and he needed to give the grass a bit of a trim. Apparently archers aren't keen lines up and down as it can draw the shot if the lines are not straight so he just needed to make sure rifle shooters didn't have the same requirements; now that's quality Sport Wales service for you!
If any Clubs or Associations out there have any questions or queries regarding the building of this facility then Welsh Shooting will be more than happy to supply information about the process and also, why not come and visit us sometime and see for yourself.