Ian Rendall is the driving force behind the development of climbing in Orkney.
Since joining Orkney Climbing Club 13 years ago he has introduced hundreds of people of all ages, backgrounds and abilities to the sport, enabling them to take part at all levels.
Based at the Pickaquoy Leisure Centre in Kirkwall and venturing outdoors to climb sea cliffs when weather permits, Ian has led the creation and development of a climber pathway.
He is now club chairman and, as youth coach, gives up a huge amount of his spare time to accompany climbers to competitions all over Scotland.
We caught up with Ian as part of the 2020 #COVChampions campaign to find out more about his motivation and what he sees as the benefits of sport within his community.
When did you first get involved in climbing, and how did it come about?
I first started climbing over 13 years ago, by complete accident. A friend of mine’s son was about seven, they lived nearby and asked if I wanted to see him climb. I asked where and it was my old school, I didn't know there was a wall there so I went with him, watched him climb. I got offered a shot and it started from there.
Had you done any coaching or volunteering in other sports prior to that?
I’d never really done any sport coaching before, wasn't really doing any sport before I started climbing. I was more into fishing and motorbikes.
What did you enjoy about it that made you want to stay involved?
It was nothing like I had done before. I started doing routes, then wanted to do the next grade up, next challenge. I started climbing outdoors and up here it's all sea cliff climbing, we have some stunning coastline. So to abseil down and see parts that a lot of folk don't get the chance to see was quite special. There aren’t many places you can be climbing and watch orcas cruise past – some days I will never forget.
Can you talk us through the development of Orkney Climbing Club?
When I first joined, the club was only on a Thursday night at the old school. Six ropes on a flat brick wall. One of the two club instructors, Don, asked if I wanted to get more involved, I was really keen and along with 2 others we did our CWI (Climbing Wall Instructor Award) through Mountain Training Scotland so we could run sessions.
I then ran with it, asked the school for extra sessions, got my daughter climbing, and then she started asking for her friends to come, more parents got involved and numbers started to build.
It was really important to me to see kids get involved.
I am fortunate that me and my daughter have climbed and do other sports together and now she's 16 and still climbs. I feel so lucky to have had this time with her.
I then did my RCI (Rock Climbing Instructor), which enabled me to take beginners outdoors. Teaching climbing and giving kids a shot climbing outdoors is such a good thing. This grew and I did so much of this and still do.
The old school was then to be demolished, leaving us with no climbing wall. Three of us fund-raised and we eventually got £150,000 and that built the boulder wall climbing wall at ‘Picky’ in 2012.
I'm really proud of that. Since then it's grown, the club has developed massively, we have actually outgrown the facility, we can't get enough access as it's in a multi-functional hall. I got a job when it opened there part time, I am head instructor there and teach for them as well.
We have a youth squad that compete all over Scotland, they have done us proud over the years and considering our limited access their results have been amazing, they are such a great group of kids.
The boulder wall was tiny, I wanted to extend it but there was no funds, so I asked for help from some parents and we got all materials donated from local businesses. We doubled the cave in a month, working seven days a week nights and weekends – it's still small compared with walls elsewhere but it was worth the effort.
What benefits can climbing provide for young people?
Climbing benefits are huge. So many kids I have taught don't do the big mainstream group sports like football etc, they come in as individuals but end up making good friends, and being part of a great group. Age doesn’t matter, from seven to 17 upwards they all mix and have fun.
It leads on to so many things – climbing and bouldering indoors, outdoor hillwalking, climbing, bouldering. When they compete they have made friends for life with kids south – and stay in touch. We have done meets all over Scotland and it’s such a good thing.
What role do you play, and what aspects of your role do you find most rewarding?
I have been club secretary, treasurer over the years but been chairman for many years now. I am one of the coaches for the youth squad, me and another instructor set up the youth squad years ago for comps.
Working with kids is the most rewarding thing, I have no idea how many kids I have taught over the years but it's great. They never let you down, they don't have to compete as long as they have fun. I have seen some move on to be instructors, some help coach. To see them continue is something I am proud of.
How much commitment is involved in running the club?
The club takes up most nights, there is always something to do, we run twice a week. When comps are on we go away once a month at least, sometimes more, we leave the island on a Friday, compete Saturday then home Sunday and back to work. So it burns a lot of holidays.
Summertime when weather and time allow we go outdoors.
What support have you had in developing your skills over the years?
Don when I first joined was massively encouraging to me, made me do awards to develop.
Years later me and Ella (secretary) were invited to go to Ratho to the launch of ClimbScotland, the British finals were on then, we met folk and they said our kids should compete, we looked at the comp and thought it would be amazing to see Orkney kids compete.
A year or so later it was happening. Jamie Smith and Kevin Howitt were always on hand with advice. We started doing the FUNDAS course they ran and learned loads, Kev was always setting something up and got me and Ella involved.
I had been instructing for years but coaching was another thing.
I met some great friends for life. I need to mention Robert MacKenzie, I looked up to what he does with working with kids for years. We are definitely on the same page with what we do.
The more courses we did to try and develop as coaches we were meeting instructors from all over Scotland and started making good friends, the climbing community is quite a close one. So I owe a lot to ClimbScotland.
How important is it that everyone in the community can experience the benefits of sport?
Any sport is so important, kids need to be active, do something positive and meet others with similar outlooks to life. It's more than just doing the activity.
I have seen kids want to climb at the club – they have to bring a parent but then watch the parent get involved and have a shot. They have come to trips away and it’s a great experience and time that they can share with their kids.
I teach and coach climbing, also took them out stand-up paddle boarding and snorkelling this year, with no climbing wall being open due to COVID.
Tributes to Ian
Ella Spence, a fellow coach at Orkney Climbing Club, paid tribute to Ian’s dedication.
She said: “Ian has been instrumental in providing opportunities for young people in Orkney to develop their climbing skills. He often gives up his own weekends and evenings to coach, teach and take them outdoors for fun sessions.
"Ian has made the Orkney youth climbers like an extended family and is always there to help and encourage them.
“He is more than happy to pass on his knowledge and experience to anyone regardless of their own ability. He has never missed a competition that any of our youth squad have competed in – if there have been 15 Orkney youngsters there or just one, he has been there to help and support them.”
Jamie Smith, development manager at ClimbScotland, a programme by Mountaineering Scotland, added: “What Ian has done for the development of climbing on Orkney is truly outstanding and something he should be extremely proud of.
“Not only has he supported what is going on in Orkney, he has also supported our coaching academies across Scotland and also organised separate coaching sessions for young people in the north of Scotland to provide them with quality coaching.
“Ian is one of our Fundamental Coaching Workshop providers, which is fantastic as this makes our sport more accessible and provides the opportunity for people to attend workshops in Orkney as well as Shetland. Without Ian doing this it is highly unlikely they would be able to access this training.
“I would like to take this opportunity to thank Ian on behalf of the ClimbScotland team for all he has done and we looking forward to working with him for many years to come.”