Conference Speakers

This Year is our biggest year yet and we have pulled a great line up of speakers together!

Download the schedule here: Schedule

Thursday 9th September 

Everyone’s Welcome in Climbing – Panel Discussion 

The panel will share their stories of how they got into climbing, overcame adversity and inspired  others to enjoy our amazing sport. Each brings a unique and well informed perspective to how we can ensure everyone feels welcome in climbing – as we strive to become a truly inclusive sport and activity that others will look to for guidance.

Panel Bios

Em Diserens – ABC D&I NED

Em is an equality, diversity and inclusion specialist with a focus on reaching under-represented audiences and accessibility for people with disabilities. Controversially, she isn’t a climber but she is passionate about sport and its many physical and mental health benefits.


Red Szell – Writer, Broadcaster and Blind Adventurer 

Committed to advocating the potential within the disability community.  In 2013 he became the first blind person to climb The Old Man of Hoy, and in 2019 completed the hattrick of ‘Big 3 Scottish sea stacks’ in an extreme blind triathlon-style expedition to Am Buachaille.


Rotimi – Founder Clmbxr 

Clmbxr is a London-based climbing community that’s helped over 200 people try climbing for the first time.

He is an avid athlete who enjoys Calisthenics and has competitively played Tennis and Basketball at a junior national level. Rotimi and the Clmbxr brand have worked with the likes of Adidas, The North Face, and featured in Men’sHealth and RedBulletin.

In his day-to-day job, Rotimi is a UI/UX designer working at a digital consultancy.

Nisbah Hussain – The Muslim Scout fellowship 

The Muslim Scout Fellowship seek to support young Muslim children from across the U.K. have the opportunity to get outdoors, learn skills for life and do what we can to level the playing field to ensure that all children have the same access to opportunities.

Part of my role has seen me undertake an exciting project with Plas y Brenin to provide opportunities for adults within diverse communities to become trained and confident in delivery adventurous activities. This projects seeks to address the inequalities that exist across all sectors especially the outdoors and proactive solutions which allows as many from different communities within the U.K. get outdoors safely and more frequently.

George Lonsdale – Climber, Routesetter and Presenter

Getting people into climbing and adventure sports has been his biggest passion since getting involved in the industry as a teenager, subsequently going on to present to the some of the biggest audiences at Kendal Mountain Festival and presenting at the notorious climbing competition Plywood Masters.

Ellis Whittam – HR & Law

Ellis Whittam helps 35,000 UK employers to create great, safe places to work.

Their aim is to help business owners proactively solve problems, ensure regulatory compliance and achieve commercial objectives through exceptionally good Employment Law, HR and Health & Safety support, This session will cover:

  • Balance between risk and reward
  • Risk Assessments
  • Providing safe gym/ workplace.

Speakers Bio

Oli Williams 

Starting his career in the Construction industry, Oliver joined Ellis Whittam in 2013 as a Health & Safety Consultant and has since supported a diverse portfolio of clients, from large 700-employee leisure resorts to his local chemist.

Having moved into a management position in 2017, he now oversees a team of 15 consultants, offering an extra layer of technical expertise, whilst remaining very much hands-on as a consultant and mentor for his own clients. A Chartered Member of IOSH, Oli’s specialisms include behavioural and cultural change and building strategies to support internal competence.

The Insurance Market post COVID – What can we all expect? 

AIM Logo

The last 18 months have been a real struggle for so many businesses with insurance at the forefront.  AIM will be discussing this in detail and discussing what they believe we can all expect post COVID

  • Short history of the BI test case
  • What AIM did to support its Member and how a mutual differs
  • The addition of the market exclusion for COVID on BI and PL
  • What do current restrictions mean for businesses?
  • The importance of BI and what it does cover
  • Common mistakes when buying cover
  • Future predictions
  • Questions.

Speakers Bio 

Sophia Reed – Mutual Manager

Sophia left private practice as a Partner at law firm, BLM to join AIM in January 2018 as Mutual Manager.

With 24 years’ experience in personal injury litigation, she regularly defended Members’ interests and provided legal advice and risk management.  A regular speaker at our Member events, she has a good understanding of the issues facing Members and the industry as a whole and the importance of defending brand and reputation.

Ralph Doe – Account Executive

Ralph joined AIM in 2017 from a background insuring and supporting some of the UK’s largest charities providing adventurous activities to young people.  With over 15 years’ experience in the insurance sector Ralph is an accredited Insurance and Risk Management professional who supports AIM Members with site visits, technical advice and all aspects of coverage requirements.

NICAS: New beginnings for a million new climbers

As the climbing sector sees unprecedented growth, NICAS is adapting to become the first step of a lifetime of happy climbing experiences for people of all ages. Nick Parkin, Managing Director will be explaining the strides NICAS is making in becoming the entry point for millions of new climbers.

This session will also share a stunning new look, exclusively announce a new NICAS product pipeline and a strategy to attract and retain climbers for climbing walls.

Nick Parkin – NICAS Managing Director 

Nick Parkin has spent the last 20 years delivering sports programmes and growing the business of some of the largest sports facilities in London and surrounding areas. Having trained in a FTSE 100 management programme, he worked across both public and private sector health and fitness facilities which ultimately led him to Westway Sports and Fitness where he gained his first exposure to the world of climbing (and NICAS) and could immediately see the enormous potential for climbing.

After a number of sports consulting appointments, the opportunity to lead NICAS and be able to help shape the future of a new Olympic sport presented itself and since then, despite a global pandemic, he’s been working with the NICAS Board and executive team to start building a learn to climb scheme that anyone of any age can access and begin a journey of a lifetime of happy climbing experiences.


In addition, following the ABC AGM, there will be a NICAS Schemes Update Meeting:

NICAS will be providing a brief Chair’s update on the previous financial year and the impact of COVID together with an outlook for the next 12 months.

The ABC members will also be invited to show whether they are in agreement with NICAS’ proposal to appoint Andrew M. Wells Accountancy for a further year.

There will then be an opportunity to ask questions of NICAS Trustees and Executive Team either in the open meeting or throughout the conference.


Restaurants are all about one thing, great food.  The rise of the Celebrity Chef over the last decade or two is undoubtedly the biggest breakthrough in the success of the restaurant industry.  Add to that the use of fresh, locally produced and organic quality ingredients and people will wait for a table to sample the unique offering of a high quality restaurant.  Rendering the location, the decor, the name and the profitability as all way less important.

We can learn a lot from this industry, not really about the food that we prepare and serve, but by taking a fresh look at what we are really doing with our climbing gyms.

So, we pick the best location, close to the universities, close enough to town to get a bus, not too far from a motorway.  Countless redesigns in SketchUp, back and forth with the wall builder, the last minute changes, the colour scheme, the stripes, the sofa.  The amount of effort and consideration that went into this process is huge.  

Often more effort is put into the flavour of the coffee than the flavour of the climbing.  Yes, we are talking about the route setting.  Yes, putting fresh routes or blocs up regularly is what we all know is the key to a great gym.  However, this is very easily overlooked with the majority of the budget being spent on a very nice wall.  

If you are spending considerably more money on your wall build than on the purchase of holds, macros and volumes then you may have just loaded up your High Street restaurant menu with some No Frills ingredients. 

You can’t make a great tasting meal out of poor ingredients in the same way that if you aren’t good in the kitchen then you won’t prepare a decent meal, even with the right produce.  

So, around the Chef’s Table we will host a Q&A with a panel of experts from within the UK routesetting and climbing holds industry.  

We are eager to learn, dissect and quiz the panel on such hot topics as 

  • The importance of good routesetting in the gym
  • Having the right holds for the job
  • Trends in Routesetting, Reality versus Instagram
  • Comp blocs versus Circuits – which is best for my gym?
  • Women in Routesetting
  • Finding your way around the huge choice of holds
  • Why are there so many different materials and what are they best for?
  • How do you become a good routesetter?
  • Did the Olympics make a difference?
  • Where next for holds and routesetting?

Panel Bios 

Percy Bishton 

Percy has been a route setter for more than 25 years, one of the first full-time professional setters in the world. He has helped define and shape modern indoor climbing through roles as a climbing wall manager, CWMA development officer, IFSC chief route setter, and as one of the three people behind the world’s first large dedicated bouldering gym, the Climbing Works in Sheffield.

This is the climbing wall which provided the blueprint for the evolution of the modern boulder gym, a successful formula which has been copied all over the world. He has had influence as a wall builder, route setter, and a gym owner.

As well as the Climbing Works, he also is co-owner of Gravity climbing centre in Dublin. He designed, wrote and delivered the national competition route setters qualification for the BMC, and he currently holds the position of director of the IFSC Route Setters commission.

He is maybe best known as a route setter, and has set competition routes and boulder problems for the worlds elite athletes on the international circuit. This work culminated in 2021 with his appointment as chief route setter for sport climbings first ever inclusion at the Olympic Games – an event which will usher in a new chapter in the story of climbing. The one thing that underpins all the work that Percy has been involved with is his love of climbing, a strong work ethic, and his refusal to do anything that isn’t going to be fun in some way.

Ayesha Khan 

Hailing from Vancouver, Canada, Ayesha Khan moved to Leeds 4 years ago with nearly a decade of setting experience under her belt. In Vancouver she frequently set for both bouldering and lead competitions. Since moving to the UK she finds herself setting under Ben Meeks at City Bloc, and boulders/ sport climbs outdoors when the british weather allows.

Mark English 

Originally based in Hull, Mark is one of the UKs original gym builders/owners.   Always prepared to try new things and many ideas before co-founding S7 in the 1990s.  Fast forward 25 years and ‘Mr Plastic’ is now responsible for both Rockcity Climbing Holds and Serious Climbing Distribution, effectively supplying the majority of the Tokyo Olympic climbing hold brands to the UK scene.

Working with the world’s best routesetters and the materials and manufacturing production gives a great understanding and insight into the world of the climbing hold, macros and volumes.

Jamie Cassidy 

Jamie Cassidy from Liverpool has been a route setter for 25 years.  Off to a flying start was the youngest IFSC Chief Routesetter in 2007 in  Fiera di Primero, Italy and the youngest Chief Routesetter at a World Championships back in 2012 in Paris, France.  Jamie using his vast World Cup routesetting experience has been making UK based ply volumes for 20 years.  Now one of only two UK fibreglass macro producers Jamie once again brings the World Cup into the Workshop.

This year Jamie had the added responsibility of being Chief Routesetter for both of the IFSC World Cups in Salt Lake City, USA.  Jamie is also a familiar face at the British Bouldering Championships, first as a competitor and more recently in the last decade as the Chief Route Setter.  Jamie also was the first routesetter to run the A & B split qualifications format.

Mike Langley – Presenter 

17 years in the indoor climbing industry. IFSC & BBC Sport Olympic Commentator. Facility design, events, competition route setting and organiser of Blokfest the UK biggest bouldering series. Mostly found covered in chalk on the mats at the Castle Climbing Centre, London.


Friday 10th September 


Increasing Retention, Improving Revenue, what climbers can learn from lifters.

Learning from data provided by the fitness industry, this session will cover four activities that all climbing centres should focus on if they wish to retain more customers.

By the end of this session attendees will be able to

  • Explain the importance of visits and visit frequency to improve retention
  • Describe how interactions can drive visit frequency
  • Identify how anxiety impacts performance particular in new climbers
  • Justify why having a planned customer journey is vital for business growth

Speakers Bio 

Dr Paul Bedford

Paul has been working in the fitness industry for more than three decades.

His business Retention Guru Ltd conducts  research in the area of retention, attrition and customer loyalty and coaches businesses in practical approaches to improve all areas of the customer experience.

Paul has two master’s degrees, one in exercise and health behaviours the second in social science research, Paul’s research focus for PhD was in health club member retention 

To date Paul’s research has reviewed the data from 4.5 million customers, from 4000+ clubs in 70 topic areas.  

Pre pandemic Paul had presented more than 150 international presentations in 31 different countries.

His clients include, Gold’s Gym International, The Gym Group, Marriott Hotels Europe, Elixia Norway, Club Med Gyms Paris, Reebok Sports Club London and multiple leisure and recreational centres, YMCA’s and Independent operators.

His recent work has with Hertfordshire Sports Village increased their revenue by 35% in just two years and generated a regular NPS score of 78+.

Working With Gold’s Gym in 2019-2020 Justin Ghadery, SVP of Operations, reported that the five month retention project with Dr Paul Bedford generated an $4.75Ml increase to EBITDA with a prediction of it increasing to $8M at year end.

In addition employee turnover reduced by 60% and also increased Net Promoter Score rose from 26 to 43 resulting in an increase in 85,000 more brand promoters.

Ellis Whittam – Performance Management 

Ellis Whittam helps 35,000 UK employers to create great, safe places to work.

Their aim is to help business owners proactively solve problems, ensure regulatory compliance and achieve commercial objectives through exceptionally good Employment Law, HR and Health & Safety support, This session will cover:

  • What is performance?
    • performance vs misconduct
  • Informal performance management
    • job descriptions
    • objectives
    • probation
    • informal supervision
    • appraisals
  • Formal performance management

Speaker Bio –

Sonia Tse – Senior Employment Law Adviser

Sonia works with a range of clients across a variety of sectors, advising on all aspects of employment law, providing clear commercial advice to help clients find the right solutions for their business. Sonia has a background in working for national law firms, having previously worked in the Stephensons Solicitors LLP and DWF LLP employment departments.

Finance talk 

We will be having some finance experts presenting and taking part in a Q&A at the conference with Lee Browning. Nichola Hawkins from Bluestone and Sam Davies from Cowgills. They will be able to help with advice around financing for recovery or growth. Please submit any questions you have for them or areas you’d like to see covered ahead of the conference to admin@abcwalls.co.uk 

Speakers Bio 

Nichola Hawkins 

Nichola, Internal Account Manager, has been at Bluestone for 3 years now and her passion to succeed and deliver for all continues to grow and shine through. Her attention to detail and excellent time management skills ensures the best business proposition is put forward and thus ensures the financial solution is delivered in an appropriate timely manner. She is dignified, approachable and calm under pressure. All the feedback we get from our clients is that she’s a joy to work with and we couldn’t agree more.

Bluestone Leasing are an award-winning finance partner to many of the UK’s most trusted brands, enabling them and their customers to invest in growth projects with minimal upfront costs. We’ve grown steadily over the last twenty-five years thanks to our honest approach and client-centric decision making. The financial services industry can be a tricky one to navigate, but we make sure to offer our clients the right solution at the right time, resulting in a win-win situation. If you’re undertaking a project of any size, speak to Nichola about the most effective way to finance it.

Sam Davies 

Sam Davies is a Partner in one of the largest independent accounting practices in the UK. He heads up the corporate finance team based in Manchester. Sam has significant experience advising clients in the leisure, consumer and retail sectors. He advised The Climbing Hangar on its original investment from NVM and has supported management team since the deal completed. Sam is a lifelong climber having started age 5! 

GB Climbing – Development and Pathways 

Speakers bio 

Lorraine Brown – Head of Performance 

With a background in high performance sport and leadership, Lorraine’s career has seen her lead high performance programmes through the golden age of Olympic and Paralympic sport in the UK.

She has led significant strategic and governance change in high performance sports programmes, having led World Class Performance Programmes as the Performance Director for two sports – British Handball and Great Britain Wheelchair Rugby. More recently in a leadership role as Head of Managed Sport, within the English Institute of Sport. Tokyo 2020 was Lorraine’s 6th Olympic/Paralympic Games and third as a team leader.

Lorraine is equally excited to join us to share her vision of GB Climbing, as she is in  listening and learning more about the industry, the challenges faced by walls and the opportunities in developing brilliant environments for young athletes to thrive.