An open letter to AEW Europe (BOTW responds to the closure of Ryde Arena)Posted: 09/10/2016
Southampton, 9th October 2016
To: Rachel McIsaac
Head of Asset Management
33 Jermyn Street
Dear Ms McIsaac,
I trust that you will forgive my letter intruding upon your day but as your employers have suddenly had a very large impact on a great number of my friends and acquaintances, I felt that I should take a moment to write to you. I address the letter to you because you were brave enough to poke your head above the parapet but I’d like to think this is addressed to all of your senior managers.
I have to confess to not being very hot on things like asset management or investment management so I took a moment to look at who AEW were and what they do. To the credit of the company, they appear to be very good at what they do. AEW Europe’s website quotes the company as being responsible for €18.5 billion of a global asset base of €48.1 billion. There are 300 employees across the continent and even a bit of basic searching through Google shows that the firm is really highly respected in your field. The firm is in the field of and helping its clients gain wealth from its investments.
The reason that AEW have suddenly come to my attention is because of its involvement with the suddenly breaking case regarding the Ryde Arena, an ice rink in the largest town on the Isle of Wight and its recent operators, the Ryde Arena Trust whose lease you recently revoked and have now ceased operations.
For the sake of full disclosure, I love the sport of ice hockey. I have written for various websites and club official media across the country as well as running my own blog and podcast on British ice hockey. From the first live game I watched in 2004, the sport has captured my imagination and for the last decade I have spent Saturday nights for 6 months of the year in the ice rink in Basingstoke. I won’t sit here and say I owe everything to the sport but the sport’s impact on my life is relatively profound. I have made friends around the world on 3 continents because of ice hockey but one of the places that is closest to my heart is Ryde.
In the spring of 2015, when the former operators pulled out of running the arena, all the various bits of the ice sports community on the Isle of Wight immediately pulled together to try and keep the rink going and thought that they had a solution to that with the Ryde Arena Trust. We currently find ourselves at something of a score draw in your favour where AEW are accused of not fulfilling their obligations as landlords and the trust are accused of not fulfilling their obligations as tenants which led you to instruct bailiffs to repossess the building, change the locks and declare the lease forfeit. This action has understandably led to a large amount of backlash at AEW, some of which I am sure you will feel is unjustified.
The one thing that occurred to me was this; for a company that deals in asset management, AEW has a really narrow and rigid idea of what constitutes an asset. I would put it to you and your colleagues that whilst asset is numbers on a spreadsheet or a return in investment for someone in your professional context, you have forgotten to look at what the word asset means in a much wider sense.
The one thing as an ice hockey fan that I learned very quickly about any ice rink is that ice hockey is just one part of what there. Hockey teams, ice skaters, team ice skating, public skating sessions, ice skating discos on a Friday night, skating lessons, hockey fans, Christmas ice dancing shows; every rink has a larger community that is connected to it and the different parts will overlap and interlock. On a place like the Isle of Wight, that community is a very close knit one and I’ve been lucky to see it in effect before and during the issues that the ice rink has suffered over the last year or so.
Those people bound together because the Ryde Arena, like all good leisure facilities, develop a sense of community. It’s bigger than a cost of paying admission to a game or to skate for an hour. It’s the friends made in childhood that last into adulthood, it’s life skills learned through years of training during early mornings and late nights.
As a result of the rink, the Isle of Wight has been responsible for the development of a variety of excellent athletes who have performed at a national and international level. It’s people like my friend of 9 years Lita-Lee Jarold who was the first woman to play in the semi professional English Premier Ice Hockey League as a teenager. She did that as a netminder, arguably the most high pressure position in all of sports. It’s people like the Wight Jewels ice dancing team who have skated in competitions at home and aboard to great success and when the arena was closed due to weather damage found any ice time they could on the mainland to keep training. It’s Archie Bicknell who started ice skating and playing ice hockey at Ryde and now is a star of Disney on Ice. They are some examples of the thousands of adults and young people for who that place changed their lives.
You might say that I am being overly emotional or irrational but for me, the above makes that rink something you should be interested in. It makes it an asset. When a place encourages people of all ages to exercise when obesity is at record levels, that’s an asset. When a child sees Olympic ice dancing on the television and they are encouraged to try working with a qualified coach to chase their dream and they have a facility to start that in, that place is an asset. When a family have a place to go and watch an ice hockey game where they can have an affordable night out in a family friendly atmosphere, that place is an asset.
When it comes down to brass tacks, the questions that I would ask of AWE as a company is “did you do all you could do to avoid this situation and can you prove it to the world?” Was it really at the point of no return where AWE felt the need to close a leisure facility in a small community? Was it really at the point of no return where AWE felt that it was necessary to reduce the definition of what makes an asset down to numbers on a spreadsheet?
I have what some people think is a positive trait, some a negative one; I am an eternal optimist. I believe that there is way for you as owners and the rink users to find a way to resolve the situation. I don’t pretend that this will be a straightforward process but for the good of a community and a lot of very good people, there has to be a way to do this. If AWE choose to walk away, to ignore this asset then for a company that specialises in making money for investors, you will be shown to have forgotten what true wealth really is.
Banners On The Wall