Wow! I am still on such a high after the success of Volunteer Expo Online.
As a digital event, showcasing the impact of volunteering and how the third sector has been the thread, which has bound the fabric of society during this horrendous pandemic, the two-day event surpassed expectations.
What Volunteer Expo underpinned is the value of charities and organisations, such as Rotary, during the post-Covid recovery, and how the nature and shape of volunteering is rapidly changing.
The online spectacle was inspiring, challenging and informative. And hats off to the team at Rotary GB&I at Alcester who pulled this off, with Event Manager, Louise Smith and Corporate Sales & Marketing Manager, Emma Howell, playing an absolute blinder.
It was two years ago in Torquay when it was announced that a century of traditional Rotary conferences were being scrapped in favour of Rotary GB&I partnering with other third sector groups to host Volunteer Expo at Birmingham’s NEC in 2020.
I was very circumspect. I enjoy meeting Rotary friends at national conferences, sharing ideas and learning from others.
I hesitate to use the word ‘fellowship’ because, as I was reminded by a Rotary club in Ireland recently, that word has old-fashioned, even religious connotations – and we need to find a better phrase.
But I enjoy that togetherness too in an exclusively Rotary environment. This was a notion endorsed a few months later at the Rotary International Conference in Hamburg, Germany, which was like having a new turbo engine fitted to your Rotary mojo!
As someone organising the Rotary in the Thames Valley District Conference in Oxford next March, I am a firm believer that Rotary still needs these regular gathering of the clans, even though declining numbers and fiscal reality in recent years would suggest the contrary.
For Oxford 2022 we have bolted on a technology tournament to run alongside a two-day conference, which features a host of top speakers. We have involved Rotaractors to organise an environmental challenge on the Sunday when there are no plenary sessions.
And even the Rotary Village – aka the House of Friendship – has been given a shake-up with the introduction of Rotary Pledge Pounds.
Here, each of the 57 Rotary clubs in the Thames Valley will be invited to sprinkle individual pledges of up to £500 in total to participating charities.
If every Rotary club stumped up £500, Rotary clubs in the Thames Valley would be giving away £28,500. Now, realistically, that’s not going to happen. But my target is to donate between £5,000 to £10,000 to hard-pressed charities from this fun and creative activity during conference weekend, helping organisations who really need our support.
The theme of the conference – Rotary doing good in the world – also builds on the notion of Rotarians meeting friends and networking again after so long. Good, old-fashioned F!
Next May, Volunteer Expo will hopefully be live at the Birmingham NEC, building on the phenomenal success of May’s stunning digital showcase. Rotary can be proud for hosting the UK volunteering show and being at the forefront of the conversation.
But at a time when Rotary clubs are thinking about life after Covid with meeting face-to-face, when we are all suffering from Zoomsomnia after months of staring in front of a screen, it will be great to be able to meet in person once again – but don’t mention the F-word!