Report from the Chairman of the British Driving Society, Neil Wray

During the last council meeting, which took place early March, when discussing the Smiths Lawn Annual Show, I raised the point that we carefully needed to consider any spend in light of a potential Covid-19 pandemic. Since news of the emerging risk to the UK was just starting to ramp up at that time, I remember clearly as the words left my mouth thinking do I really need to say this or am I being over dramatic, those thoughts along with the disbelief on the faces of council members really did make me feel I was been over cautious and on we went with planning for a full Spring and Summer season. On reflection, how naive we all were as almost 2 weeks later the UK went in to lockdown as the global pandemic took hold and in the following days and weeks all of our planning for a full & enjoyable season became wasted effort as event after event was cancelled.

The speed and scale at which the pandemic took hold I think really shocked the majority of the population given few of us had ever witnessed anything of this magnitude and level of danger. Fortunately, as I write this article, the spread of the virus appears to be in decline and only time will tell if we are able to salvage any events in the latter part of the Summer and Autumn months – fingers crossed!

Whilst it is extremely disappointing for us all that we can not be out and about partaking in carriage driving events, the current situation puts things in to context highlighting how fragile life itself can be and how fortunate we are if our families are staying safe and healthy. Whilst I have grappled with the effects of the crisis not only on my family, friends and myself but also on my work and income streams and the impacts to the BDS – where our revenues will be significantly impacted by fewer members joining this year (as a significant proportion only renew immediately prior to attending events) along with lost revenue from shows and sponsorship, I have to mention how extremely disappointed and quite honestly flabbergasted I have been, by calls and insinuations on social media that the society should be refunding memberships as the BDS Annual Show and other society events have unfortunately had to be cancelled.

Personally, I am astounded that anyone who has the best interests of carriage driving at heart would even broach on suggesting let alone writing about subscription refunds, what amazed me even more was that the bulk of the people who then commented in support of subscription refunds on these social media posts are individuals who themselves contribute very little to the world of carriage driving and have not been members of the society for many years if ever!
Membership of the society, does not only cover shows & events, the benefits go much wider, including elements such as insurance cover, newsletters, yearbook, education & training programmes etc. The majority of those benefits, which all cost the society to provide, members are still enjoying so the practicalities of refunding memberships either wholly or partially is simply not possible.

Since the pandemic took hold council has been looking at how we will balance the books this year, given the financial implications of Covid-19 on the society. A number of actions have been taken, including having to place our only member of staff, Sue Mills, on furlough. Whilst I know this action has impacted the effectiveness of the day to day running of the society, and how we support members, it is just one of the very difficult decisions which had to be made to keep the society financially viable. In addition, to the financial impacts, there will also be a hit on the momentum to rebuilding the society that we made such wonderful progress on during 2019.

Whilst lockdown has been in place and activities have been curtailed, I have to thank Antonia Gallop (the recently appointed Chair of the Publicity and Communications committee) for the brilliant presence on the society’s facebook page, which has kept a large proportion of the membership engaged. Looking further ahead council and ACs are not only considering what events can be salvaged for the tail end of the season but also at what additional events could be organised for the winter months in an attempt to get people out and re-engaged with carriage driving events just as soon as is possible. Hopefully, we will have more news on this in the coming weeks & months.

At this stage of the year members will have received not only their yearbooks but also the first of this year’s newsletters, which went out in a new format which is significantly cheaper to produce than the previous format which had been in place for a number of years. Feedback on the revised format has been extremely positive, and I must thank Joan Martin for all the efforts she went to in producing it. Additionally, I would like to thank the many organisations and individuals who placed advertisements in both the yearbook and the newsletter, since without these contributions we would really struggle to produce such great publications. The next edition of the newsletter is already in plan and we are hoping to include some more great articles and updates.

In closing, I just want to say I hope you and your families stay safe, and that I look forward to meeting up with many of you in the second half of the year as the virus starts to release the stronghold it currently has on all our lives.

Best wishes,

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