Tricking has been a big part of my life since 2004 when I did my first front-flip into a sand-pit at school at the age of 14. Tricking is a combination of acrobatics, gymnastics and martial arts and places importance on freestyle movement and flow. Here is a video of me from 2011 to give you an idea of what it is all about:
Tricking was an underground sport, with a growing niche following spread across the UK, an era before the dominance of social media. TricksTutorials.com was the main website for learning moves and getting involved with the community. Though mainly an information site now, Tricks Tutorials used to have a very active forum, with thousands of users from all over the world.
The community in the US was much larger than the UK, with people travelling from the various states to 'gatherings', independently organised events where people would meet to trick, socialise and learn, usually over a long weekend. I wanted to go to one in my country, but at that point there were none. I decided to change this in 2005 when I hosted the first ever UK tricking gathering of it's kind in the UK.
I promoted the event on the Tricks Tutorials forum, negotiated with our local gymnastics club to allow us to have use of their facilities for the weekend, and arranged activities over a long summer weekend. It was a big hit, with over 20 people attending from all across the country.
From that point on we arranged a gathering every year, with a different person hosting each time in a new location. The 2006 Gathering took place in Liverpool, 2007 in Devon, with other smaller gatherings running throughout the year in parallel. Tricking in the UK started to snowball.
By 2008 I'd started studying Computer Science with Business Management at the University of Birmingham (UOB). Naturally, the first thing I did was to join the gymnastics team and start training regularly at their gym. One of the great things with UOB was that they have an ecosystem of societies supported by the Guild of Students. These are mini not-for-profit businesses that get certain privileges to operate within the university, providing they follow certain rules from attending guild meetings, through to maintaining a healthy number of society members.
We had to do it; we had to set up an organisation to represent Tricking. Shortly into our second year of university, myself and some friends (Ed, Mike and Jared) set up Trick Soc. We negotiated terms with the Munrow Centre for booking the gymnastics facilities, including arranging appropriate insurance through the guild of students. We signed up 25 members who had shown an early interest (each paying £5) and set the first date. Our primary goals being to raise awareness of tricking, encourage young people to be more active, create a great new circle of friends, and teach people acrobatics. I still have one of our early posters that we put up all around campus promoting the classes:
As we prepared the sign-up forms and class agenda for the first ever session, I remember the four of us stood in the gym hall, thinking 'is anyone going to turn up?'. We'd fronted the cash for the first class ourselves, which felt like a lot considering we were all poor, incomeless students!
It was a hit! We had 25 people turn up and pay £5 for the session, which didn't just convert the £80 booking fee, but put is in profit. Here's a video from the end of our very first meeting:
Everyone had a great time, which was good for us as it meant people told their friends. By week three we had about 85 people turn up, it turns out that learning to backflip is a compelling value proposition.
We created high-quality embroidered merchandise to generate awareness for the society while raising money at the same time.
We even managed to get a small sponsorship arrangement in place from Monster, who supplied free energy drinks to most of our sessions as a result.
By the time I graduated, we had over 500 people who had signed up as a member, and the society was the second largest in the guild in terms of member count, second only to the skiing society BrumSki.
I had to hand over responsibility running the society at this point and change my focus to set up my web and app development business Scorchsoft. A sad moment, as I knew there was a real risk that me stepping away risked killing it. The committee running Trick Soc changed a few times and ended up separating from the guild of students so that it was able to be led by people who weren't students of the university. Bumps in the road, but it survived. Brendan Riley, who was one of our very first members, took over the society in 2011, running events ever since. Great work keeping the spirit alive Brendan!
You can keep up to date on the latest TrickSoc events via the TrickSoc Facebook page.
TrickSoc was a significant movement for the tricking community in Birmingham, allowing thousands of people to learn what it was, and try it out for themselves. I was approached by a friend of mine, Nathan Salmon, in 2012 who had big visions. Nathan wanted to set up his dedicated tricking, gymnastics and parkour facility in Birmingham called UrbanTrix Academy (UTX) and had very similar goals to us. He did lots of work to get this business going, including agreeing to an expensive lease on a central location, arranging insurance and business systems, and building custom equipment to fill a 7000 square foot facility in the centre of Birmingham.
UTX is a social enterprise, and they desperately wanted to help young and disadvantaged people to find a passion. I wanted to help, so made Nathan an Admin of the Trick Soc group, and promoted his new business to all of our members. I don't profess to be a designer, but I even created their first logo which they still use today.
Here are some early pictures of UTX:
I'm extremely proud of what we achieved with TrickSoc, it's long-term impact, and of those people who built upon these foundations. Community projects rarely grow to be multi-million-pound enterprises, but they can deliver value in ways far beyond the usual monetary measures.