Ramblers Newsletter – 23 January 2017

Sent to: area chairs and secretaries 
 23 January 2017

As this is my January newsletter I would like to start by wishing you a very happy new year / Blwyddyn Newydd Dda / Bliadhna Mhath Ùr. The turning of the year always provides a precious chance to reflect and I have been thinking about what a tremendous organisation I have joined and what an extraordinary year we have all just lived through. Despite the enormity of the changes which have swept the globe – and the uncertainty that such change inevitably brings in its wake – the Ramblers kept on quietly and surely putting one foot in front of another in 2016. Highlights included the Sport Relief walks, our biggest ever walking festival and our ambitious Pathwatch campaign launch. Thank you to everyone who played a part in these successes and if you have not already seen your “2016 Best Bits” you can find them on Youtube.

Thank you also to those of you who took the time to feedback after my first update in December, especially for the great ideas about how we can work together to improve communication between us all this coming year.  Many of you told me that these updates are useful, so I have promised myself that I will write one each month. It seems that, whilst many of you already cascade these updates onto others, this is not yet always the case. Some volunteers are clearly in the dark about the initiatives taking place across our charity and would welcome sight of these updates. As such, I would be very grateful if you could please forward these monthly updates to your area and group contacts as soon as you receive them, to help us improve the quality of our dialogue.  

I have just attended my first area general meeting. It started with a wonderfully bracing clamber up the Conwy hills, past basking seals in Angel Bay and to the top of the Little Orme. I was most impressed with the positive atmosphere and intelligent debate around the motions. I also joined an excellent area chairs and secretaries induction course last week. We had some stimulating – and at times, rightly challenging – discussion, including questions about how can we help new chairs and secretaries by better articulating the existing roles and responsibilities of areas, under the law and our constitution, and in relationship to groups, staff and trustees. How can we ensure that our language and culture adequately captures the mutually supportive relationships which we want to encourage between staff and volunteers as one team? All thoughts will be gratefully received…

At the last board meeting the trustees asked me to look at how we could encourage members to apply for the five trustee roles which will be filled through the general council elections this year.  I am delighted that, for the first time, we have been able to launch a mini-campaign to our membership this month, to call for applicants for these crucial trustee roles. This year we are particularly keen to encourage members from a diversity of backgrounds and those with skills in professional disciplines such as membership, fundraising and campaigning. Please consider stepping up yourself and please do share this information onwards. Anyone who has been a member for 12 months can apply and full details about how to do so are in the second general council mailing which has just gone out and also on our website.

Whilst I am on the subject of general council, several area chairs have been in touch with trustees recently, seeking advice on the best way to debate the shared use of footpath with cyclists, following a campaign over the summer by British Cycling. The board have agreed that they will explore the submission of a motion to general council 2017, to facilitate this valuable debate. The trustees are keen to develop this motion in consultation with any areas considering presenting their own motions on this subject, to seek consensus on the wording of a combined motion, and to ensure it will be acceptable to all interested parties. Kate Ashbrook has volunteered to represent the trustees and to work with Nicky Philpott, director of advocacy and engagement, to take this motion forward. If your area is interested in discussing this motion please let me know, or contact Kate or Nicky directly so that they can include you in this current discussion.  

In this month’s update I have included a fair amount of policy information, as there are significant developments to share with you on Network Rail’s proposed closures of level crossings over rights of way. Please do sign our petition if you have a moment to support this important campaign. As you are aware, we have had a fair amount of change in the policy team recently: most notably, Janet Davis has just retired after 33 years exemplary service. We are very glad that Janet will still be working with us as a consultant and you will have a chance to show her the esteem and affection in which she is held when she comes back to take the minutes at this year’s general council. Please do bear with us over the coming months whilst we recruit and replenish our staff team in this vital area.

Other updates included in this month’s briefing include news from Ramblers Cymru (a new vision, a change in chair, and some proactive work to protect free access to Snowdon) and from Ramblers Scotland (a great new campaign to get Scottish core paths shown on Ordnance Survey maps for the first time and a last chance to enter the photography competition). There are also updates on Walking for Health, our Festival of Winter Walks, area support and data protection. This update also includes reminders about the current survey of your systems and process needs and an update about the ongoing preparation for general council, to follow up on my December briefing. So it is a bumper newsletter for the new year, including plenty for us all to be getting on with…

The Ramblers is a strong and mature organisation. For us to stay so, and for us to collectively solve the problems and seize the opportunities which we have in common, I believe that we need to focus this year on what unites us and be kind to each other. I have been tremendously impressed by the staff and volunteers I have met over my first few weeks, and I can see that there is great strength in our diversity. As one team of determined walkers, we can transcend the simple opposites of one point of view versus another. With good listening skills and mutual respect, we can walk in each other’s shoes, and use the creative tension of opposing views and differing opinions to design and deliver new solutions to enable everyone to enjoy the outdoors on foot and benefit from doing so.

So here’s to a peaceful and productive 2017. I am excited by the prospect of the year ahead, I wish you all the very best and I look forward to working with you and getting to know you better.

Vanessa Griffiths, Ramblers chief executive officer
Phone: 020 7339 8578
Email: ceo@ramblers.zendesk.com
Twitter: @RamblerVan

Network Rail – please sign the Ramblers petition

For those of you who are interested in supporting the calls to action on our website you’ll see we are currently campaigning against the proposed closures of level crossings over rights of way in East Anglia. The second round of consultations on these closures is now completed and we are waiting for Network Rail to submit their final proposals so that we can ensure that they represent the best solutions for walkers.  We’re ramping up our campaign and working closely with the areas affected, who are campaigning tirelessly to raise the profile of this important issue. You can read some of the great coverage generated by Alan Goffee and the Essex area team here.
We understand that the proposals for East Anglia may be a forerunner for similar closures nationwide so it would be wonderful if you could encourage as many people as possible to sign the petition which you can find via the relevant webpages here.  We will be meeting Network Rail and the DEFRA Minister with responsibility for rights of way next month, to put forward our objections and hear their views. Please do contact Laura.Burley@ramblers.org.uk if you’d like to receive our regular campaign updates.

Policy Team – please bear with us as we make changes

We’ve some key vacancies and changes taking place in the policy and advocacy team at the moment. As you may already know, Janet Davis, our senior policy officer on rights of way retired at Christmas. We are delighted that Janet will continue to support us over the next few years as a policy consultant. She also helped us to recruit her successor and will work with Eugene on inducting him, his name is Stephen Russell and he will start at the end of March. His background is at the Landscape Institute where he was policy manager. We’re also recruiting for a manager of this team to replace Tom Fewins who moved to the Canal and Rivers Trust in December. And whilst we are also sad to report that Lindsay Walker, the policy support officer, will be moving on, we’ve seconded Robyn Stephens from our membership services team to process path orders and support volunteers.

Areas and groups survey of needs – thanks to those of you who have filled it out already

In last month’s update, we mentioned that we are asking all group and area volunteers to take part in an important survey to help us better understand what support you need. We sent an email to all group and area chairs and secretaries last week with a link to this survey. We have already had a terrific response, so thank you to everyone who has already filled it in. We are keen to hear from all areas, so if you didn’t see the email or haven’t yet completed it, you can still do so by following this link. The survey is open until Friday 31 March.

We’re inviting responses to this survey from individual volunteers, and collective responses from group and area committees. To help groups and areas discuss your responses collectively, we’ve created a text version of the survey which you can download from the news story on our website

The next few months are a really important opportunity to have your say. We can’t promise to provide everything everyone asks for, and any resulting changes will take time to introduce. Your responses will help determine which changes we most need to make and which improvements will be most effective. We’ll share the findings in autumn 2017, including a timeframe for the key improvements.

Insurance – please look out for the 2016-17 guide

Please look out for an email which will shortly be sent to all group chairs and secretaries to signpost you to the updated insurance guide.  As a reminder: there are no substantial changes to this year’s policy, aside from some clarifications about winter walking and path maintenance activities. There is also a new out-of-hours phone number for reporting serious incidents.

Walking for Health – please do consider partnering with this wonderful scheme

Vanessa recently attended and spoke at the North Somerset Walking for Health scheme 10 year anniversary celebration. The event included a look back at the scheme’s achievements and recognised the fantastic work of the volunteers and walk leaders in welcoming and encouraging people – particularly those with limiting health conditions – to walk with them. Vanessa presented Ramblers commendation certificates to four volunteers who had each achieved 10 years service to the scheme and found it to be an inspirational experience.

The event highlighted the value of linking Walking for Health schemes with Ramblers groups, to help new walkers progress from short, free, fun Walking for Health walks to longer and more strenuous Ramblers walks. In this instance, it was evident that the overlap between the North Somerset Walking for Health scheme ambitions and those of the Ramblers go beyond group walking. They collectively recognise the need to have accessible places to walk and have achieved an impressive record of influencing the local authority to change a good number of old stiles into new kissing gates.

All of those who attended were struck by the huge amount of goodwill, positive energy and compassion in the room. It was taken for granted that the attendees all love to walk…what was equally apparent was that they loved caring for each other. The stories of friendships forged, of support for sufferers from chronic loneliness who had not previously spoken to a soul for days, and of numerous kindnesses extended to others – such as regularly assisting disabled walkers with transport – were truly magical.

The staff team who attended came back with validation about how important it is for us to continue to gather impact evidence and to lobby healthcare professionals to ensure that GPs get better at prescribing a good walk in the future. It is a testimony to why we exist as a charity. If your area is already working closely with your local Walking for Health scheme, you are to be congratulated, if your area is not yet doing so, we would encourage you to consider exploring it, for mutual benefit.

Festival of Winter Walks – dates for your diary

We are thrilled to be extending our relationship with the players of the People’s Postcode Lottery this year. Their support will help us to showcase our walking activities twice a year through GB wide walking festivals: Walk About and the Festival of Winter Walks. We are working on plans for the new look Festival of Winter Walks 2017-18. We understand that as areas and groups you need plenty of notice of planned dates, and we can now confirm that this year’s Festival of Winter Walks 2017-18 will take place from Saturday 23 December 2017 – Sunday 7 January 2018.
Please do make a note of these dates in your diaries. We will be writing formally to group chairs and secretaries with this information in a couple of weeks and will also be in touch regularly with updates throughout the year. It would be helpful if you could start to prepare now by:

  • Ensuring your groups are planning for the festival.
  • Starting to think about the range of walks that could be offered across your area during the festival. Are you able to offer something for everyone? Could you plan any new or different walks for the festival, to encourage new walkers to get involved?
  • Encouraging all your groups to list their walks using our group walks and events manager.

Please do get in touch with Simon Barnett and the development and delivery team, if you would like any help with your planning.

New Area Support Officer for the north of England – a warm welcome to Diane

We are delighted to announce that Diane Simcoe joined us this month as area support officer for the north of England. Diane is based near Skipton and is currently going through an induction process. As part of this process Diane will be attending some AGMs as an observer. Diane’s role is to work closely with area chairs and secretaries across the north of England, focusing on areas in abeyance as a priority, and working closely with our other area support officer, Christine Hathway to develop guidance to help us to better articulate the existing roles and responsibilities of areas.
Diane joins us from an NHS Foundation Trust where she was a health improvement practitioner. She brings a broad range of skills and experience with her, which includes volunteering, project management and training. Diane is also a keen walker.  When she has settled in, she will be in contact with the relevant areas to say hello – we know you will join us in welcoming Diane to the Ramblers team.

Data protection policy – please ensure you are familiar with this essential guidance

There are some topics which are nice to cover…and there are others which are mandatory for all of us, to ensure that we comply not only with our own internal Ramblers policies, but with external legislation. Data protection falls firmly into the latter area. Please could you ensure that your volunteers are all familiar with the data protection policy guidance (see link), to protect them, and our members and supporters, from any inadvertent data breaches, and from the potential reputational and financial damage which can be caused by serious breaches.

Scottish and General Councils – please book your places now

As we confirmed in the December newsletter, general council will be held at the University of Southampton on Saturday 1 to Sunday 2 April this year.  The second general council mailing was sent to you earlier this month. It included information about booking a place at general council and about how to nominate members to become trustees. We are very much looking forward to meeting you there.
Similarly, if you haven’t already booked your place to attend Scottish Council, please do so now. Booking closes on 9 February. To attend any part of Scottish Council, you will need to book online, through Eventbrite, by following this link.

Ramblers Scotland – please support our core paths campaign and enter our competition

You may have seen that we launched an exciting new campaign on Christmas Day, which aims to see all 17,000km of Scottish core paths shown on Ordnance Survey (OS) maps for the first time. We had encouraging conversations with OS last year on the issue, but they still need evidence to show demand. We’ve had an excellent public response already and, with your help, we hope to make the case for getting more paths on the map, to help more people enjoy Scotland’s countryside on foot. Please show your support by adding your name to the campaign.

Time is running out to enter our Walking Pals photography competition, which aims to celebrate the friendships enjoyed on foot in Scotland. A Ramblers Walking Holiday for two is up for grabs for the best photo, with a vote for the winner to be held at Scottish Council in March. Entries close on 31 January, and we’ve had some wonderful submissions so far…

Ramblers Cymru – welcome to new staff and volunteers, Snowdon and a new vision

We are sadly saying goodbye to Alan Norton, who stepped down this month as chair of the Welsh Council Executive Committee (WCEC) and also as a trustee. Happily Alan will not be leaving the Ramblers, so we hope to continue to work, and to walk, with him and to benefit from his experience and expertise. Chris Hodgson, who was previously vice chair of WCEC, will be taking on the role of WCEC chair until April, when the WCEC will vote in a new chair. In this interim period we are all grateful that Chris is content to take on this responsibility, on both WCEC, and on the board of trustees. We know you will all join us in thanking Alan for his service to the Ramblers and welcoming Chris to his interim role. 

Victoria Baldwin has just joined Ramblers Cymru as the new health walks programme manager. She is working to secure additional funding for the Let’s Walk Cymru scheme after the current funding ends in March 2017. She is focusing on demonstrating the programme’s value for money and on how to extend its reach and sustainability. Dafydd Wyn Morgan has also just joined the team as engagement and communication officer. Both Victoria and Dafydd are fluent Welsh speakers. Dafydd is very keen to meet our volunteer publicity officers to provide support, share messages and create a strong communications network – so please do make contact with him.

Ramblers Cymru exciting new vison for the next ten years has now been signed off by the Welsh council and the board of trustees. The document will be made available to our members via the website in the spring and will be launched at the heart of Welsh politics in the Senedd on Saint David’s Day. And finally, you may have heard the terrific efforts of the Welsh team last week, via BBC Radio Wales and the BBC website, doing their bit to ensure walkers climbing Snowdon do not face a future charge. Rebecca Brough made it clear that whilst a voluntary charge is acceptable, a paid permit scheme would compromise hard-won and fiercely protected rights. Read more here.  

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