West Berks Ramblers

Working for Walkers

2016 Chairman's Report

Chairman's Report on the year's activities to 30th September

Presented at the AGM held on Friday 11th November 2016 in the Mencap Hall Newbury

Many of the committee and officers will be giving reports of their own and I simply need to thank them for their sterling work during the year and leave it to them to say what they wish to say. I hope they’ll keep things fairly brief and leave you to seek more details if you’re interested, either by chatting to them after the formal meeting or by reading everything up on the website, probably after the weekend.

I know committees aren’t everyone’s cup of tea but we do need various roles filling to be able to function properly.

  • Greg McGill stood down as Countryside Secretary last year and is in the process of moving to Exeter so we can no longer call on him for advice.
  • Carol Andrews took up the mantle of Social Secretary during the year but changes in her circumstances forced her to resign.
  • No one can carry on for ever and Fred Carter has decided that he needs to stand down as group Secretary.
  • We also need someone to look after publicity, a job which includes things like keeping the Newbury Weekly News in check and making sure that libraries and so on have up to date information.
  • Some roles need to have regular injections of new blood and ideas – this includes the post of Chairman which I’ve been occupying for far too long – part of that time as an ‘absentee chairman’ at least as far as attendance on walks is concerned. One of the other Berkshire groups has gone as far as to write into its constitution that an officer who’s been in post for three or more years has to stand down if someone else can be persuaded to put themselves forward.

Offers to job-share would be welcome, whether this is in the form of assistance for an existing committee member or of an entirely new team. I suspect that we won’t get all our vacancies filled at this meeting but I’d like to encourage anyone who might be interested in being involved to have an informal chat later – the committee meets six times a year and can co opt new members at any time. 

As well as the main committee and the officers, I need to thank the team that helps out on the social side and everyone else who contributes to the successful running of the group – especially of course those who lead walks for us. While there are other functions that we perform, some of them arguably more important, our comprehensive walks programme is our most public face.

  • I’ve counted 31 leaders’ names in the three programmes this (calendar) year based on the printed programmes. They’ve led an average of 7.6 walks each with 16 leading 5 or more, 8 of those leading 10 or more and including 3 who have led 20 or more.
  • We’ve been averaging about 4½ walks per week since around 2010. This year there were 235 walks made up of 20 walks on 7 coach trips, 85 other weekend walks and 126 weekday walks. The Tuesday morning walks of around 6 miles continue to be the most popular. The total mileage for all the walks was 1778 miles making the average distance 7.6 miles.
  • The team under Colin Honeybone’s leadership that took over organising the coach walks from Greg McGill in 2014 (using the format that he introduced in 2009) has continued to keep the coaches full or nearly so and will be seeing if it can do so again next year. We have been able to avoid increasing the seat price from £10 because of the high occupancy rate but unfortunately that situation won’t continue indefinitely.
  • The years since 2010 have seen a boost to the number of short walks in the ‘up to 5 miles’ category but these (especially the shorter ones of 4 miles or less) appear to have been declining recently – in 2013 they were averaging one a week but the figure has been dropping since then and fell sharply this year to around one a fortnight. It would be good if we could push the figure back up and provide more walks that might entice people along who are currently doing “Walking for Health” type distances. With this in mind, Richard has started producing “short walks” leaflets intended for distribution to the likes of “Walking for Health” groups which are based on extracting the walks up to 5 miles from each programme.
  • I’ve been particularly disappointed that ‘just turn up on the day’ car sharing has now virtually vanished from the programme.
    • Sunday parking charges were first introduced in the Council’s Newbury car parks in 2012 but the decline actually set in before then. This year has seen a massive increase in the charges with the implementation of the weekday rate on Sundays.
    • Richard North’s walks have proposed meeting at the Wharf but leaving cars there for the day was no longer an option because of parking costs and members have been emailed asking them to contact Roy beforehand to negotiate car shares.
    • Fortunately Chris has been able to make alternative arrangements to cover parking for coach walks but we haven’t had any movement on car sharing and I’d like to see some effort put into this. There are a range of business car parks, especially in the industrial areas, which aren’t normally used on Sundays; another possibility might be a school car park such as the one at Trinity School. Wherever we might go, there are most unlikely to be toilets available, and coach walk participants are now only able to relieve themselves prior to the outward journey or after the return one by sneaking into a nearby hostelry.
  • Don’t forget that you are not confined to walking with just this Group – the online ‘Walk Finder’ system makes it easy to identify walks organised by other Ramblers groups that might suit you if you can’t make it out on some of the days we have our walks.
  • I need to record special thanks to Roy Batty for continuing to patiently put our programmes together. He is now actively seeking contributions for January to May next year.
  • I also mustn’t forget Fiona Walker and Colin Honeybone, both of whom are key to the work the group does maintaining and improving the rights of way of West Berkshire. Fiona will be giving a report on this later.

Looking ahead …

As has been noted already in our programmes, the 50th birthday of the Group will be on 2nd March next year. You may of course vote in a new committee which goes in a totally different direction but this is a flavour of what we currently have in mind for the coming year:

  • Options for walking 50 miles with the Group in a defined period (one week or up to four months depending on energy and availability)
  • Socials starting off with a quiz based on 50 questions for 50 years
  • Gates – a special ‘birthday’ gate on Snelsmore Common plus others during the year (there are a couple of stiles there crying out for our attention, one on a right of way and one not, and there are several more awaiting replacement by gates). We are envisaging having a special ‘50th Anniversary Year’ plaque for all the gates installed during the year, though there might have to be more than one design as some of the work is to be done for BBOWT.

Also next year, the Lambourn Valley Way was inaugurated by Sir Michael Horden in 1992 and will be 25 on 11th July. The Council acknowledges that the idea and the route were brainchilds of The Ramblers. Neal Pike was one of the people involved – we’re not certain whose idea it actually was or who else might have worked on it.

  • One objective will be to make it stile-free but we’re not sure how many of the stiles still on it aren’t bypassed and people actually need to climb over.
  • Some interpretation or map boards have been suggested, though these would require outside funding. They’d probably be based on the existing leaflet.
  • It would be nice to see it rerouted in Newbury to follow the river to its confluence with the Kennet but I’m not sure that will ever happen without significant developments in places we’d rather not see them.
  • The route doesn’t have a logo of its own – perhaps someone would like to design one? Uffington’s White Horse features in some logos and an image of Donnington Castle appears in ours; there’s a ‘Lambourn Valley of the Racehorse logo and Newbury Town Council has its own logo. There might be a logo for the Lambourn Valley Railway that could be adapted but it got absorbed by the GWR quite quickly and I haven’t been able to locate one. I guess one option would be to simply modify our own existing logo – food for thought perhaps?

Graham Smith, 11th November 2016

Sunday, September 24, 2017