Whisper it quietly, but I rather miss those old-fashioned Rotary annual conferences by the sea.
A century-old annual gathering of the clans from across the British Isles for a weekend of networking, education, gathering new ideas, re-enforcing key messages, forward planning and those two ‘f’ words – fun and fellowship.
I’ve just returned from a stimulating weekend at the University of Warwick campus – 88 miles from the closest beach at Weston-super-Mare – attending the Leadership Development Forum with 250 Rotarians from across the nation.
For two days, we shared ideas and experiences, discussed ways of growing Rotary, reflected on various forms of Rotary membership and looked ahead to the exciting cluster initiative which Rotary GB&I is piloting.
It was corking, providing a much-needed boost to my Rotary mojo. At several points of the weekend I reflected how it was a shame this was not a national event so more Rotarians could engage.
Torquay five years ago was the last national conference in its old format when Princess Anne visited the Devon Riviera.
Pragmatically it was decided to venture down the Volunteer Expo route just as Covid intervened. No longer a Rotary-only event, but this was the UK’s National Volunteering Show which partnered with other organisations.
I hosted the first online event in 2021, and last year, Birmingham’s NEC staged a three-day Volunteer Expo, which also included an Action Summit with incoming Rotary International President, Jennifer Jones.
My message to the Rotary Board is think seriously about reintroducing the annual conference, bringing Rotarians together once a year as a focal point for all.”
There are no plans for a Volunteer Expo this year, in fact the only national Rotary event is an Action Summit being planned by incoming Rotary International Director, Eve Conway, in Manchester this September. And that, I think, is a big shame.
One of the most interesting sessions in Warwick was a discussion hosted by current RI Director, Nicki Scott, with the incoming district governors serving South Wales (1150), Avon & Somerset (1100), Devon and Cornwall (both 1175) whose districts will become one of six clusters – Southern Wales & SW England – operating in Rotary GB&I.
Clusters are not a way of getting rid of districts, reducing the role or influence of the district governor or adding additional bureaucracy.
Instead the discussion focused how these four Rotary districts were already collaborating for greater impact, making Rotary leadership easier and making better use of specialist support.
It really is a case of better together. And next year, at Sandy Park, home of Exeter Chiefs Rugby Club, the south-west cluster will hold one conference, saving considerably on cost but making a greater impact.
Rotary GB&I is testing this model for RI as a five-year regional pilot and it makes perfect sense – a regional pilot based on 109 years of experience with a bottom line of growing Rotary.
These are bumpy times for the good ship Rotary with membership declining and membership retention an issue – 50% of Rotarians leave after two years.
But we are all in the same boat and it is important Rotarians work together.
I drove away from Warwick hugely excited, galvanised by the messages, and invigorated by those I met – many long-time friends, but new ones too.
Not everyone can afford or has the time to go to a Rotary International Convention, and these cluster conferences are definitely the best
My message to the Rotary Board is think seriously about reintroducing the annual conference, bringing Rotarians together once a year as a focal point for all.
It doesn’t have to be by the sea – Warwick is nice and central – but the value will be immense, especially to those new to Rotary who can see what a dynamic organisation we are.