In the crosshairs this month is airgun enthusiast David, who co-founded Stagecoach in 1988 and revolutionised the teaching of performing arts to youngsters, and he’s now doing the same with the Target Shooting School.
Did you shoot before starting the school and do you shoot today?
My parents travelled in Tibet in the early 1950s carrying a 1920s Webley Service Revolver for self-defence. They became very attached to it, and for my eighth birthday I received a Webley Junior .177 air rifle.
I shot extensively as a teenager at a time when the school armoury contained Bren guns and Sterling sub-machine guns for use by cadets. Following retirement from business, I came back to the sport that I love and now shoot air rifle, air pistol, LSR and Gallery Rifle, both competitively and for fun. If I was permitted only one gun it would be my Steyr Hunting 5.
How did your get the idea of the Target Shooting School and how did it start?
Like many club shooters, I volunteer to train newcomers and youngsters. What club volunteers are able to offer youngsters falls far short of what they are used to in other sports and leisure activities like Stagecoach.
Successful children’s activities are run not by volunteers, but on a paid-for basis by people who are passionate about them. If shooting is to recruit large numbers of youngsters, it must offer excellent tuition and excellent equipment in excellent facilities, just as other activities do.
Fellow club member Jeanette Leivers felt the same and we drew a deep breath, invested £20,000 in marketing and equipment, including quality PCP air rifles and pistols, and were immediately delighted by the response.
Did your experience starting Stagecoach Theatre Arts help?
I was fortunate to co-found Stagecoach Theatre Arts, a part-time theatre school teaching children to act, dance and sing. On the day I retired after 25 years as MD, Stagecoach was listed on the London Stock Exchange, operating in 12 countries with 44,000 students attending each week and over 2,000 staff.
It taught me the importance of having people totally committed to, and passionate about, the business and their students; the importance of marketing – if mother has never heard of you she cannot enrol her child – and simple and effective admin systems that allow the staff to focus on the students, not administration.
How does the Target Shooting School compare with the typical club?
They are very different. Clubs are run by and for the benefit of their membership, and (some) mix live fire and air. Some do not admit juniors at all. The school focuses entirely on its students and uses only air rifles and air pistols.
We can therefore operate successfully both in clubs and as an after-school activity with our mobile ranges. We market ourselves actively and constantly, whereas many clubs struggle for new members because it is difficult for the public to find out that they exist.
How has the school developed since it started?
When the school started at Bookham Rifle Club in 2016 we had a dozen students and three part-time instructors. Three years on we have over 200 students shooting each week, with three full-time and 15 part-time staff. We currently operate at six rifle clubs and in five schools – and this is just the start.
Has anything surprised you over the years?
On the minus side, I was shocked at the number of clubs that do not admit juniors, and seem reconciled to the sport’s decline. On the plus side, I have been surprised that most academic schools are very happy to offer target shooting alongside martial arts and performing arts as a regular after school activity. There is no better way to prove that shooting is normal than bringing it into academic schools.
What challenges do you face today?
The only challenge is growing Target Shooting School before I get too old!
What achievement are you the most proud of?
It has to be co-founding Stagecoach, which spawned a whole industry of similar activities. On the shooting side I am already proud of co-founding Target Shooting School with Jeanette Leivers as I believe it will do for shooting what Stagecoach has done for performing arts tuition.
What does the future hold?
I would like to think that in 10 years’ time target shooting will be accepted by the public as a totally normal activity for youngsters, with classes being offered in rifle clubs and academic schools in hundreds of locations. I will do my best to ensure that happens.