New common riding committee aiming for equality after Hawick funding row

The 2019 common riding cavalcade leaves the hut.The 2019 common riding cavalcade leaves the hut.
The 2019 common riding cavalcade leaves the hut.
Hawick Common Riding committee’s reincarnation as an incorporated charity has been hailed as a “new dawn” for the historic six-week event.

A new committee was launched, and new office-bearers appointed, at its annual general meeting last Thursday.

The previous committee, an unincorporated charity, will be dissolved once its successor is fully up and running.

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As a Scottish charitable incorporated organisation, the new committee will enjoy greater protection over issues such as public liability, but it does mean it must now comply with more national and UK-wide legislation, including equality law requirements.

After a controversial legal battle in 1996, women were allowed to participate in rideouts for the first time, but ceremonial events including the yearly chase remained men-only until last year.

Further changes were brought in this June as some women chose to listen to speeches from inside the hut at St Leonard’s.

The committee came in for criticism over its handling of those changes, with some women claiming they experienced threats from townsfolk and a lack of support from common riding organisers.

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Addressing townsfolk and the committee for the final time last night, its outgoing chairman, Cameron Knox, admitted his term of office had not been a “smooth road”.

“The past three years have been very enjoyable and a great privilege, with great principals to work with,” he said. “However, it’s not been a smooth road.

“My fellow office-bearers and myself have been criticised on social media by faceless keyboard warriors.

“These certain people must remember that Hawick Common Riding is bigger than any of us and will continue for hundreds of years to come. That, ladies and gentlemen, is a fact.

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“As a result of this, Hawick Common Riding looks forward to welcoming everyone, and we mean everyone, to the common riding next year.”

Honorary provost and Hawick and Hermitage councillor Watson McAteer declared the change a “new dawn” for the committee.

He added: “Not a lot has changed in a lot of respects, but a lot has changed in others.

“There are a lot of things happening and all in the right direction.”

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It was also confirmed to townsfolk last night that last year’s common riding event made a loss of £10,000, and that deficit is, in part, due to complaints about behaviour towards women at the event.

Mr Knox said: “This year’s common riding made a loss of £10,000. This is because a grant of £9,300 from Scottish Borders Council has not yet been paid.

“However we met with Scottish Borders Council’s chief executive, Tracey Logan, and chief legal officer, Nuala McKinlay, yesterday.

“It was a constructive and positive meeting, and we are now working along with the council to rectify the situation for this year and for the future.

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“Unfortunately, that’s all I can say at the present moment regarding this subject. You will be fully updated at a later point.”

An annual grant is made to each of the Borders towns’ common riding and festival event committees each year, with the amount dependent on the size of the event.

This week, the local authority confirmed its usual grant to Hawick Common Riding committee had not been paid for 2019.

It also confirmed council officers received 29 emails of complaint from 12 people after this year’s event, most of them concerned about untoward behaviour directed at female riders.

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They include claims that some female participants faced discrimination and hostility at the event.

There are claims that one female official was booed and had paper and a water bottle thrown at her as she left this year’s colour-bussing ceremony; “venom” was directed at lady riders taking part in ceremonial events by people including committee members and former principals; complainers were ignored or booed, heckled, sworn at and called a “disgrace”; when the behaviour was directed at riders in the presence of committee members and marshals, no action was taken; speeches at previously male-only gatherings were addressed to “gentlemen” and ignored the presence of women; Hawick Common Riding committee did not promote the participation of both men and women and failed to deal properly with the complaints it had received.

In emails made public this week, Ms McKinlay, outlined these issues to the common riding committee, saying: “There is concern that women were on some occasions tolerated but more often ignored or even derided,” before suggesting the committee publish a “very positive statement” welcoming all women to the festival.

An email from July said eight complaints were outstanding.

A council spokesperson said: “We have held a positive meeting with Hawick Common Riding committee and the council has suggested a possible way forward.”

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New office-bearers, voted in at last week’s AGM, include chairman John Hogg, vice-chairman Frank Scott, master of ceremonies Ian Nichol, with Ian Whillans as assistant in that post, race convener Stephen Gray, ball convener Caroline Wilkinson, hut convener David Oliver, sponsorship convener Frank Scott, secretary Lesley Fraser and joint ticket, gate and stewarding conveners Cath Elliott-Walker and John Hogg.

The post of treasurer is still being advertised.

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