New Director's Blog - Part 3

An insight into the workings of The Ringing World by Peter G Davies
The opinions expressed in this blog are entirely mine and are not necessarily related to any views or policies of the Board of The Ringing World Ltd.

The Diary

Each of the board members has specific responsibilities and among mine is the design and production of the Ringing World Diary. Actually that’s pushing it a bit; it’s my responsibility to see that it is available for sale at the right time in the year (and with no typos in it!). The really hard work is done by the RW Manager, Chris Darvill. But I do have a major say in the content and as I have some strong, well, strong-ish, views on what should be in it, I’m delighted to take this on. However, I’m immediately aware that I will be dealing with ringers and the chances of getting a consensus from them are nil. You can please some of the people … etc.

I am a bit concerned that the Diary has grown like Topsy and is now more of a method pocket book with some pages for use as a diary. Maybe that’s exactly what it should be? It’s actually nearly one-third thicker than it was just a decade ago and at this rate it’ll be too thick for a shirt pocket in another decade! But there’s something odd here because there aren’t any more pages for methods now than there were then. There are different methods included, some of which I’ve never heard of and which I guess I’ll never ring but the choice of methods does concern me somewhat. And what of the compositions? Is it really necessary to include no fewer than six different quarters of Stedman Cinques and eleven peals of Surprise Major? I can’t help feeling that the choice of methods is biased towards advanced ringing when a few more service touches of Grandsire and Stedman might be of more use. I can’t actually envisage a situation in a tower when someone says "Catch hold for Triton Delight Royal - anybody got a diary?" Does a conductor who has been asked to call a quarter of Stedman Cinques consult the diary for a composition? Do ringers who meet to ring surprise Maximus really need a diary to remind them what the blue line is? I don’t know, but perhaps you’ll tell me the answers.

What could be left out of the diary to make it more manageable? I confess that my thinking is generally influenced by the availability of the Internet which in some instances renders the written word redundant, at least as far as reference data are concerned. The Internet can be updated on a daily basis and is therefore far more reliable for current information than the diary. It may not be realised that the absolute deadline for submitting information to be included in the diary is actually Easter and this therefore means that if you use the diary late in the year of its issue to get the name of an association contact, the information could be over a year out of date; this is particularly true of information on university associations. I have had a number of complaints that association information is out of date in the current diary but that’s because the deadline has preceded the association annual meeting! I know that a single contact for an association can change after the deadline but that’s where the Internet comes in. As for the inevitable comment "What about people not on the Internet?" Well surely there cannot be any towers without a single Internet-connected ringer and, anyway, the address and telephone number of the main contact, or contacts will be provided for those without e-mail.

So the first tentative conclusion I’ve reached is that we can save space by limiting association information to the name, address and telephone number of the General Secretary and the URL of the association web site if it has one, and most of them do. I also believe some of the other reference information, such as the list of long length peals can also be dropped in favour of an Internet URL.

I revealed some of my initial views to the board members, producing some sharp intakes of breath from the conservatives. I was asked to present my views to them at a future meeting, although there was no threat of a veto! I decided that the best way to proceed was to follow the example of the current government and not do anything - except confer! Hence the article "What do you think of it so far?" printed in the October 3rd edition of the RW and repeated on the web site, which invited readers - and particularly diary purchasers - to tell me what they think of the diary design and how it could be improved. I have had a good response to the article most of which seem to line up with my ideas but, of course, the one thing that has emerged is that "You can please some of the people … etc". But more of this in a later edition of the blog. By the way, it’s not too late to offer your views on the diary design.

Another board meeting

Board meetings are held four times a year so you might think a logical timetable would be every three months. Not so. The September meeting is followed a bit quickly by one in November. This time I know the procedure and most importantly take my own lunch. Despite my being impressed that I was welcomed by a formal induction process and given guidance in my role as a trustee etc., I was less impressed at the first meeting to find that I should have brought my own lunch! I’m not suggesting that I was expecting you, dear reader, to pay for my lunch, I just wish someone had told me the routine! Still, The Chantry Centre at Andover, with Tesco and sandwich bars, is very handy to Eagleside House - and even closer to Elvin House.

There were no fewer than fifteen items on the agenda, the bulk of which were reports from each of the directors, the editor and the general manager. But a number of topics surprised me in as much as it had never occurred to me that the board would need to consider them. It made me realise that the RW, with its primary aim to keep members of the Exercise informed, is not immune from the sort of PC nonsense which seems to intrude into every aspect of our lives. For example, the Central Council Administrative Committee had felt the need to debate the question of conflict of interest arising from a financial or business involvement in bell-related trades (e.g. bellhanging, bellfounding, bell maintenance etc.). This sounded to me as if someone on the Committee was involved with the Standards Board for England, created by John Prescott, which keeps an eye (or should that be a heavy hand) on the behaviour of local councillors, setting down over-complicated procedures to prevent corruption in local government. It was agreed that while note should be taken of this potential "problem", application of common sense would serve the RW adequately (oh, if only that were true in the case of parish councillors!).

And there’s the question of Public Benefit and the charitable status of the RW. The Charity Commission requires that from 2009, the Annual Report and Accounts of registered charities must contain a statement on the Public Benefit it offers, in other words we have to prove to the Commission that their two main principles are being adhered to, namely that there is an identifiable benefit from our activities and that this benefit must be to the public, or (and there’s a bit of a get-out here) a section of the public. It’s not actually as simple as that because there are sub-principles with which we have to comply: it must be clear what the benefits are; that they are related to the aims (of the RW); and that these benefits are balanced against any detriment or harm (noise?). The benefits to the section of public we serve must be appropriate to the aims; must not be unreasonably restricted by geographical or other restrictions (that could be interesting!); people in poverty (that doesn’t include ringers with deep pockets) must not be excluded from the benefits; and any private benefits (whatever that means) must be incidental. You can imagine that tackling this topic from cold in a discussion has the potential to paralyze the board for some time. Fortunately, the task of preparing a document to satisfy the Commission had been delegated to Chris Rogers, the Finance Director, who had done an excellent job, minimising the need for too much discussion. I confess that one phrase in the document sounded alarm bells to me in that it referred to "the ringing of bells for Christian worship" and I wondered if some PC junkie would accuse us of not catering for other religious denominations. However, I was assured that the Commission is happy with this phrase - for now, I think!

The November meeting is the one at which the budget for the next year is presented for approval. As mentioned earlier in the blog, the task of approving is made easier by the thorough presentation of the options by the FD. It’s not easy with so many inter-related matters to consider including exceptional, one-off items of expenditure (e.g. the move), whether an increase in the subscription is needed, what effect do costs have on circulation and how to maximise returns on investments. This last point led to a long discussion of our banking arrangements and I was appalled to learn that we have had to take special steps to prevent fraudulent withdrawals. It was agreed to explain the complex financial situation to readers by a future RW article on the subject by the FD, so watch this space!

I confess to being a little surprised at the informality of reporting to the board and I said so at my first meeting. There are almost no written reports, just verbal ones and although this saves having to write a report, I think it might be a better discipline to require written reports so that nothing is left out. In view of the fact that the FD has now written an article on RW finances, perhaps articles based on directors’ reports could appear in future? I’ll probably be out-voted on this idea but I’ll return to it at the next board meeting.

Phil Watts, Sales and Marketing, presented his ideas on sales campaigns, including a presence at ringing events, a mail-shot to every tower, production and sponsorship of promotional material and analysis of the questionnaire issued at RR2008. He produced the huge pile of questionnaires and invited fellow directors to help to analyse them by means of a spreadsheet he’d devised. Everyone dipped into the pile but judging by the number I picked up, I’m not sure there was an equitable distribution! Never mind, I am retired so that’s probably fair enough.

The IT report was presented jointly by Fred Bone and Bill Hibbert and the focus was on the re-vamped web site which seems to have gone down very well (have you been there yet?) However, there’s a lot going in IT and they will both be very busy over the coming months, if not years.

Then it was my turn. I reported on the fair bit of work I’d done to organise the move and presented a revised budget of nearly £11,000. This prompted the FD to ask "Do we have to move?" My initial reaction was one of horror. Had all my efforts been in vain? Were the hours spent wrangling with planners, agents, the landlord, solicitors, Royal Mail, BT, etc. going to be in vain? But I quickly realised, in the spirit of board unanimity that he had every right to ask the question, particularly in the light of the impending financial disaster the country seems to be facing with the "credit crunch" and I waited with bated breath for the other directors to respond. All the reasons for the move which justified the cost were discussed and the outcome was that we should try and pressure the existing landlord into making us an improved, long-term offer to persuade us to stay at Eagleside House. If he didn’t respond within a week, despite the risks he was facing by embarking on a residential development in the current housing climate, it was "Go". He didn’t, so it’s "Go"! I’ll tell you about the traumas of project managing the move later in the blog but suffice it to say that we are moving, the option of staying at Eagleside House proved to be unviable.

I reported on the progress of the consultation exercise on the diary design with no firm decisions yet made. Chris Darvill reported on the diary, calendar and Christmas card sales on my behalf, which was fair enough because I’d had nothing to do with them. The calendar has sold well but the plain diaries have not. The Christmas cards were very popular so we’ll market these again next year but with a different design. I suggested - and it was agreed - that we should run a competition for a new design, so you’ve got advanced notice of this before it’s advertised in the RW. Copy for the 2010 calendar is being provided by our sponsors so all I’ll have to do is proof read it and check that each month has the correct number of days in it! I’ve got to write an article encouraging District Secretaries to make greater use of Notices while reminding them of the free use of the web site. And finally, I’ve got to look after the centenary arrangements in 2011, which in theory might coincide with the next Roadshow (must find out!). I haven’t got any ideas for this yet and my researches into what happened at the 75th anniversary in 1986 have made me little wiser. It seems there was a great day in London with lots of towers open and the biggest-ever ringers’ tea in the afternoon but the coverage in the RW was a bit scant. So, I feel another article coming on, inviting ideas for a grand celebration. How about an Oscar-style ceremony over dinner, or just another giant ringers’ tea? Should we aim to involve celebrities (but not X-factor celebrities)? Should it be in London or, if not, where? Should it be celebrated country, or even world-wide? Should there be a significant event with a long-lasting outcome, such as the sponsorship of a new or restored ring of bells, or the casting of an RW centenary bell? Watch this space; I’ll be looking soon for ideas in a future issue.

 

New Director's Blog - part 4

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