1968 to PRESENT
In 1968, George Wright, a Northumberland school teacher and WW2 Air Force navigator, placed an advert in the local press seeking anyone interested in forming a flying club. The resulting group of enthusiasts soon set about finding a suitable base for the proposed club. After a few months, Mr. William Brodie, a farmer near the village of Milfield, made available a disused wartime airfield. The Milfield Flying Group then set about the year-long task of bringing the neglected airfield up to the standards required by the Board of Trade in order to carry out flying training. Unfortunately, despite moving fences, clearing runways and preparing new grass landing strips, the determined enthusiasts were finally defeated by the requirements for emergency fire-fighting equipment, which they did not have the resources to provide.
It was at this time that three of the members, brothers Alan, Gordon and Leslie Beal, suggested that it would be possible to operate gliders from the airfield. Within three months two gliders had been obtained, a Slingsby T21 two seater and an elderly Slingsby tutor single seater. The 'Borders (Milfield) Gliding Club', as the group now called themselves, acquired a Vauxhall Cresta car for launching, later to be replaced with a winch.
They now found themselves in the unusual position of having an airfield, gliders and a launching car, but no-one who actually could fly! George Wright began contacting other clubs asking for help in getting the club off the ground. Finally, Colin Golding, a fully qualified instructor, agreed to be the club's Chief Flying Instructor.
Soon afterwards other instructors joined the club, one of them being Charlie Donaldson from the Scottish Gliding Union at Portmoak, and the club was able to fly every weekend.
James Hogarth, one of the founder members, was the first to go solo and later became an instructor. Pilots from other clubs visited, some bringing their own gliders, and the soaring conditions that Milfield had to offer were soon realised.
The club leased from the Brodies two of the old RAF buildings, a paint store and blister hangar to house the winch and derigged gliders. The fleet was expanded to include a Bocian two-seater and a Skylark 3. The enthusiastic members often started flying before 10 am after having rigged all the heavy gliders.
The steady advance of the gravel workings threatened to cut off the buildings from the airfield so the club purchased a 2nd-hand barn. This was erected at the northern end of the field as a hangar. Two second hand portacabins were acquired for a clubhouse. Club members themselves put in a water supply and septic tank, and set up a diesel generator to supply electricity.
Wave climbs were made in excess of twenty thousand feet and Bill Ferguson of Wooler flew to Lincolnshire to gain his gold distance badge. Modern two-seaters replaced the ageing T21 and a towing aircraft was obtained to allow gliders to better exploit the wave conditions.
The club's operations were growing but the airfield was reducing in size. A company which had the mineral rights began to extract the gravel below the airfield and gradually the available runway lengths were becoming shorter and shorter, until it became impractical for the club to operate anymore.
The search for a new site commenced. There was an abortive attempt to buy some land at Yeavering, alongside the old railway track. This fell through following some local objections. The adjacent Galewood Farm then came on the market and the club purchased it outright, financed by a bank overdraft and interest-free personal loans from the members. Some debts were repaid by selling-off several of the buildings and part of the land not essential for the club. The loans from members were gradually repaid over the years.
All the work to prepare the farm for club use was done by the members themselves. On 25th July 1986 James Hogarth made what he thought was the last take-off from Milfield Airfield. Now operating from Galewood, the club continued to expand with the addition of a second tug aircraft and an additional two-seater glider. With a growing membership and the ownership of their own airfield the club's future seemed assured. Then in 1993 British Gas announced plans to build a gas pumping station just off the end of the airfield. The flight restrictions over this installation meant that once again the Borders Gliding Club would be unable to operate. Fortunately, negotiations with British Gas resulted in their donating a substantial part of the previous Milfield airfield, now re-levelled and grassed over, along with a custom built hanger, workshop and clubhouse and caravan site. The move to this new site was made in July 1997.
In 2000 an ambitious plan was made to design, finance, and build a second hangar of more than twice the size of the first one. The aim was to house 22 gliders which could be rapidly and individually accessible in order to make the most of any good-weather opportunities. The hangar was funded principally by Sport England and was opened in 2003. During this period new links with the local community were established and the Berwick and Northumberland Councils also contributed grants. A schools presentation programme was started and a further grant was obtained for an extra glider for junior pilots to use free of rental charges. Working in conjunction with the local authority, the club was a founder member of Glendale Sports & Leisure Association, a consortium of many types of club to promote all sports in the area.
The Borders Gliding Club gained second place in the UK Sports Club of the Year Award of 2003. This is a prestigious award presented by the Foundation for Sport and the Arts (FSA) and the Central Council for Physical Recreation (CCPR). The CCPR is the grouping of all national bodies for amateur sport. Clubs must first compete to win the nomination from their national sports governing body as the club setting standards of excellence and “best practice” in bringing people into the sport, working well with the local community, and having a successful track record in gaining grants or sponsorship. The nominated clubs then compete in the “short”-list of several hundred clubs for the national title. The Borders Gliding Club was pipped at the post by a worthy winner, the Dartford Judokwai. No other gliding club has ever reached the short-list.
The club was able to help two junior pilots obtain sponsorship from the Caroline Trust to help fund their costs in learning to fly. The club matched the funding and both became solo pilots at the earliest possible age of 16.
In contrast to the national trend, the club has grown in recent years to double the active membership. To cope with demand the club has added a further two-seater training glider and a tug aircraft, bringing the club fleet to five gliders and three tugs. The combination of the location, airfield, clubhouse, hangars and fleet give the Borders Gliding Club some of the finest facilities of any club in the UK.