RAF Wyton Families Day

The words of my Phase 1 Training FS saying “never volunteer”, were echoing in my ears after the first planning meeting for the Families Day; what had I taken on?

Flt Lt Dave Smith

I volunteered on a whim as I had heard rumours it may be cancelled, “it can’t be that difficult”… I was so wrong! The Families Day is an event that is arranged on behalf of the Station Commander in order to reward Service Families for their support and sacrifices over the last year. With this in mind, at the first meeting I decided my vision was to have a “safe, fun and relaxing event that could be enjoyed by families without costing a small fortune.” To scupper this utopian goal, numerous issues arose that would make the life of the Committee as difficult as possible. These were exacerbated due to an initial miniscule budget, a highly compressed timescale and the hugely successful 2016 event fresh in peoples’ minds. Throw into the mix MODNet transition, the holiday season and only the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight available for a flying display and things became all the more ‘interesting’.

During the planning phase we were fortunate to have a wealth of experience in the RAF Wyton civilian staff, some of whom had seen nearly two decades of Families Day events. Very quickly the ‘Whole Force’ started to gel together as a team and made things happen; without this input I have no doubt the outcome would have been very different. The greatest problem throughout the entire process was matching my aspirations for the day versus what the budget would allow. This became an obsession that saw me exploring numerous different routes in order to increase the
original funding.

Thankfully the sleepless nights, deluge of emails and phone calls paid off; the budget increased almost 500% due to a variety of different
sources contributing.

There were several ‘fast balls’ along the way to test our planning skills and patience ranging from complete lack of aircraft for the flying display through loss of medical cover to team members being deployed at very short notice. As a team, we worked around these issues as best we could and had to re-plan, beg, borrow and not quite steal to make the day happen. Within a very short timescale the entire Families Day Team managed to deliver a very well received event, ahead of schedule, under budget and beyond expectations. This was in no small part to the Herculean effort from all involved in the planning and organising. The ‘Whole Force’ absolutely works and devoid of it, the event would not have happened. Without exception, every person on the committee was proactive, forward leaning and shared in the vision to deliver the greatest event possible. One of the quotes at the first meeting was “you have a nearly impossible task ahead of you”. That was wrong, but only as a result of the team working towards a common goal and all pulling in the same direction; we were so much more than the sum of our individual parts. From a personal point of view it was a true managerial and leadership challenge; there were numerous moving parts, injects and obstacles to overcome. This had to be achieved without upsetting individuals, at times being political and adding in a healthy dose of pragmatism, ‘thinking outside the box’ and common sense.

Not everything was easy or positive, the axiom ‘plan early, plan twice’, came back to haunt us on several occasions as things changed, normally with no warning. A great example of this was the Red Arrows flypast timing which Red 1 moved the day before the event and the BBMF being grounded. Despite the entire planning process being about 2 weeks ahead of schedule, the MODNet transition being delayed had a huge effect. As OIC, I could not access the Families Day multiuser email account or MOSS page a fortnight before the event and the entire committee lost access a week later.

This was planned for, but it still had an effect in ways we hadn’t considered such as being unable to print documents. Sorry if you emailed the team and didn’t get a reply, now you know why.

The feedback for visitors to the event was overwhelmingly positive and I was pleased that the day was viewed as a success with only two problems on the day. A circuit breaker tripped causing all of the inflatables to deflate for 10 minutes and people were directed to park on the active grass runway. The decision by the Station Commander to make the entire event free with the addition of free popcorn, ice-cream and candy floss was a great idea and was very well received. Good luck to the next OIC if they decide to change that for next year.

The first major event on the day was the Moto Stunts International Team who carried out a series of death defying stunts including wheelies, jumps and riding through fire! This proved very popular and a huge hit despite the slight walk to get to the arena. The flying display was well received, with the Red Arrows being an obvious highlight as well as the Chinook arriving which caused quite the whirlwind! Children being invited to sit inside by the crew was an added bonus that generated lots of smiles.

Inside Hangar 1, the numerous stalls were buzzing with a huge interest from those attending.

Which was great to see, with immensely positive feedback from stall holders, for children, the assault course and climbing wall were extremely popular and had a steady throughput for the entire event.

The only distraction that managed to draw them away was Jezo the magician. His madcap, funny and energetic routine had children, as well as adults, laughing and joining in.

He certainly had me scratching my head at how he did some of his tricks. Not everything was immediately obvious as a hit with children, MAGPAS staff teaching basic first aid to children was an unexpected hit!

This really captivated the imagination of some and as a bonus provided them with a potentially lifesaving skill.

If I use my vision from the initial meeting, did we deliver? Absolutely, however this could not have been done without the hard work, dedication and long hours of the ‘Whole Force’ at RAF Wyton. For that I would personally like to thank each and every person that helped to make this event such a success and, more importantly, keeping me on track when I got carried away. If you have any feedback on the event then please email WYT-FamiliesDay@mod.gov.uk and if you would like a challenging, highly rewarding and high profile secondary duty, OIC Families Day 2018
is vacant…