The weekend of the 1st-2nd April 2017 had some lovely, unseasonal spring weather; ideal for getting out and about in the countryside. As usual, however, a large contingent of Inner London Ramblers members headed off to General Council (the Ramblers' AGM) to talk about rambling, with the the keener ones actually managing to get out to explore Southampton University's campus. General Council undertakes the usual, formal, business of an AGM - such as electing trustees, reviewing the annual report - but it's also informs the trustees about the concerns of the Ramblers 'on the ground' and is a place where volunteers from across the country can meet, make friends, and share good practices.
Although Inner London is only the third biggest Ramblers Area in the country, it punches well above its weight nationally; Des Garrahan, Alex Mannings and Teri Moore all sit on the Board of Trustees, with Des and Alex taking the Chair and Treasurer roles. Clare Wadd is one of five members of the Agenda Committee that wrangles the business of General Council into a shape that gives General Council a chance of getting through it in the short two days allowed.
They were joined by the three representatives of Inner London elected at our AGM in February - Gemma Butchart, Phil Marson and Caroline Wall - and two candidates hoping to join the Board of Trustees - Sophie Clissold-Lesser and Dominic Pinto.
Background to the 2017 Council
The last couple of General Councils have been largely internally focussed, with much discussion about how the Ramblers should organise itself.
This year, with a new Chief Executive, the 2026 deadline for claiming lost ways getting closer (see the Don't Lose Your Way campaign on the Ramblers' web site), and the need to ensure that post-Brexit agricultural subsidies continue to depend on maintaining access to the countryside for everyone, Council needed to put the past behind it and face forward, which it did, splendidly, with passionate and knowledgeable discussions on issues such as cyclists on footpaths, Network Rail's drive to close level crossings and the approach to campaigning on the post-Brexit settlement.
It wasn't entirely outward facing, though. Council amended the constitution to make it easier to deal with troublesome members and discussed the need for greater professional support for Area organisation across the country. Inner London's representatives contributed effectively (particularly Gemma Butchart's contribution, based on experience in the Metropolitan Walkers, to the constitutional amendment debate) to both of these debates from the floor.
This year has seen a high turnover of trustees. Thanks to a lot of work across the organisation, there were fifteen candidates for seven trustee posts, representing an impressive range of experience within the Ramblers and in running other charity and third sector organisations.
Fifteen candidates makes running hustings challenging, but Paddy Tipping (Nottinghamshire Police and Crime Commissioner and Vice-President of the Ramblers) ran an effective one in which each of the candidates present (one was absent and another stood down at the start of the hustings) had two minutes to introduce themselves and then a minute each to answer the questions of what the most important aspect of a trustee's work is and how they would work with the rest of the board. More informal campaigning, of course, continued over dinner and the evening's entertainments.
In two rounds of voting on Sunday morning, Sophie Clissold-Lesser and Teri Moore were elected for two year terms, joining Des Garrahan and Alex Mannings on the Board of Trustees.
First thing Sunday morning, Alex Mannings presented the national accounts. This can be a technical affair, as it turned out to be, but there was good news in the accounts about the end of the Ramblers pension fund deficit issues, and the growth of our revenue, together with increasing diversity of its sources.
In 2016, General Council requested that the Ramblers provide better facilities for volunteers to communicate. After dinner on Saturday, the new volunteers forum was launched in two demonstrations. This will enable trustees, Area Chairs and Secretaries, and members of General Council to discuss matters affecting the Ramblers outside formal meetings.
General Council finished after lunch on Sunday, with a quick pint in the garden of a local pub with our friends from the Chilterns, Manchester and other areas and then a lively train journey back to London. The contacts we made and the greater influence of Inner London representatives on the Board of Trustees can only be good for rambling in London.