AGM and Council Corner

 

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AGM & Council Corner

The Chairman’s Report

In 2019, the AGM received brilliant feedback and it was part of our drive to a more open, honest and better engaged society.

This year unfortunately, we are unable to replicate the same level of engagement and two way dialogue due to the constraints of not being ‘face to face’.

However, I am hopeful that what you hear today will further reassure you that we are continuing on the journey we spoke about last year; to transform the society in to one which is sustainable, to provide what members need, and to enable the traditions of carriage driving to continue.

In closing last year’s AGM, I commented that 2019 had been an extremely challenging year on many fronts but a successful one for the society. Little did any of us know that 2020 was going to be even more challenging, but for vastly different reasons.

The pandemic has impacted all our lives; many families loosing loved ones, many businesses going in to administration, many sports and societies really struggling. Against this back-drop I am really pleased to say the society has performed as well as could have been hoped.

The society is almost entirely run by volunteers, many who dedicate endless hours and amounts of effort for the enjoyment of us all, I need to recognise, and hope you share that recognition and appreciation.

The Council throughout 2020 consisted of; Julie Elliot (Vice Chairman, and Show Committee Chairman), Elaine McCarthy (Chairman of the Finance Committee), Justin Cowles (Chairman of Training), Barrie Luck (Chairman of Judges and Show Director), Penny Hopkins (Chairman of the Welsh Branch) and Caroline Watson (Chairman of the Scottish Branch), along with Modris Kesans, Roger Hopton, and Kendall Young. In addition, during the year Antonia Gallop joined the team and took on the role of ‘Chairman Publicity & Communications’, along with Jonathan Carnduff representing the Northern Ireland Branch. This team has worked relentlessly throughout the year, with some new ways of operating  – during Q2 through to Q4 using Zoom as the medium for council meetings – which often presented some challenges, but also enabled making better use of time and contributing to further cost savings.

It was disappointing that this year we had no nominations for council, following so much interest and so many nominations in 2019.

Unfortunately, during Q4, at the end of October, we received the resignations of both Elaine McCarthy and Justin Cowles. I am deeply saddened that both these individuals chose to step away but extremely grateful for the contributions they made during their year as part of the team.

Immediately following Justin’s resignation, both Minta Winn and Colin Pawson chose to leave the Training Committee which I found extremely disappointing, as my belief is that when one key individual leaves a team, the others on that team cover the gaps and don’t step away at the same time, an act which potentially maximises disruption & damage. However, I would like to thank both Minta and Colin for all they have done for the society over many years.

Whilst this leaves the Training Committee extremely light, I am delighted to be able to tell you that a number of great individuals have stepped forward and expressed an interest in undertaking a more active role on the Training committee. Next week Modris and I, are planning to meet with those individuals, along with remaining committee members, to start to look at how we build on the recent improvements and plan the next chapter.

One further update relating to council matters, I am delighted to inform you that on Wednesday evening this week (9th December), Kendall was elected as the next Chairman of the Scottish Branch, so huge congratulations to Kendall. I would like to express my appreciation to Caroline Watson, the outgoing Chairman, for all her efforts during her term in office.

In addition to the support I receive from Council, I just want  to thank our President Toby Browne along with Vice Presidents John Richards and Sallie Walrond, who have been unfaltering in their support. I cannot stress enough how grateful I am personally to have their guidance and to be able to draw on their limitless wisdom & experience.

Additionally, I would like to recognise the huge contribution made by our Junior Commissioners; Emily Ham and Vicky Morris, who have during the course of the year really transformed how we engage with our younger members through improved newsletters – which are really impressive, innovative competitions, and the extended use of social media. Unfortunately, during October, Vicky stepped away from the role due to pressures of work and family commitments but I am sure the contribution that both Vicky and Emily have made can be seen in our younger members enthusiasm and involvement in the sport.

The Area Commissioners and Assistant Area Commissioners along with the wider area teams of volunteers really are the life blood of the society, and this year – due to the restrictions placed on our activities – has really been a challenging year for these guys operating in unchartered territory. So I would like to say a huge thank you on behalf of the membership, the council, and myself.

On the point of the areas, we still have a few which do not have an area commissioner, so we are looking for volunteers for; Cheshire, Cumbria, Lancashire, Herefordshire, Northamptonshire, Warwickshire, West Midlands & Northamptonshire, and Worcestershire. I need to point out that without an active team in an area the society really goes in to decline or even becomes totally dormant,  so we really do need to find people willing to take on these roles, so if you are interested or know someone who may-be interested please get in touch.

On a positive note a massive callout to our new AC for Northumberland & Durham, taking on a role that has been vacant for many years.

Obviously, the pandemic has impacted the society’s key events;

  • Last year we promised an even bigger and better AGM, coupled with the conferences, seminars, and end of year party. I’ve already mentioned the 2019 event which really was hailed as a massive success. This year it simply wasn’t to be, but I look forward to seeing you all at the 2021 event – which we assure you will be bigger and better!
  • Our two major shows had to be cancelled, Smiths Lawn and Addington, I must call out the efforts which Julie and Barrie had gone to in arranging these events, and extend my thanks to the many sponsors who had generously come forward, to the judges, stewards and other volunteers who had committed their time, and to the swathes of competitors who were planning to attend. We look forward to seeing you all at the 2021 shows!

However, as well as the disappointments there have been many successes:

  • Collaboration with other harness societies really took a step forward, with much improved dialogue with BC (British Carriage Driving), and the Whip & Collar club in Ireland to name a couple
  • We have made significant improvements to balancing the books – which I’ll cover further in the Financial update.
  • We introduced a way for ‘non members’ to sample and partake in our events.
  • We re-vamped the society’s website, which doesn’t only have a much improved ‘look & feel’, along with better navigation, but it also introduced a whole range of new functionality including the ability to join and renew memberships online.
  • We ran a whole series of really successful photo competitions on social media, which garnered entries from across the globe.
  • When Addington had to be cancelled, we quickly arranged a ‘virtual show’ to take place on the same date. This really was un-chartered territory, but was hugely successful.
  • We have continued to enhance the training we offer and how we deliver it with some top rate new coaches joining the approved list. Unfortunately, this year, training is another activity which has been hit by the restrictions.
  • We continued to drive improved engagement with our members, with hopefully much greater transparency.

I want to take the opportunity to mention one particular stand out moment for me this year, which was during Q2, when in one of my updates I mentioned a small number of members who were suggesting that the society should refund membership due to shows and events been cancelled as a result of the restrictions imposed to combat the pandemic.

When that update was published on Facebook the society got a huge amount of support, but one comment from a member who I do not know was placed which read ‘it is our society we need to support it’. That comment really resonated as it is ‘our’ the members society, not mine, not councils but all of ours. As such we must all realise we have some responsibility which I urge that you all take – if things aren’t going as you would like or you think they could be done better please don’t just criticise, instead think about how you can influence doing things better, either by simply providing feedback or getting involved and really helping us shape the future of the society and the sport.

Please feel free to contact either me or any of the council members with feedback – good or bad, as I recognise it takes more than a small number of officers who I have mentioned today to make this society great.

One final point of thanks must go to Sue Mills who runs the office, Sue has worked tirelessly throughout this year, and last year, and the year before, and on it goes…..but this last couple of years through some very challenging situations and I would just like to recognise those efforts on behalf of the membership, the council and myself – Sue we are all truly grateful.

Suggestions/Questions from Members

We have received questions from 2 members.

The first question is from Joanna Holland, AC for Berkshire.

BDS Berkshire is concerned about how to recruit new members to the BDS, particularly younger members. We fear that the lack of new members will lead to the sport becoming elitist or even extinct.

Does the BDS have a plan to develop a national recruitment/advertising drive.

We haven’t really considered a national campaign, although it is an idea which we will consider.

We are however doing many things to attract new members, and to talk about a few but not all of them:

  • We have introduced the mechanism for ‘non members’ to attend BDS events, which we hope will give them a sample of the great things we do and encourage them to want to do more, so therefore join as members. Obviously, we have not seen the results of this initiative yet, primarily due to the impacts of the Covid restrictions and cancellation of the majority of our events during the year.
  • We are working collaboratively with other harness societies, such as the ‘Whip & Collar club, many of whom we had during the last decade plus had extremely poor relationships with, which saw many of their supporters cancel their memberships with our society.
  • We are reaching out to breed societies in order to share with them the great work the BDS does and encourage their members and breed enthusiasts to come and join us. You will see evidence of this in the 2020 year book where societies such as the Dartmoor Breed Society and the NPS who will likely have editorial in our publication, which is reciprocated with their publications having sections on the BDS, therefore expanding the audience we are reaching and engaging with.
  • As mentioned earlier, we are really focussed on improving how we engage with our members, and ‘non members’, our online and social media presences have significantly improved during this year.
  • With regard to younger members, our junior commissioners have made massive steps in how we engage with the younger generation, and I would encourage all areas to reach out to Emily to see what further opportunities there are for the areas to work more cohesively with the junior commissioner.
  • However, there is one point which I don’t think we have fully cracked but we keep working on. We all sit here as members I am sure with the same desire, which is to grow membership which will lead to a stronger society and a more secure future for the sport.

In my mind, the only way people are going to spend money on joining the society is if they believe it will give them some value, and in hobbies and sports, value usually means enjoyment. If people on the periphery looking in, perceive us as a society from which they will derive enjoyment they are likely to join. If they perceive that they are not going to gain enjoyment then they won’t spend their money. The reason I make that point is that we have far too many members and officers of the society who are constantly and very publicly critical of the society.

Let me give you an example, one of our coaches who is also a judge recently insinuated on social media, that the officers of the society were there for their own gains. That sort of message is not only upsetting and insulting to individuals but also causes significant reputational damage to the society, and if I was a non-member thinking of joining and I saw one of our own coaches and judges saying that openly, then I would likely think that’s not a society I want to be part of and move on without joining.

If we truly want to encourage new members we all have a part to play and we all need to be mindful of our actions. If anyone really has a concern relating to personal gain or any other concerns then I urge them to talk to a member of council so we can take the necessary action to improve it, and not set about causing further reputational damage which will undoubtedly damage the growth of the society.

Going back to Joanna’s question, I hope I have at least partially re-assured you that we have this area well and truly on our radar, but I will reach out to you offline to see if you have any other ideas which we can pursue.

The next questions are from Hazel Woodbridge, Gloucestershire Area

This has been a difficult year and to ensure that all members feel part of OUR Society it is important that all forms of communication are embraced and explored. The new Web site has potential but lacks momentum as info on activities is slow in appearing if at all, as much dependency is given to Facebook. By choice and on principle many members do not use this medium and are therefore missing out on activities that appear there. Our subscriptions are not trivial in these hard times and therefore every effort should be made to ensure that those who don’t have email or who do not use any social media are not excluded.  For some reason the identity of our Web Master seems to have been shrouded in secrecy- why?

Antonia Gallop’s response:

When I took over the communications role, I spent a considerable amount of time researching membership demographic and the best forms of engagement and information sharing. There are many members who join for the insurance alone and do not participate in any events, some who do not own a turnout but wish to support the society and the active drivers who either compete or drive socially. All members receive the yearbook and three newsletters per year which contain information and promote events. Many societies have done away with both as it is too costly but we strive to ensure members who do not use the internet feel part of the society so continue to secure advertising and support to maintain these publications. Alongside an informative and user friendly web page and social media presence on Facebook, we reach a worldwide audience which has increased membership and morale in 2020. We take on board that on occasion events do not appear on the calendar in time for some to participate. This can be for a number of reasons, event forms completed by organisers have not been submitted in time or correctly or a delay in uploading to the system and we will review the procedure in the new year to see if improvements can be made. The webmaster works with both myself and Sue to ensure content on the webpage is relevant to the society, meets with our articles of association and legal.

Follow on question – Could therefore:-

  1. The appointment of a web Master OR a group of volunteer ‘web masters’ who could re-act to need more quickly( for example competitions or other matters that have been confined to Facebook only.

We have a webmaster who is responsible for our webpage and its security. The contact forms that appear on every page of the website are being used daily and are responded too in a timely manner. During lockdown, Facebook was utilised more as this was the only medium we could use but since the relaxation of restrictions, all information has been available on the webpage as well as social media and updates shared with AC’s personally. The summer and winter newsletters went out as usual despite the challenging times.

  1. Area Commissioners should be aware which of their members have neither of these means and fall between the Internet and Facebook could contact those few  by post or telephone in the interim. This is especially as these members are likely to fall into the older age group, but  who still support the Society, who may be living alone and are lonely.( I am referring to people 80 +, as at 74 I do not consider any one of my age in this category!)

We rely on AC’s and their assistants to be the contact with members as they know how best to communicate with them. We know some have group email shots, Whatsapp groups and a few produce a hard copy which is shared in the Spring so their members know what is happening in their area. We have also introduced an AC representative for all areas for support and guidance and as our community is small and friendly, we would hope that any members who find themselves alone would be able to still feel part of the society with the friends they made in their driving days.

If other Societies  can publish their officer’s and Area representative’s contact details on their web sites ,so that  people may make local enquiries ( possibly  when thinking of joining,) why can’t we? If it is regarding privacy then why doesn’t  as a matter of course the AC’s have an Area e-mail address?  When I took up my AC’s appointment many years ago the first thing I did was to set up an Area Address which has been passed on to my successor . This avoids personal emails being known and used and costs nothing.

It is not possible for us share personal details on the website. We have over 120 officials in the society, not all of whom wish their details to be shared on a public platform and a breach of GDPR would have costly repercussions for the society, The contact forms on the webpage allow connection to the area representatives without the need for personal details being displayed and as you say, not all members use email so area addresses would not suit everyone. The telephone number of the society is shared across the webpage and in our publications and we also now have the Vice Chairman’s mobile on the voicemail for urgent enquiries and this ensures that there is always a friendly and helpful voice available.

So that concludes the questions and the meeting in general.

So in closing, I would like to say, 2020 has been an extremely challenging year on many fronts, but despite that I believe it has been one where the society has maintained it’s course to financial viability and continued to progress activities which should enable future growth.

Many thanks for attending and your support throughout the year.

I hope you all have a wonderful Christmas and all the very best for 2021, stay safe and I look forward to meeting up with you all in the not too distant future.

Thankyou & regards,

Neil

Important Information

The British Driving Society continues to closely monitor the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic in Britain and around the world.  We continue to follow government advice and are working closely with our member bodies to implement any restrictions required, including any requirements for the staff within our organisations.

We advise everyone to continue to follow Government advice because this is a public health issue.  Public Health England is the lead organisation and we urge our stakeholders to closely follow their guidance.

British Driving Society

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