A year in the life of a Highland Games organiser


31 August 2020
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Find out what it takes to put on a Highland Games, welcoming visitors to an annual celebration of Scottish traditions, with Highland dancers, the skirl of the pipes, the excitement of the heavy events and the companionship provided as those with Scottish roots (and many with none!) come together for an annual extravaganza.

Hundreds of thousands of people around the world enjoy visiting a Highland Games every year, but have you ever wondered what goes on behind the scenes? Ian Grieve of the Scottish Highland Games Association takes us through a year in the life of a Highland Games organiser.

Most highland games are now finding that organising an event is now an all year event just keeping things ticking over, with activities picking up at the turn of the year. AGMs will normally be held in the autumn after their event or in the spring, as thoughts turn to the next event.

All Highland Games will vary, but a typical event will consist of the following tasks and some will have other considerations and matters which will need dealing with depending on the size of the event and the activities they host. In recent years there has been a marked increase in rules and regulations for organisers.

As soon as one year’s Games is over…

Tasks include:

Committee meetings held during the year, with general matters discussed including admission charges, and entry fees to ensure the event remains financially viable

Dealing with park owners for use of the arena

Dealing with email enquiries and general correspondence from athletes and visitors etc. etc. throughout the year

General correspondence with governing body (The SHGA, Scottish Highland Games Association) and attending their spring meeting and AGM in October each year

Applications submitted for Public Entertainment licences, insurance cover, risk assessments etc. etc.

Early part of each year

Sponsors are approached for renewals and potential sponsors approached

Safety is always a priority and thus risk assessments are reviewed annually 

Advertisers approached for programme and adverts sought

Keeping social media and websites updated

Various services also need booking early in the year, these would be to cover fencing, portable toilets, PA systems, waste management etc.

Book dancing stage and stage canopy

Book the Pipe Bands

Book first aid services

Receive and deal with Trade and catering applications and associated licences

Details sent to printer for posters and passes

Traffic management and possible arrangements for road closures require to be booked

A few months before the event

To run the event on the day officials also need to be booked to cover judging, timekeeping etc.

Entry forms issued to attract competitors

Programme details sent to printer, proof received checked and approved

Volunteers and support staff also need to be booked for manning gates, car parks, programme sellers etc

Meet with the police to discuss any changes to the event, also check any proposed charges from Police Scotland, this is a recent introduction which some games are now faced with

Advertising booked with press and radio

Issue updates on social media

The days beforehand

Erect road sign signs, display and distribute posters

Websites and Facebook continually updated, with posts counting down to the event

Setting up the field, perimeter fence, marking the track, measuring throwing areas, setting up safety cage etc, making sure the public are close enough to see the action but at a safe enough distance as well.

Book in and delivery of equipment, toilets, marquees, traffic cones, waste bins etc. 

Banking, floats and make up prize money

Pre event check of equipment, and the pre event check list

Discussion and guidance on logistics of car-parking & help from local organisations e.g. Rotary, Scouts etc.

Something spectators will not be aware of, some behind the scenes things e.g. some games putting the caber in the burn to give it a bit more weight if it has dried out too much

Issue invoices to sponsors

Programmes collected and issued to sponsors

Let the Games begin!

Allocate tasks to support staff

Welcome officials 

Pipe band opens games and games run from 12noon to 5pm

Clear arena and secure any other equipment left for collection later

Submit results to press, website etc and the Scottish Highland Games Association

Looking ahead to next year…

Day after games complete clearance of arena etc. minor repairs to grass from hammer damage etc.

Ten days after event greetin meeting to establish any issues that were noted and suggestions for improvements that could be made in the future.

Pay invoices for services provided

Finances are finalised and audited

It takes a lot of people to stage a games, if you’d like to get involved please contact your local games to volunteer (contact details available on the SHGA website

Ian Grieve is secretary of the Scottish Highland Games Association

The Scottish Highland Games Association (SHGA) is the governing body of Traditional Highland Games in Scotland. It represents over 60 Highland Games in Scotland with several associate members overseas.

Find out more about the Association on its Facebook and Twitter pages and on its website.  

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Images © Bill Robertson, Sauchie