The Chairman’s Report.
You will recall at last year’s AGM Brian Ball was ratified as Chairman, and I as Vice Chair.
Unfortunately, in early December Brian tendered his resignation and therefore I stepped up to the role as Chair. I would like to thank Brian for the work he did for the Society when on Council and then for his period as Chairman.
Before I get in to the report, I just want to provide a quick introduction on my background:
I was born into an equestrian family and in my formative years, I competed predominantly in show jumping, competing on pony and young rider GB teams. In my early teens, I started to compete in driving competitions, which was really a natural progression as we had always had large numbers of harness horses at home, mainly coaching teams. My passion for harness horses has continued since the point where I first competed with them forty plus years ago. Our family run an equestrian centre in Yorkshire, alongside a commercial carriage business. Professionally, I work full time for Centrica, where I have been employed for just over 30 years, my current role is Director of Service Delivery leading teams across the UK, Ireland, and North America.
Moving on to the Society, to be honest, I have a very busy life and had no aspirations to be Chair of the Society at this stage.
However, when I did take over at the end of last year, I was determined to transform the Society into one which was sustainable, provided what the members needed and enabled the traditions of carriage driving to continue.
Whilst that transformation is ongoing, I am confident that what you will hear over the next hour or two will reassure you that we are moving in the right direction.
Before I move on, I just want to point out that the changes we have implemented were not driven by me alone but by a small team of Council members who through some very rocky, challenging times, stood solid, pushing forward with the changes which we needed to make. That closely aligned team were: Roger Hopton – who always keeps conversations honest, Caroline Watson & Penny Hopkins our great branch Chairs for Scotland & Wales respectively, Barry Luck whose knowledge & expertise has proved invaluable, Julie Elliott the workhorse of the team, and then Kendall Young who was co-opted to Council in quarter 1 and has been an amazing support since that point.
In addition, I want to thank two of the Vice Presidents who have been unfaltering in their support for our actions; John Richards who is with us today, and Sally Walrond who unfortunately cannot be with us today. I cannot stress enough how grateful I am personally to have their guidance and support.
So, I suppose the question is, why did we need to set about transforming the Society?
Firstly, we were in a very weak financial position, which Elaine McCarthy will summarise shortly but, just to be clear, in 2018 expenditure exceeded income by over £90,000, a position which we simply could not carry into 2019.
Our OFQUAL regulated qualifications were under scrutiny, with many areas of concern around our compliance with the OFQUAL standards and regulations.
Plus, membership numbers were falling and feedback was that the Society was not providing what members wanted.
As we moved into 2019, what was abundantly clear was that we could not start to make the changes which were necessary without having the right team in place, and when I talk about the right team, I don’t only mean willing volunteers but those who also had the right skills & capability to carry out the activities which were needed, so we quickly set about trying to build the various committees with the right people. And surprisingly we have built some amazing teams!
In addition to the committees listed, I just want to mention our two Junior Commissioners, Emily Ham and Victoria Morris who are doing a sterling job. Emily, who is keeping the young driver activities operational and Vicky who is bringing forward some fresh ideas.
What is really pleasing when I look at this slide is to see some of our more established and experienced members coming back into the fold and playing an active part in the Society once again.
With these committees in place, a mix of new blood and experience, I believe we are now set up to succeed.
Unfortunately, however, as well as gaining some great people, we also lost a few, through retirement & resignations, who were simply not prepared to go on the journey with us.
Those losses included:
Linda Swain, as Chairman of the ACs, and a long serving member of Council.
Gary Docking, member of the Judges Committee, and Council member.
Stephanie Evans, from the Awards Board and Council
To these people, I say thank you for the great efforts you have contributed in support of the Society.
So, I suppose, you are thinking well what have they done, and my thoughts are, a heck of a lot:
- We improved the governance of the society – with decisions made by the appropriate, responsible parties.
- We improved relationships with a number of other carriage driving bodies, the Tandem Club being a clear example.
- We have made significant improvements to balancing the books.
- We moved the office out of Swingletree to Bury St Edmunds, resulting in a saving on rent
- We invited back to the Society a number of people who had previously been excluded.
- We changed the way we support the areas, ACs and AACs – but recognise we have much more to do in this space.
- We ran two extremely successful shows, under new administration.
- We have made changes to what training we offer and how we deliver it.
- We have a secured a great candidate to be President.
- We have started to drive improved engagement with our members, with much improved transparency – and hopefully that will be borne out in today’s AGM.
In addition to those changes, we have also carried on managing and running of the Society, and it’s been a pretty good year:
- I must thank the ACs & AACs for running over 300 events during the year, I am truly grateful for the hard work and long hours that go in to organising these events
- The official meet of the BDS was again held at the Royal Windsor Horse Show and was a tremendous success and a great shop window for the Society. I must thank John Peacock and Barry Luck along with the wider team of stewards & volunteers for the smooth running of this event
- The two main Society shows, Smiths Lawn and Addington went extremely well
- Smith’s Lawn had it’s challenges – the organiser resigned weeks before the show and the showground had to be moved due to ground works by the Royal Estate, but many thanks to Julie Elliott, who stepped in and Barry Luck’s continued commitment, they pulled it in to shape and what a success it was, not only for those competing and spectating but also from a financial perspective
- Addington – was also a glorious success, the sun shone and the vibe was extremely good.
- I would like to personally thank all the stewards & volunteers who worked tirelessly at these events. Additionally, I would like to thank the many sponsors who came forward so generously. Talking about sponsorship, I would like to give a special mention and thanks to Jeff Osborne and Osborne Refrigerators for their generous sponsorship of our National Championships and the qualifying shows for many years. On the evening of Addington this year, Jeff informed me that he is ceasing his sponsorship, which fortunately aligns with plans to make significant changes to our national championship event.
- The branches ran their annual shows which went well.
- In addition, many areas ran very successful shows.
- Membership has held fairly steady at approximately 3.3k. Obviously, as we move forward one of our key goals will be to grow, but to do that we need to ensure the Society offers what the carriage driving fraternity requires.
On a single negative note, I need to mention my disappointment at the insults, vitriol and social media trolling that has been aimed at a number of Council members and myself. I have every confidence that everyone of the team are acting with the best of intentions to secure and protect a positive future for traditional carriage driving and the Society. I know we have many aspects which still need improving but members must recognise that change takes time and every one of us is acting on a voluntary basis. In my opinion, those who are so openly critical need to either join the team, share their thoughts and help shape a positive future, or simply move on. The impetus behind a lot of this criticism and unrest seems to be personality clashes, and it is such clashes in personalities which have cost this Society dearly over recent times.
I would urge all of us to act in the interests of the sport rather than putting our own petty squabbles at the centre of everything.
Carriage driving, across the disciplines, is a very small community and I appeal to all involved to pull in the same direction, as one thing that is certain is that we are stronger together than we are in small cliques.
One final point of thanks must go to Sue Mills who runs the office. Sue has worked tirelessly throughout the year 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.
In conclusion, I would like to say, 2019 has been an extremely challenging year on many fronts, but despite that I believe it has been a very successful one for the Society; a turning point, a new era, and an enjoyable one for the vast majority of our members.