16 May 2019 by Kate Ashbrook
Ramblers chair, Kate Ashbrook, reflects on this year's General Council.
General Council is a pivotal moment in the Ramblers’ year. We have to conduct the normal business associated with an AGM, but it also enables us to share best practice and ideas and learn from each other. Areas appoint representatives and visitors to attend.
We stayed in the heart of Manchester, but that did not stop us walking. The host Area, Greater Manchester and High Peak, did us proud, leading two walks around the city and one to the magnificent Heaton Park and the highest point in Greater Manchester.
This is a crucial time for us. We must answer those big questions: how do we become more relevant to all Britain’s walkers, increase membership, fill our volunteer vacancies? General Council is the time to debate them.
On Saturday afternoon, we discussed our values—what is the organisation we want to be? This led neatly to the panel chaired by our brilliant president Stuart Maconie, considered the question ‘How do we encourage more people across Great Britain to join the Ramblers?' The panel, which included Saeed Atcha, the young social mobility commissioner, gave their thoughts, and the room fizzed with ideas. These included placing leaflets in doctors’ surgeries, offering a variety of walks and accepting the fact that people will not always be fully equipped (provided there is no risk to safety). We ran out of time with many still wishing to speak. We must seek out and welcome new audiences, we cannot expect them to stumble on us.
The theme was continued by our after-dinner speaker Mike Innerdale, the National Trust’s director for the North of England, who talked about joint working on access. And we presented awards to our volunteers—a tiny sample from that vast army of selfless workers for walkers.
Sunday morning began with hustings for the trustees. Then we spent 150 minutes formally debating seven motions, which felt inward-looking. There is surely a better way to use our precious, limited time to discuss these topics, ideally with much broader participation? Areas can raise matters with staff and trustees at any time; they do not need to wait for the annual meeting to address them: you can trust us. This can be done by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com.
A searching motion from Inner London Area called on the trustees to review General Council to ensure it reflects the composition of our membership. We welcome this opportunity. This year the balance of men to women was two to one, not the gender balance of our membership. About one third of those attending General Council were first timers. We should encourage this, to keep pumping new blood into our veins.
Above all, General Council is fun. If you haven’t been before, why not come next year?