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An update from your CEO
Dear area chairs and secretaries,

As I write, it is my third week at the Ramblers. I would like to start my first update by thanking you for your kindness. Beginning a new job is always daunting, but the cups of tea, gifts of fascinating books and friendly messages which I have received from so many of you have made me feel very welcome.  A particular thank you to Natasha for all she has done over the last few months and to Hazel and the senior management team (SMT) for putting together an excellent induction for me over the last few weeks. Thank you also to the trustees who have given me their time so freely. I am very grateful.
 
I am aware that I have not yet met all of you and I very much hope to do so soon - I am already looking forward to General Council for this reason. In the interim, please don’t hesitate to come and say hello if you are in London, or ring or email me if there is anything pressing. I have agreed with Brendan and Alison that I will be in Scotland for a week in January, so I look forward to meeting some of you then. As Angela and Alan are in recruitment mode in Wales right now, we have decided to leave the trip to Cardiff until the new staff are all in post, which will hopefully be soon.
 
In my first week I attended our quarterly board meeting in Swansea, as part of the handover process. As a committed walker, my personal highlight was the early morning walk around the town and bay. It included a glorious view from the beach to the beautiful Mumbles headland and a chance to pause beneath the marvellous statue of Dylan Thomas’s Captain Cat.  We discussed what we need to do to ensure the ten year strategic framework - approved by General Council in 2015 - is delivered and agreed to bring SMT thoughts on strategic priorities to the next board in February 2017.
 
In the board meeting, we also recognised that, as a successful, mature charity, our aim to deliver our mission across many locations, with large numbers of staff and volunteers, means that good dialogue across the organisation is always both a challenge and an opportunity. As such, we agreed to look at communication as a priority. If you have any thoughts about either our strategic priorities, or about how we communicate - including this monthly update - I would like hear your views and ideas about what is working and what is not, so please do feed back to me over the coming months on this topic.
 
On the following few pages I have summarized the key topics which I believe it is useful for us to update you on this month. It includes information on our Pathwatch campaign – its success to date is a tribute to our extraordinary volunteers – some of whom I had the pleasure of working with on Offa’s Dyke a few weeks ago. It also includes information about our new IT progamme and the listening exercise which we really need your help with over the next few months, if we are to fully understand the systems and processes which you need, now and in the future.

As I type, I have on my desk a beautiful badge which I was given last week. It belonged to Tony Drake MBE. Tony was an extraordinary Rambler and the pioneer of the Cambrian Way, an unofficial long distance footpath running 291 miles through Wales. It leaves Cardiff Castle and travels through beautiful uplands - including the Black Mountains, Brecon Beacons, Cambrian Mountains, Cadair Idris and Snowdon - until it reaches Conwy Castle, where I live. It was moving and humbling to bring it home and I will do my very best to honour both its past and its future, over the coming years.

With kindest regards and very best wishes for the holiday season and the new year,

Vanessa Griffiths, Ramblers chief executive officer

Phone: 020 7339 8578
Email: ceo@ramblers.zendesk.com
Twitter: @RamblerVan
Pathwatch – launch of the report and fundraising appeal
We launched our Big Pathwatch report in November, alongside our new Pathwatch campaign which aims to find the long-term solutions to the problems identified by the survey and to ensure all paths are open and accessible by 2020. The launch was in November, which the survey identified as the worst month for paths. This work is all about solving problems, so we started with an ambitious week-long path maintenance project to fix issues along the popular national trail Offa’s Dyke.

Work along the trail included clearing bracken, brambles and undergrowth, improving drainage to ensure the path surface remains firm underfoot and installing boardwalks where the path surface is currently difficult to navigate. Offa’s Dyke was chosen for its location and the media interest it would generate – we know that national trails often receive more attention than more humble footpaths, but we felt this was a great opportunity to draw attention to the campaign and the wider plight of paths.

The launch was a great success, receiving widespread, positive, media coverage – including the front page of the Times on launch day, and a fantastic editorial in the Telegraph which you can now find on our twitter feed. The first year of the campaign focuses on the top problem identified by the survey - missing way marks - and we have subsequently launched our first integrated campaign fundraising appeal to encourage people to give generously to this worthy cause over Christmas.

 
Start of the IT infrastructure project – introducing the new tapestry programme
We know that we need to improve our current information and communications technology (ICT) provision, to better support the work being done by volunteers and staff, to take advantage of new IT developments and to improve communication across our organisation. We are therefore investing in a programme of activity to enable this work to be undertaken. We are calling this programme the tapestry programme as it will involve the weaving together of many threads.

The tapestry programme is a series of linked projects designed to review and update all of our information and communications technology. The programme will include both technology and process improvements. It will also enable us to review and improve the management of our data, to help facilitate good communication between staff, areas, groups, other intermediaries (eg health walk schemes) - and, crucially, with our supporters - to achieve our strategic goals, both now and in future.

This is an initial communication to let you know about this important work from the outset. We are in the first stage of this programme and its shape will be informed by responses to a new area and group survey, explained in more detail in the following paragraph. This survey is a listening exercise which will help us to better understand what support, systems and processes you need. We will keep you updated and seek your ongoing involvement as the project develops over the next three years.

 
Improving support for groups & areas – survey to understand your system and process needs
The online survey, introduced in the previous paragraph, will be live from Monday 9 January to Friday 31 March.  We will also be holding individual conversations with some volunteers during March. We will be asking volunteers in groups and areas across GB what support you already use, how it could be improved and what support you would like in future. This support could include IT systems, training, support materials, manuals and/or new procedures.
 
The next few months are a really important opportunity for you to help shape the support which the organisation will invest in over the coming years. I know you will understand that we can’t promise to provide everything that everyone asks for, and that introducing improvements will take time. Please look out for an email to launch the survey in early January and encourage everyone to feedback – the more we understand your needs, the more useful the results will be.

In addition to the new systems and process survey, the new area working group continues to liaise with the board, to meet with, and provide urgent support for, those groups from English areas in abeyance. Some support is now being given to areas with volunteer recruitment concerns over the AGM period. If you have any further thoughts about the area working group please don’t hesitate to contact me or Christine Hathway at christine.hathway@ramblers.org.uk. Our next meeting will be on 9 January.

 
Ramblers Roadshow, (skill up, step out) - and support for volunteers more widely
Together with our host areas we are collectively delighted to introduce a new series of events which will run across 2017. We have now confirmed four dates for southern England in January and February, with more dates to be confirmed soon. We would be very grateful if you could please help us to publicise these events, and encourage your groups to do the same. Booking is simple: just visit your online account at www.ramblers.org.uk/login
 
These events are to help members find out more about how to get the most from their membership and to enable volunteers to share expertise and best practice. We will collectively share and discuss our vision, our charitable purpose and our impact together, as well as supporting individual attendees to further develop their skills and knowledge. There will also be lots of opportunity to meet other like-minded people and get direct access to our walking experts and specialist partners at these events.
           
We are committed to supporting and celebrating our volunteers – not just through these events but across the year. In the volunteer zone as well as being able to book onto your nearest Ramblers Roadshow, you can also now vote in the 2017 volunteer awards and download an updated version of the volunteer welcome booklet. This zone also includes a list of useful contacts, so that if you need support from staff, you can find out who to speak to simply and quickly.

 
General Council – confirmation of dates and information about how to book
General Council 2017 will be held in Southampton on Saturday 1 to Sunday 2 April. This is a fantastic opportunity to meet like-minded individuals, and be inspired by the work of your peers in areas across Great Britain. I will be sending out the first information mailing before Christmas, so please look out for it. I would be grateful if you could start to discuss who your area representatives will be, and encourage people to get involved.

Bookings are now open for Scottish Council on Saturday 11 and Sunday 12 March 2017 at Dunblane Hydro so please book your places now via  https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/scottish-council-2017-registration-28785051865. Ramblers Cymru Welsh Council will be held on Saturday 8 and Sunday 9 April 2017 at Stackpole Outdoor Learning Centre in Pembrokeshire reference http://rcwc.wales/ and bookings will open shortly. I am looking forward to attending all three Councils.

 
Policy update  - new urban policy and submission of evidence to parliamentary inquiries

We have produced a new urban policy to help us to create a country designed for walking in urban areas. This policy covers our work on parks and urban green space, active travel and access to urban areas. In the new year we will be able to provide you with further information about how you can get involved in this work, to ensure towns and cities in your areas work better for walkers.

Over recent months we have also submitted evidence to four parliamentary inquiries. As a result of these submissions, we have been invited to give oral evidence before the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Select Committee in January, in support of their current inquiry into rural economies.

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