This weekend I made the 382 mile round trip to Liverpool to attend Ramblers General Council as the sole delegate of the Cambridgeshire & Peterborough Area of the RA. Over 35 years ago, I spent some time working in Liverpool city centre so it was a good opportunity to kill two birds with one stone by attending GC and taking the opportunity to see how the city had changed since I was last there. The 4 hour drive, each way, was uneventful although there was a lot of weekend traffic and speed restrictions on the M6 around the Stoke area. My satnav got me there without any problems. During my time as Chair of the Cambs & Peterborough Area I attended 4 or 5 GC’s in a row but hadn’t been for 2 or 3 years so it was a good opportunity to get up to speed with what is happening in the Ramblers today and in the future.
For the first time, I think, the Ramblers were using a hotel in which to hold GC rather than University halls of residence. This year’s GC, which was hosted by the Merseyside & West Cheshire Area, was held in The Adelphi hotel. It was celebrating its 100th anniversary and could be charitably described as a building of character and declining grandeur. Checking in was a little tortuous as their IT system was down and, despite asking on 3 separate occasions, I was unable to pay the £12 fee for car parking. Their electronic key card was confusing as it had to be used upside down to gain entry to the bedroom. This threw me and many other delegates. I had a double room on the 6th floor which was fine other than a smell of stale cigarette smoke. The set dinner on Saturday evening was no more than okay but the breakfast the following morning was excellent. I have some sympathy with establishments trying to cater for around 250 guests all at the same time. The changing of the clocks and my usual disturbed sleep pattern meant that I didn’t fully wake until the middle of Sunday morning and only made a minimal contribution to the first discussion session on the Ramblers “Vision”. I’d woken a little more for the “Governance” session that followed.
I’ll talk about GC in a little later on but I must mention and praise our hosts for their early morning and afternoon guided tours of Liverpool city centre. My walks were led by Pat and Angela who are both Royal Institute of British Architecture (RIBA) city guides. The early Sunday morning walk started at 7.15am and took us towards Hope Street where we were able to see the exterior of Liverpool’s two Cathedrals and the architecture of some of the older city streets. The afternoon walk started at 1.30pm and took us through the city to look at Lime Street Station, St George’s Hall and the Central Library on our way to The Cavern. From here we went to the waterfront to view the LiverBuilding and the Albert Dock before returning through Liverpool One. By necessity, these walks were conducted at a brisk pace but our guides took every opportunity to provide historic content along the way.
My arrival at GC a little after 11.00am on Saturday morning was too late to participate in the first of the pre-lunch workshops so I took the opportunity to look around some of the stands hosted by the Ramblers and their affiliates such as YHA, HF Holiday, and Ramblers Worldwide Holidays. There was a demonstration of a new Ramblers walks finder system which is due to be rolled-out before the end of June 2014, but it didn’t appear to have travelled too well and wasn’t fully functional. Let’s hope that the finished product doesn’t have the same problems.
My first real engagement with GC came in the form of a workshop on “The member experience”. This focussed largely on communications and explaining the wider aims, objectives and achievements of the Ramblers. There was some interesting detail provided by Surrey Area on member surveys and website development. The more formal aspects of GC were started after lunch when we heard welcomes from the Ramblers Chairman, Jonathan Kipling, and the Merseyside Area Chairman, Dave Callan. This was followed by Benedict Southworth, the Ramblers CEO, who outlined our collective achievements and Jonathan Kipling who gave a view on future challenges. This was the first time that I’d seen Benedict and I have to say that I was very impressed by him and feel that the Ramblers are in “safe hands”.
The remainder of the afternoon and some of the following morning was given over to debating a number of motions covering topics such as the 2026 cut-off date, waymarking, guidance notes for footpath workers, biodiversity offsetting and the use of barbed wire alongside footpaths and stiles. As you might expect, there was debate and differing views but each of the motions were carried with overwhelming majorities. Further information can be found here: http://www.ramblers.org.uk/volunteer-zone/volunteer-toolkits/general-council-2014.aspx
A number of fringe events were held between 6.00pm and 7.00pm but I was too whacked by now and needed a rest before the formal dinner at 7.45pm. This included an address by the local MP, Maria Eagle, Shadow Environment Secretary, who is a supporter of Ramblers and campaigner on many of our key issues. The Ramblers President, Kate Ashbrook, presented trophies to the winners in what I think are a new series of volunteer awards.
Following the early Sunday morning walk and breakfast, we were thrown in to workshops where we discussed the development of a future Vision for the Ramblers and possible changes to Governance arrangements. This was something of a first for GC which normally centers on debating motions etc and provided a welcome change and an opportunity for every delegate to express their opinions on the way ahead. The final session of GC finished off with more debating of motions and the usual round of thanks to those involved in organising the event.
I was glad that I made the effort to attend GC as it re-invigorated my interest in making Ramblers a successful organisation. The move towards discussion rather than debate was welcomed and I was pleased to see Keith Wadd (Harrogate resident) elected as a vice-president. Equally pleasing was the election of Christine O’Byrne, Paul Rhodes and Andy Rogers as members of the Board of Trustees. GC next year is being held at Robinson College in Cambridge so it won’t be so far to travel should I be elected as an Area representative.