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An update from your CEO

Sent to: area chairs and secretaries - for onward cascade to area and group contacts

 
                                                                                                                               22 February 2017
Dear <<First Name>>

Since I last wrote to you I have spent a wonderful week walking and working in Scotland. I came back impressed with the energy and innovation of our small, but perfectly formed – and growing – Scottish team of volunteers, staff and trustees. One of the reasons for my trip was to attend the People’s Postcode Lottery (PPL) charity gala to celebrate their generous funding. We are already putting this funding to great use in areas such as impact reporting and developing our Festival of Winter Walks. This month, as you will read in this newsletter, we are looking for volunteers to join a new walking festival advisory group, so please do put your name forward if you would like to help shape our plans. The highlight of the gala was hearing Sir David Attenborough speak, he has long been a hero of mine, and his rousing address, championing “the wild world” (on behalf of Fauna & Flora International, of which he is vice-president) was magnificent.
 
I have heard some other fascinating speeches since I last wrote to you. I recently attended an enlightening roundtable summit of around 30 leading environmentalists, economists, farmers and senior civil servants, ably hosted by the National Trust. We were meeting to discuss what kind of payments we would like to see made to farmers once the UK has left the European Union. As the only representative of an “access” organisation in the room, I was keen to see payment for path maintenance and enhancement included in any future definition of the public benefits provided by farmers (and therefore considered as an area which is worthy of ongoing payment to farmers). This will be a key piece of policy work for us over the coming months, so it was terrific to be involved from the outset. We had a similar conversation at the Lake District AGM which it was a privilege to join last weekend and this topic will also be a lively and valuable motion debate at general council in April.

We spent some time in our quarterly board meeting, which was held this month, ensuring that we are on track with preparation for general council. You can read more about the excellent work which has been going on to develop a motion around shared use of paths with cyclists later in this newsletter. The board meeting was a very positive and constructive experience.  We covered a great deal of ground, including early consideration of future investment priorities and a valuable discussion with trustees about improving our communication.  We had a good demonstration of the new online forum, which will be launched in the spring, according to a motion passed at general council in 2016. It will enable trustees, area chairs, secretaries and general council members to communicate better with each other. It is now my intention to set up a new communication group, including representative volunteers and staff, to take forward some specific initiatives to improve our collective conversation.

We also agreed in the board meeting to recruit a new governance manager, reporting to me, to better service our complex governance needs. This essential new role will bring together responsibilities which are currently split across 7 staff, with unclear and overlapping remits with respect to governance. It will enable the staff team to provide a more consistent service and single point of contact on governance matters, for internal and external stakeholders. It will enable us to improve our support to both the charity and subsidiary boards, to administer general council effectively, to maintain statutory registers, to co-ordinate cross GB governance issues (but not to impose on local governance arrangements) and to improve the documentation of our governance processes. Until the new role is recruited current governance arrangements remain. Please don’t hesitate to contact me if you have any questions about this new post.
 
This month the newsletter contains updates on lots of networking, best practice sharing and training sessions (including five new Lost Ways training sessions, more Ramblers Roadshow dates, and a Summer area chair and secretary induction). It also includes an important update on our current Network Rail campaign and information about the Government’s new consultation on the 25 Year Plan for the Environment. I was delighted with the two new online templates, originally designed by volunteers, which I hope will be of use in your ongoing publicity work. And please don’t miss the wonderful “And finally…” piece at the end of this newsletter - a marvellous success story which demonstrates the sheer determination, fortitude and hard work which I am coming to see is the mark of A Real Rambler. I hope you find this month’s newsletter useful and enjoyable and please let me know if there are any topics which you would particularly like to see covered in the March edition.

Vanessa Griffiths, Ramblers chief executive officer
Phone: 020 7339 8578
Email: ceo@ramblers.zendesk.com
Twitter: @RamblerVan
General council 2017 - valuable background information on shared use of paths with cyclists
The deadline to register for GC2017 was 23 February. Thank you for sending the booking form (GC05) to your area delegates and visitors to register their places. As usual, the council papers will be with you two weeks before we meet on the 1st April.  Thank you also for submitting your motions for debate. As I mentioned in my January newsletter, the staff team have been liaising closely with the many areas interested in submitting a motion regarding the shared use of paths with cyclists. It has been a terrific discussion and involved some great teamwork between volunteers, staff and trustees. As a result, I think we will be able to have a great debate about this important topic.
 
On this note, if you are interested in this motion, Jerry Pearlman has written a draft paper which surveys the way the highway network has changed since the seventeenth century through the introduction of provision for cyclists. It is excellent background context for anyone interested in this debate. Please do contact Jerry on jjp@pearlman.co.uk if you would like a copy. Similarly, Dave Cavanagh, Chair of Oxfordshire Ramblers, provided this interesting link to Cycling UK’s new, first off-road cycling report, which gives a unique insight into the UK cycling scene and is worth reading too.
Contact with Network Rail - an update and a further request to sign the Ramblers petition
On 14 February Janet Davis and I had a long-awaited meeting with the Managing Director and other senior officers from Network Rail’s Anglia Region. We had asked for this meeting to discuss our serious concerns about the unprecedented scale of their planned level crossings closure programme across Cambridgeshire, Essex, Hertfordshire and Suffolk, the poor and potentially dangerous quality of many of the alternative routes on offer, and the decision to use the Transport and Works Act procedure to achieve these changes.
 
We did not expect to come away from the meeting with a decision from Network Rail to either suspend or slow-down their proposals - but we felt that our concerns about the way in which the consultations for the current programme were undertaken were listened to. We also received an assurance that they would like us to be involved in a ‘lessons learnt’ exercise in due course. Encouragingly we were told that changes had already been made as a result of the consultations and they offered us a further chance to look at the latest version of the closure list - with a view to again flagging up those which are causing us the most concern. We will also be invited to a further meeting during the objection period once the Transport and Works Act applications have been published. 
 
We will of course lodge formal objections to any proposals which concern us. In many ways this campaign is just beginning. If these closures go ahead, this will be one of the biggest changes to the rights of way network in a generation and it is clear that other Network Rail regions will be watching the scheme with interest with a view to using a similar approach elsewhere. Network Rail explained to us in the meeting that over the next twenty years, their ambition is to see very many rights of way level crossings closed. Encouragingly, their staff agreed that, in the light of this ambition, there is a need for a much bigger strategic conversation with the Ramblers as guardians of the path network.
 
It is therefore vital that we keep on talking constructively with Network Rail and start looking for solutions which will work for both the rights of way network and the railway system – as two essential and complementary components of a sustainable 21st century public transport network. To do this, it is important that we continue to demonstrate that there is a groundswell of concern, and a significant weight of opinion, in favour of preserving the rights of way network. So, if you have not done so already, please help us keep the pressure on by signing our petition and please ask others to do so.
Plan for the Environment - let us know your views before we respond to the consultation
The Government will be releasing the framework for the 25 Year Plan for the Environment in the coming weeks. The aim of this plan is to leave the environment in a better state than it is now. We’ll be responding to this consultation to ensure that access to the places we love to walk is included. We want to ensure that your views are included too. Please get in touch with us at campaigns@ramblers.org.uk to let us know who in your area or group we should contact about our response to the plan.
New online templates designed by volunteers - useful support for local publicity activities
We’ve created two new templates which we hope will help you with your local publicity – a business card and a Love Walking? A4 poster. These two ideas came from David Thompson (Somerset Area) and Jan Bigley (Stoke/Newcastle Ramblers) and we thought they were great suggestions which would be of benefit to a number of our volunteers and groups. Both templates are very easy to use - all you need to do is add your own text and print using a home printer. They can be found in the Marketing and Publicity Toolkit on our website, in the Templates for Areas and Groups section.
Ramblers GB Walking Festivals - seeking volunteers for a new advisory group
Would you like to have your say about plans for future Ramblers GB walking festivals? Our long term relationship with the players of People’s Postcode Lottery is supporting us to make our Festival of Winter Walks and Walk About even bigger and better and we want your views to help shape our plans. We will also be emailing group chairs and the opportunity will be promoted on the volunteer news section of the website too. Please feel free to pass this information on to anyone you think might be interested. If you would like to express your interest in taking part, please email volunteersupport@ramblers.zendesk.com and we will be in touch with more information.
Induction for area chairs and secretaries - new date in June, please book now

If you are an area chair or secretary from a Ramblers England area and new to your role, please join us on 6 and 7 June at the Ramblers GB office in Vauxhall, London for an induction session. If you’re a volunteer who is stepping down from an area role, please make sure your successor knows about this opportunity. This session builds on the pilot induction events held during 2016, and again in January this year. Area chairs and secretaries who came to those sessions told us they’d found them very useful and that they’d strongly recommend the session to others. They also gave us feedback which means we’re able to improve the session each time we do it. The induction is designed to give you the information you need to run your area, access support and work with the staff team.
 
The induction is for volunteers new to the roles of chair and secretary - whether you’ve been volunteering with the Ramblers for a long time in other roles, or are new to volunteering with us. We hope to ensure all new chairs and secretaries from England Ramblers areas attend. If there are free spaces on the session we can also offer a place to volunteers who are seriously considering standing as area chair or secretary at next year’s AGM and want to find out more before they do so. The session starts mid afternoon on 6 June (including a walk and dinner) and runs from 09:30 - 16:00 on 7 June. Ramblers will cover reasonable travel costs, food and overnight accommodation on 6 June.

Lost ways - new dates announced for five further training sessions, please book now

Due to the immense popularity of this training to date, we are running more sessions on finding lost ways, with experts Sarah Bucks and Phil Wadey, in partnership with the British Horse Society. As before, the sessions will concentrate on identifying routes, the key sources of evidence of historic ways, where that information is located, what it can tell us, and how a systematic research method is the best way forward. All training sessions are free and the days will run from 09:30 - 16:30. Further dates and venues will be announced shortly.

  • Saturday 4 March 2017 Morrison Trust Conference & Training Centre, Morton Park Business Training Centre, Yarm Road, Darlington DL1 4PJ. Please bring your own lunch. To make a booking for this event only, please e-mail policy@ramblers.org.uk.
Please visit the British Horse Society website for information on how to book for the following:
  • Sunday 19 March 2017 Bicton Village Hall, Church Lane, Bicton, Shrewsbury SY3 8ER
  • Saturday 17 June 2017 Harston Village Hall, 20 High Street, Harston, Cambridge CB22 7PX
  • Sunday 18 June 2017 Barnston Village Hall, Chelmsford Road, Barnston, Great Dunmow CM6 1LR.

There is no charge for the event but delegates will have to meet their own travel expenses. Places will be allocated on a first come, first served basis. Additional information will be sent to delegates nearer the time. Tea, coffee and lunch is included unless otherwise stated. Please bring a copy of ‘Rights of Way - Restoring the Record’ with you if you have one and a laptop to take part in some practical activities. Smart phones and tablets may not be suitable for all activities but may be better than nothing. Wi-fi will be provided.

Ramblers Roadshow - new dates announced for March and April, please book now

A big thank you to the Essex and Berkshire areas for hosting the first two Ramblers Roadshow events in January. Over 130 members and volunteers joined us over the weekend and feedback has been fantastic. The events are aimed at helping members to get more out of their Ramblers membership and for volunteers to share their expertise and best practice with other volunteers. They’re also a great opportunity to find out more about what we do as a charity and our impact. New dates have just been announced - Leeds on 18 March, Buxton on 19 March and Leicestershire on 22 April - please help us to publicise these free events and encourage your groups to do so.  It’s simple to book. Just visit your online account.

Hop into spring with a brand new Ramblers kit - discounts to be had in our biggest ever sale

If you’ve always wanted to wear a Ramblers t-shirt or rucksack cover on one of your walks, now is a good time to get one. You can grab amazing discounts in our Ramblers Shop at Ramblers ethical shop http://ethicalshop.org/ while stocks last. Save up to 40% on Ramblers products in our biggest ever sale, with many of the items incorporating Ramblers Cymru and Ramblers Scotland branding. Every purchase you make will help to fund our charitable work to improve walkers’ rights and protect the places we love to walk.

And finally...a wonderful success story (thanks to Eugene Suggett for this piece)

Volunteers in Devon, working with staff and a rights of way consultant, Sue Rumfitt, have just won a brilliant victory after years of legal proceedings, perseverance and complaints to the Ombudsman.  They have saved a long and scenic path, of 2.3 km, in an AONB running by the river Coly through four parishes near Honiton. Many years ago, veteran Ramblers footpath volunteer Eric Mawer applied to get this path recognised as a public right of way on the basis of old documentation which he had spent years researching. Devon County Council rejected the evidence but Eric appealed and the matter went to a hard-fought public inquiry, at which Eric won. So far so good...
 
But then the landowners utilised a little used procedure to try to delete the path, on the basis that the previous inquiry got the law wrong, citing an arcane point about the landowners’ “capacity to dedicate”. The land at the time had been settled land, so no right of way could have come into existence despite what the old maps and documents said. By now Eric Mawer had retired and two new volunteers, Rosemary and Alan Kimbell, had taken on this case and done an astonishingly impressive job at becoming expert in this highly technical area of documentary research. They requested advice legal advice, so staff took a barrister’s opinion on this “capacity” issue.
 
Staff sought assistance from our solicitors, and took a barrister’s opinion on the capacity issue. The matter went to another full-works determination by an inquiry-Inspector. We instructed Sue Rumfitt to make our case. And we won. The Inspector ruled that the path really was a right of way. The landowners then decided to challenge this decision in the High Court.  They wrote the necessary pre-action letter to DEFRA. Happily for walkers, the Government Legal Department found their reasons “completely fanciful” and the landowners have now withdrawn their application, presumably recognising that it had no prospect of success.  Poignantly, this news came through just a few days before Eric died, on Sunday 12 February  - a fitting tribute to his tireless work.

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