Reflections on General Council, Manchester 2019
A highly organised and slick event. The staff, Trustees and the volunteers for the event were all wearing the same T shirts emphasising the One -Team-Approach. All the staff and Trustees sat along the front row of the auditorium. Senior staff members were called upon in turn to give their part of the presentation supported by the Trustee who had been involved with that topic.
‘Van’ (Vanessa) Griffiths the new Chief Executive appointed 2 years ago, emphasised we are all One Team, no more divisions, but embracing change and moving forward together. We were reminded that we didn’t belong to a walking club but to a movement. The Ramblers organisation is aspiring to become the ‘Go-To’ place for walking. Central office is listening and new methods would be modified in light of feedback. Local successes need to be shared with the Trustees and Central Office (CO).
First priority was to address the slow decline in membership over the last 15 years and there was a promise to achieve membership growth ‘within 3 years’. We needed to be a welcoming organisation reaching out to new members, and recognising that the majority of members do not go on organised walks.
The new IT Director spoke lucidly about the ‘Digital and Data Transformation’ going on and spoke about her priority to make it easier for everyone, The vision included new phone apps that would enhance your walking experience. The ambition was to build a system as good as Trip Adviser that would advise you about the local area –even tell you which path to take to avoid a muddy section? 5 databases have been combined into one and the new digital dashboard is there to be used. Walk leaders would zapp members cards at the start of walks so that CO could collect all sorts of lovely data about what we were doing. This data is useful to justify support from funders. In answer to a question, the director said that if ‘someone really didn’t want to be zapped it would not be compulsory’. More on the General Data Protection Regulations (GDPR) later…
The finances are in good order. £3.9 million surplus this year. But legacies contributed £1.6m and are notoriously unreliable. £250,000 is earmarked annually for legal fees opposing footpath changes – is this sufficient?
I didn’t stay for the dinner, apparently there was a quiz all about Manchester…. and guess which table won…… Greater Manchester & High Peak Area!
On the second day, there was the election of three new Trustees. All the candidates were passionate about walking….all embraced change and most were experienced in change management and knew it was difficult……
Next was the consideration of the motions that had been put forward. Only seven this year including one to rename the Agenda Committee to be the Motions Review Committee. Did it need to be debated?……. Yes it did!
Next up was GDPR and a motion asking the Trustees to acknowledge that locally held databases were OK. Apparently not, and a Trustee threatened us with a one million euro (or was it ten million euro?) fine. CO have it in hand with a dashboard app where areas and groups will be able to access the information they need? No doubt our membership secretary has all this in hand.
Third was a motion asking for an increase in publicity for the work ‘we do in improving the quality of the Public Rights of Way and in campaigning for increased access’ We were told that two new posts have been created for two years: Local Advocacy Advisors, one in the south and one in the north, who would help with this.
Fourth motion was asking for school packs to help recruit young people (and their parents) ‘who then stay with us for all their lives’.
Fifth motion was bemoaning the change of Policy by the Environment Agency (EA) towards maintenance of river banks where they impinge on rights of way. Apparently CO had been re-assured by the EA chief exec there was no change in policy with respect to river banks ‘on their land’. But most problems occurr not on EA land …….?
Sixth motion was on national planning guidance on green spaces and rights of way. Laudable stuff to press for strengthened guidance….
Seventh motion was an entertaining speaker on a motion to create a diverse and representative General Council (GC). She argued very persuasively that diverse organisations make better decisions and asked that Areas examine how they select there representatives to GC. Were there actual or perceived barriers that made participation by women more difficult? The Trustees to report back to 2020 GC which is to be held in Avon.
I can’t remember which motions were carried or defeated (except the first which, thankfully, was passed unanimously) but all the details of the motions and much more is on the Ramblers website.
Overall impression? For me it was exhausting (even without the evening dinner) but there is no doubt we are on the move and led by an impressive team – none of whom seemed to have been in post for more than one or possibly two years. Will the same team be there in five years time when it will be possible to assess the effectiveness of the changes which we are being asked to embrace? It was inspiring, almost evangelical at times. It is more than about led walks……. we are all One Team working together, and don’t forget the main message…. more members, more members, more members.
One final thought, are we missing out on conversations and consultations with CO as we have no area representatives? Are other areas better informed than we are? Maybe, just maybe, it is time to consider having an Area Chair – even if a ‘virtual’ one?