A few weeks ago, in mid-June, the Ramblers held a weekend conference for its campaigners, in Edale in the Peak District. As president, I was asked to say some closing words. This is roughly what I said.
This has been an encouraging event with a good turnout and the activists demonstrated their enthusiasm, expertise and energy. We swapped ideas and heard good practice, especially with the excellent presentations about Protecting Access to Hampshire’s Heritage (PATHH); the practical path-work in Avon Area, and the Isle of Wight Ramblers’ campaign for a coastal path and access around the island. It’s good to be back in the heart of Derbyshire talking about Ramblers’ policies and campaigns.
We certainly do face real problems, particularly from the attitude and dogma of the state. We are losing many things we hold dear and we face further cuts to local authority, Defra and agency budgets in England, and in Wales and Scotland too.
I am an area footpath secretary, for Bucks, Milton Keynes and West Middlesex Area, so I do understand the problems we all have of lack of volunteers, apathy among the membership, and a lack of knowledge and understanding about the important job we do for the public. At the heart of all this is communication, we are still not good at it. We need to tell central office of our successes, tell the press and tell our members. Our groups should lead walks to show members local issues in which we are involved, and to celebrate our successes. We need a campaign to inform our members, and we need a campaign to involve younger people in our work.
I was struck by the charts we produced in a session on campaign tactics when we were developing campaign plans on funding, bridges, etc. We identified people with power and people with interest in what we are doing, and we saw that these rarely coincide: those with power don’t have an interest, and those with an interest rarely have power. Our job must be to instil an interest for our work in those with power. Council leaders and cabinet members all have an electorate to whom they should listen. We need to mobilise our members to lobby local decision-makers. We need to take them for a walk. Similarly, as we agreed at general council, we need to take our MPs and parliamentary candidates out too, and show them our concerns on the ground.
We have talked a lot about campaigning this weekend, which is our core work. I am conscious that the term ‘campaign’ can be off-putting to many, who think it must be militant and left wing. In fact, campaigning is merely ‘an organised course of action to achieve change’—change that is in the public interest. But I was recently at a conference in Japan where the same concerns were expressed in an international context. I found that if I talked about ‘practitioners’ and ‘collective action’ people felt more comfortable, and really it was all the same thing. So we should review our language if it will help us achieve our aim, to get our members campaigning.
We certainly cannot afford to be complacent. As Edmund Burke said: ‘All that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing.’ If we stand still, things will get worse; the cuts will be greater, the paths will deteriorate.
Nelson Mandela said: ‘Vision without action is only dreaming, action without vision is only passing time but vision with action can change the world.’
Last Thursday our vice-president John Bunting, from Sheffield, died peacefully at home aged 95. He was a campaigner, he was probably on the Kinder trespass. He was part of a great band of pioneers who had no fear of campaigning and who paved the way for the access legislation we now enjoy. In his memory, and those of his fellow pioneers, we must keep up our campaigning.
Thank you to our staff who have organised a great weekend and led us through so cheerfully and efficiently, and thank you to all of you for coming this weekend and for devoting so much of your lives to the Ramblers. Remember that if we stay focused and resolute, and publicise our work, we really can change the world.