Today I would have been at my thirty-ninth Ramblers’ annual general meeting which was to be held in Bristol. I am sad it is not taking place.
Known as general council, the legal requirements of the meeting are to elect trustees, the motions review committee and the auditor (and every three years the chair and treasurer—but not this year), consider the annual report and accounts, and receive the trustees’ report on actions from previous years’ motions.
An additional, important element is to debate motions submitted (usually) by the Ramblers’ Areas. This year we had nine, on topics such as the widths of paths, climate crisis and pavement parking. In my view, the most interesting is one from our Shropshire Area, proposing that we trial other ways of debating issues of concern, in other words a motion about not having motions! There is a lot of merit in that; the formal process of debate is not conducive to discussion.
Our president, Stuart Maconie, was to have presented awards to some of our amazing volunteers, and we were to have a discussion about how volunteers can better support each other and work together on areas of interest.
It promised to be an excellent programme, but we have had to accept we shall not hold a face-to-face meeting this year. The trustees will decide by the end of June how to accomplish the legal business.
My first general council, on 3-4 April 1982, was at Keble College, Oxford. I was a member of Devon Area and knew little of the Ramblers as a national organisation and relied on my friend Sylvia Sayer (then a vice-president) for advice and support. The then vice-chairman, David Rubinstein, picked me out as a young enthusiast (one of the youngest there) and suggested I stand for what was then known as the executive committee. I was gobsmacked, but I agreed to stand.
That meant I must make myself known to people before the Sunday coffee-time vote. I was unknown to most and only spoke once in the meeting, in support of a motion from Northern Area deploring motorbikes on open country, and people tended to make judgements on the basis of what was said in debate. I went on the Sunday pre-breakfast walk to Christchurch Meadows, and presumably chatted to people.
There were sixteen candidates, nine were elected and I came seventh (probably because of age and gender)—so I joined the committee (later to become the board of trustees) 38 years ago today. That was the start of my fabulous relationship with the Ramblers, in England, Scotland and Wales.
And so every spring I have travelled to a different part of England (and occasionally Scotland and Wales) to meet fellow Ramblers at general council. We used to gather at universities but now have migrated to hotels. While there is always a core of regulars, we are encouraging our Areas to entice new people to come, as their representatives or visitors. It is an enjoyable and inspiring event and we want as many members as possible to have the opportunity to get involved.
I have chaired eight general councils and that means I get to make the closing speech, which I take seriously. It is the opportunity to give the all-important take-home message. I expect that this year, had there been no Covid-19, I would have said something along the following lines.
We are a great organisation with a great future, but we must ensure we are relevant to the current generation and circumstances, and that means exploring how we organise ourselves, and getting ahead with technology. We must all give a warm welcome and encourage people to join our cause. Our campaigning skills and enthusiasm have never been more needed, and we must make even more effort to tell people what we do—that we are far, far, more than a walking club. And, of course, we can only achieve our aims because we have a terrific network of truly dedicated volunteers, working with our expert and excellent staff—one Ramblers.