An open letter to AEW Europe (BOTW responds to the closure of Ryde Arena)

Southampton, 9th October 2016

To: Rachel McIsaac

Head of Asset Management

AEW UK

33 Jermyn Street

London

SW1Y 6DN

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.

Yours sincerely,

Anthony Russell

Banners On The Wall

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6 Comments on “An open letter to AEW Europe (BOTW responds to the closure of Ryde Arena)”

  1. Paul godard says:

    It’s a failing business loosing money just like it was before. Planet ice sold it as it was losing £154000 a year what did you really think would chance. It couldn’t afford to operate then and it can’t now. Most public sessions are empty and not enough people through the door. If you had a flat let out and you didn’t get rent I’m sure you wouldn’t say don’t worry about it. It’s about money and property simply as that.

    • What I’d say in response Paul is whilst I appreciate the point you’re trying to make, your analogy doesn’t pan out for me because the circumstances are different and a lot of it is to do with the reasons I’ve mentioned. A community asset like somewhere families can go to be entertained and to get exercise and more is a really important thing.

      To say it’s as simple as property and money is 1. really depressing and 2. not given the situation the broad view it deserves. Some will argue that there’s no place for emotion in business to which my response would be “that’s what’s wrong with business”. When decisions are made that can not just affect a few peoples but the jobs, health and welfare of hundreds of people and the response is “it’s not good business” then for me, the priorities are askew. When I say that, people generally say “that’s not how the world works” and I generally reply with “no, that’s why the world doesn’t work” because we seem to be stuck looking at “the bottom line” without some better, more inclusive and lateral thinking. I’m aware that’s not the most popular thinking in society today but it’s what I feel comfortable with.

      Ultimately, we don’t agree on this and that’s fine. Thank you for being open and honest enough to say something on here.

  2. David Harvey says:

    Sorry but I agree with Paul Goddard. The problem that you have here is that the Rink is first and foremost owned as a FINANCIAL ASSET, it was leased to a company that also intended on it being a FINANCIAL ASSET, once that business failed it was leased to the Charity who provided the facility to the public as a COMMUNITY ASSET. Clearly there was always the possibility of a conflict. Perhaps the Charity should have been more realistic about the costs involved. I would not expect a positive response to this letter, I think perhaps resources would be better spent attempting to seek additional funding to prolong (if not secure) the charity’s occupation.

    • And I would say one of these is more important than the other but we clearly disagree on that.

      As for the letter’s effectiveness, sometimes in a situation like this I personally find it easier to write down how I feel about something to work through how I am feeling. When I was jotting some stuff down, it sort of morphed into this letter style. Then I thought “why not actually format it and send it?” so that is what I shall do.

      You doubt its effect and I don’t believe that anything like the above will magically make them reopen the place as we don’t live in a Disney movie. Might it influence someone’s thinking going forward? That neither you nor I can say and we return to my bit above about being an optimist.

      Thanks for joining the conversation.

  3. Rebecca-Leigh Higgin says:

    I’m a little confused, the company that leased the rink to the trust, had a set amount lease to be paid so it would make no difference to them if the rink is unprofitable?as long as the rent is met, the idea of community projects is to put any profits back into the project, as far as I’m aware the trust did meet all the agreed rent payments but when AEW did not put the insurance money back into the building this meant that a large amount of the building was unusable, the parts that couldn’t be used were the bar/ cafe/ reception/ offices/ skate hire, the bar and cafe generated money to keep paying the rent…? they broke the contract by not using the insurance money to refurbish these areas, the trust tried to discuss this with them to no avail, I’m a little confused about the negativity, the rink will not make a profit, its not supposed to, its supposed to keep running and pay the rent, unfortunately the larger companies obviously had a bigger plan for the rink and had no intention of honouring their agreement. If you ran a cafe and the kitchen was unusable would you pay 100 percent rent or would you try and negotiate a reduction?
    I agree there does seem to be a conflict in interest.
    Im sure there is a bigger plan for the ice rink, prime position, no wonder the Isle of Wight council are so quiet.

    • I think it would help the trust’s argument if they released what they could into the public domain to add weight to their position but realise that full disclosure might not be possible for a variety of reasons.

      There are questions to be asked of the trust but the power in the situation lies with AEW so as you put above, I think they have the bigger questions to answer.


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