Building a Commonwealth of Roller Derby: UKRDA’s 2014 Roller Derby Organisational Conference

Written by Kevin Dennison

It has been a few days since the United Kingdom Roller Derby Organisational Conference (UKROC) ended at the University of Warwick in Coventry, UK, and the United Kingdom Roller Derby Association (UKRDA), which organized the event, is still flying high about it all. I recently had the opportunity to briefly speak with Katy Gordon, aka “Chasing Katy”, Secretary of the Board of Directors and Head of Communications for UKRDA, via email about the importance of this conference, what attendees were able to participate in while there and what inspired the event’s creation.

“The UK roller derby scene is growing so quickly and we have such a wealth of experience and talent within it that we felt that in order for the country as a whole to develop the sport, we all had to get into the same space and start having those discussions and learning from each other,” said Katy about why UKROC needed to happen in 2014. “The UKRDA wanted to give the UK derby community the chance to come together and help progress the sport as a whole. We had seen the positive steps that have come out of [the European Roller Derby Organizational Conference] over the years, and conversations with UK league representatives there showed that there was a desire for a UK-based event where we could replicate that good work.”

Visitors came from all around the UK and Europe to attend this year's event. Photo courtesy of MDP Images (FB page)

Visitors came from all around the UK and Europe to attend this year’s event. Photo courtesy of MDP Images (FB page)

Replicate it they did, with immense success! UKROC pulled in approximately 40 guest speakers from around Europe, as well as abroad, and saw around 100 delegates attending each day. The UKRDA received a grant from Sport England, which paid for the venue costs of the conference, and also secured an impressive list of sponsors that included Roller Derby City, 5th Blocker Skates, New Ink Printing, Riedell, Skate Hut, Double Threat Skates, DS, Kinesio UK, Rampage Studios, Atom Wheels and The Rock People. If all of that wasn’t already a great show of tremendous support and lucrative partnerships, committees for the event were made up of representatives from various leagues and organizations such as the Women’s Flat Track Derby Association (WFTDA), Men’s Roller Derby Association (MRDA), Rollin’ News, Derby Duck Productions, London Rollergirls, Glasgow Roller Derby, Auld Reekie Roller Girls, and Kent Roller Girls, among many others.

 

The Inspiration: Bear City’s European Roller Derby Organizational Conference

The European Roller Derby Organizational Conference (EROC), hosted annually by Bear City Roller Derby in Berlin, Germany, has been growing steadily over the last five years as an invaluable event to bring leagues, organizations, leaders and media together to discuss the current state of the sport and to share guidance and resources with one another. 2014’s event took place from January 30th to February 2nd and featured special guest speakers such as Karen “Bones” Kuhn (WFTDA’s Managing Director of Games), Don “Pantichrist” Mynatt (WFTDA’s Officiating Education Director) and Dan “Dangles” Gleibitz (European Director for the Association of Flat Track Derby Announcers).

EROC was founded in 2009 when BCRD put an invitation out to all European leagues for “a gathering of all league leaders in Europe, from coaches and managers to officials and monitors” to meet so that everybody could “get on the same page regarding where, when and how we would like to bring our sport forward.”

Since this initial meeting, which also included some sessions and workshops for participants, the event has seen tremendous growth year after year. With yet another successful conference under their belt, Bear City announced 2015’s EROC over their Facebook page this past September 25th.

 

Personalizing the Formula: UKRDA Does it Their Way

Taking a cue from EROC, the UKRDA has done a fantastic job of bringing that successful concept to the United Kingdom for the first time with this year’s event. Hosted this past October 11th – 12th in Arden House at the University of Warwick, the United Kingdom Roller Derby Organizational Convention offered workshops, seminars, rules discussion and skills demonstrations from experienced skaters. Topic points for the weekend focused on areas such as team cohesion and mental coaching, public relations and marketing, bout broadcasting, EMS training, league organisation and officials training.

Guest speakers included reputable individuals such as Bloody Mary (Executive Director of the Women’s Flat Track Derby Association), Graham Espe (President of the Men’s Roller Derby Association), Cherry Furry (WFTDA Certified Level 3 Skating Official), Ragna Rock (WFTDA Level 2 Certified Non-Skating Official) and Kitty Decapitate (Coach/Captain of the London Rollergirls and Southern Discomfort Roller Derby), among others.

Kirsten Lee of ____ talks about technical skills for coaches. Photo courtesy of MDP Images (FB page).

Kirsten Lee, aka Kitty Decapitate, of London Rollergirls talks about technical skills for coaches. Photo courtesy of MDP Images (FB page).

According to Katy, organizing something like UKROC is all about good ol’ fashioned hard work and extremely strong listening skills. Like with everything else that the UKRDA does, each seminar and workshop that the conference offered came about as a direct result of what leagues, teams and organizations were telling the organizers that they wanted. “The board of directors is an extremely passionate group of volunteers who want to see UK derby grow and develop, and we want to do whatever we can to help in that endeavour,” Katy explained. “We are also completely at the mercy of our membership, which means that everything that UKRDA does is a direct result of them telling us what they want for the sport. Hopefully leagues see that in us and feel that we are working in their interests and offer their support.”

 

On the Future of UKROC and the International Contingent

Katy mentioned that the UKRDA is already thinking about another conference for 2015, however, proper discussion hasn’t taken place as of yet. “It would depend on resources, both in terms of money and people, but we are all definitely hoping it will happen again next year.” That being said, she also mentioned that the responses that have come in from attendees over this past week certainly show that 2014’s event was immensely appreciated. “The initial feedback we have received and seen on social media has been very positive. I think I can safely say that although we hoped UKROC would go well, none of us expected the level of good feeling, good ideas and good connections that were made over the course of the weekend.”

Katy also feels that the success of conferences such as Rollercon in the US, EROC in Europe, and now UKROC in the UK, reveals that the desire for coordination driven organisational conferences is growing, and that something bigger may be required in the future. “I think absolutely in the future there may be a need or value from an international conference, which could bring together the learnings from the national level conference to develop international co-operation and strategy.” However, a conference of that caliber would be a tremendous undertaking for anybody and Katy explained that the national level gatherings already do have a notable amount of international guests attending them. So, rather than trying to put together one massive gathering it may simply be of benefit for the organizers of these national events to talk with one another about how they can mutually foster that element.


To stay up to date on what the UKRDA is up to make sure you follow them on Facebook. You can also follow them on Twitter.

If you would like to contact the UKRDA directly for additional information, including media and membership inquiries, you can email them at info@ukrda.org.uk.

*Feature Image: Graham Epse of MRDA. Courtesy of MDP Images


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