23 May 2017
Since I last wrote to you I have completed my first 100 days with the Ramblers. I have thoroughly enjoyed the journey so far. My aims for this financial year are simple: to climb my own learning curve, help us work effectively as one team, and prioritise the existing strategic framework into a workable business plan. Thank you all for the generous way you have shared your time and your wisdom so freely with me to date. I have learnt a great deal and I still have much to learn…
I think we have made good progress in working as one team, united in our shared vision of a country where everyone can enjoy the outdoors on foot. I hope this monthly update has been useful in this regard. Please continue to tell me if there are topics you would like to see included in future editions. With regards to the business plan, staff and trustees have worked well together to agree priorities, which will result in an exciting and ambitious – but deliverable – three year plan in September.
We discussed the business plan at an excellent board meeting in Edinburgh last weekend. It was wonderful to welcome our new trustees. The board elected Kate Ashbrook as vice chair and elected two co-opted trustees, Aynsley Jardin and Phillip Kerry, to bring essential membership and fundraising expertise into the team. The board reviewed the encouraging feedback from General Council and started to consider how best to share progress on the motions across the coming year.
The board also discussed the findings from the area and group survey which you can read more about in this newsletter. Thank you again to everyone who contributed to this valuable exercise. If you are interested in finding out more about the board meetings, from the end of this month, the minutes will be made available more rapidly than has previously been the case, and will be accessible to Ramblers members only. Please see the update in this newsletter for more details.
The trustees also took two excellent walks despite the wet weather, and were rewarded with breath-taking views from the top of the Salisbury Crags. I have joined some fantastic Ramblers events over the last month; including accompanying our new President to the terrific Kinder Trespass 85th anniversary celebration in Edale and enjoying the wonderful Big Welsh Walk. We are in a digital age, but nothing will ever replace the immediacy and impact of meeting and sharing, walking and talking, in person.
I have also joined many meetings with other organisations recently. I share Helen Keller’s view that “Alone we can do so little, together we can do so much”. It has been a pleasure to meet the Ramblers Holidays Charitable Trust, Ramblers Walking Holidays, Long Distance Walkers Association, Living Streets and Sport England. In a crowded environment, we need to work with like minded organisations and align our resources with others wherever it is sensible to do so.
Whilst I am writing about resources, you may be aware that our temporary arrangements for Area Support cease in September. As General Council noted, this is vital work and we have now agreed to recruit an Area Support Manager (ASM) with immediate effect. The ASM will report into me and have one North and one South Support Officer reporting into them, to support the 44 English areas. The ASM will also work closely with the nations, to support the 8 Scottish and 7 Welsh areas. We will pilot this arrangement for two years and decide on future plans at the end of this period.
The rest of this newsletter contains the usual mix of “new news” and updates on key campaigns, events and activities. I am sure many of you have already entered General Election information-overload. I certainly have.
I am greatly saddened by the attack in Manchester last night. General election campaigning is understandably paused right now, but I urge you to read the Ramblers manifesto for a walking Britain and contact your parliamentary candidates over the next fortnight once campaigning resumes. The online tool below is easy to use and will enable you to email local candidates in a minute, to ensure they hear the voices of walkers.
Vanessa Griffiths, chief executive officer
Phone: 020 7339 8578
General Election – please help us build support for a walking Britain by contacting candidates
As the General Election approaches, members across the country have been contacting their candidates to call for a walking Britain. Thank you to everyone who has taken action already. With only a few weeks until polling day, now is the time for us to highlight our work protecting the places we love to walk and promoting active, healthy lifestyles.
With Brexit on the horizon, the future relationship between the UK and the EU is set to take centre stage. This gives us a unique opportunity to develop a new agricultural policy that delivers improved access for walkers. That is why we are calling on the Government to ensure agricultural subsidies for farmers and landowners are used to enhance access to the places we love to walk.
Whilst Brexit will dominate the election, this doesn’t mean that other issues should be overlooked. Our manifesto, which you can read here, sets out our vision for a walking Britain which:
• puts walking at the centre of efforts to improve public health;
• makes towns and cities safe and attractive for walking;
• supports the England Coast Path and the future of National Trails.
Post-Brexit agricultural payments – please share any partnership stories with us
We’ve just finished our members’ consultation on post-Brexit agricultural payments. 28 members sent written responses (some on behalf of groups or committees), encompassing a broad range of perspectives.
Stoke Bardolph case – update on High Court decision and next steps
In January 2016 the trustees agreed to take this case in Nottinghamshire to the High Court with funds from the designated legal fund to the tune of £90,000. Unfortunately in April 2017 we lost this case, which concerned the protection of paths which cross railway lines. The trustees, via the mission sub-committee, have now had an opportunity to decide, based on staff recommendation, whether the Ramblers should appeal and have decided against this.
The decision not to appeal was made for four main reasons. First, the lawyers advised that we have no more than a 50% chance of succeeding. Secondly, the cost of appealing (and first obtaining permission and a protective costs order) was high. Thirdly, it now appears that rather than just locking the gates on non-definitive paths that Network Rail wish to shut, they will (as in East Anglia) include them in the orders under the Transport and Works Act, so that such closures will have a right of objection and will be determined by due process. Fourthly, the judgment leaves the law no ‘worse’ than the blue book has long stated it to be.
Network Rail campaign – progress update on this ongoing campaign
In March and April, Network Rail formally applied to the Secretary of State for Transport for orders to be made under the Transport and Works Act to extinguish rights of way (or alleged ones) which cross railways on the level. This is the first part of their national scheme to improve safety on the railways.
The Ramblers remain concerned that this severance could severely affect the rights of way network, removing everyday short-cut utilitarian paths, and imposing long, artificial ‘dog-leg’ alternatives likely to deter rather than encourage walking, or lead to walking on dangerous roads (with, in some instances, no footways and poor sightlines) where it is obvious that retaining the status quo is far safer from the responsible walker’s point of view.
The Ramblers approach is to assess each case on its merits, and to oppose any unsuitable proposals, rather than to oppose the principle of the scheme. We believe that engaging with Network Rail and the Department for Transport, demonstrating to them the value of walking and its importance (not just for recreation but as a means of local, sustainable transport), will achieve a more effective and acceptable outcome than full-on opposition.
Ramblers’ volunteers in the presently-affected areas – Cambridgeshire, Essex, Hertfordshire and Suffolk – deserve enormous thanks for their sterling work in assessing the individual proposals, and in assisting staff in putting together formal submissions to the Secretary of State. Our representations and objections are now with the Secretary of State, who in due course will announce whether they are to be determined by public inquiry (as we would hope) or by written representations.
Local organisers – let us know if you would like to be involved in the shortlisting process
We just wanted to give you a quick update on recruitment for our volunteer local organiser network. Thank you so much to everyone who has taken the time to feedback and show your support so far. We’ve had a great response and we’re currently reviewing the applications.
We are aiming to hold a group induction and training day over the summer. We therefore hope to complete a first round of recruitment over the next month or so - although recruitment for this role will be open-ended to ensure we can benefit from as many people getting involved as possible. Please get in touch with Laura Burley, campaigns officer if you’d like to be involved in the shortlisting process for your area.
We’ve created this new role to help us to extend our reach and have more impact with our campaigns locally. We recognise that volunteers are already heavily committed, so made a decision to support this role centrally. However, for this role to be successful, it is essential that the new volunteers work well with area and group volunteers - to benefit from existing expertise and experience within areas and groups - particularly when it comes to working with local authorities.
The exact nature of this role will differ between areas, to meet local needs, and will be agreed in consultation with areas. For example, volunteers could run local elements of national Ramblers campaigns (such as Pathwatch) or focus on a specific local issue that affects walkers. There’s more information about this role and how we hope local organisers will work with areas and groups on our website here.
We’ll keep you updated as recruitment progresses. In the meantime, if you know someone who you think would be perfect for this role, and they have not yet applied, please encourage them to do so.
Ramblers Roadshows – please book your free places at the national events in Swansea and Edinburgh
Please book your free place on a Ramblers Roadshow, which we are running in partnership with Ramblers Walking Holidays. The 2017 roadshows have had received terrific feedback and are designed to help people get the most out of their membership and meet other members, walking experts and specialist partners. There are still places available at our national events in Swansea (24 June 2017) and Edinburgh (15 July 2017). The Roadshows offer opportunities to further develop your skills as a walker and/or as a Ramblers volunteer. Further details can be found here.
Board minutes – how to access them once they become available to members only
Following a discussion at the February board meeting it was agreed that from the end of May the 2017 board minutes will be made available on our website as soon as they are approved by the board, for members only. It was also agreed that we will publish these minutes more quickly after board meetings than has previously been the case. Please refer to the relevant page on our website.
If you are a Ramblers member, from the end of this month you will be able to access 2017 minutes on the website in the same place as before, but you will now need to click on the link which will appear on the screen to access them. If you are not logged into the website as a member, you will not be able to access the 2017 minutes. A message will appear on screen asking for your website log-in details. From the end of June all board minutes prior to 2017 will also only be available to members, rather than to the general public.
Area and group survey – thank you for your input and please read the key findings here
Between January and March 2017, we ran a survey asking group and area volunteers for your views on the support you currently receive and the support you would like to have in the future. Thank you to everyone who took part. We've have had a tremendous response rate and you can read the key findings online. The findings will inform our business planning and help us improve support for groups and areas in the future, including through the tapestry programme (a series of new projects to review and update our current information and communications technology). We will share this information shortly via a separate email to group chairs and secretaries and will be in touch again with the timeframes for some resulting initial improvements this autumn.
Volunteer certificates – please submit any new nominations by the 31 May deadline
Please keep submitting nominations for volunteers who should be recognised for their outstanding contributions to the Ramblers, so that they can receive the appropriate certificates, commendations and thanks. These certificates are produced three times a year and the next deadline for nominations is at the end of this month (31 May 2017).
Area funding – please note submission dates and look out for the budget pack this month
At this time of the year we start the budgeting cycle for our next financial year (which begins in October). The budget pack, which contains templates and guidelines, will be circulated to area treasurers by the end of May. Area treasurers will then disseminate the group packs. This year the final deadline for submission by areas to the GB finance team will be 31 August 2017. Please remember that although treasurers are responsible for submitting the budgets, it is the responsibility of the whole committee to consider ongoing funding needs and to input into the budget setting exercise.
Wildlife and Countryside Link – please note that we are no longer members
Last month, as part of a review of our approach to advocacy, mission sub-committee and staff took the decision to end our membership of Wildlife and Countryside Link. This will enable us to focus our influencing work more clearly on our core mission. As some of you may know, the Ramblers were a founding member of Link, an alliance of over 40 conservation charities, and we will continue to work collaboratively with them in the future. However, we believe we need to target our scarce resources more closely on protecting and promoting access, especially in the context of a new government.
The “win” at Harrow School – update on a great success story
By now you may already have read about this “win” in the national press. It was a pleasing result and, despite the ingenious magniloquence of a QC and specialist junior counsel, local Ramblers helped residents to defeat a proposal to divert an ancient, direct footpath which goes across what are now playing-fields belonging to Harrow school, on to an unsatisfactory line. The result would have been unnatural zig-zag paths, with the fine views and sense of historical directness removed. The Ramblers made the main case at a public inquiry at which many local residents and the local MP gave evidence alongside ours in objection. So an old and very attractive path has been saved from an unsuitable diversion and Ramblers’ work has benefited the local community.
Ramblers Scotland – core path campaign, John o’Groats Trail and funding competition
We’re determined to see all Scottish core paths added to OS maps, and you can pledge your support here. However, we recognise that in the meantime some paths need to be maintained, improved and protected, so we’re delighted that a blocked Fife path was reopened in early May, thanks to campaigning from local Ramblers. The core path linking Lochgelly and Cowdenbeath had been blocked for almost a year using locks, fences, anti-theft paint and four-inch nails – contravening Scottish access rights. Fife members repeatedly wrote to their council before deciding to approach local media, with support from our director Brendan Paddy. Just two weeks later, the barricade was finally removed. Well done to all involved.
Inverness Ramblers & fellow volunteers are doing fabulous work to create a walking route linking John o’Groats with Inverness. Under the chairmanship of Ramblers member Jay Wilson, the Friends of the John o’Groats Trail have run dozens of maintenance days, won funding and formed friendly partnerships with local farmers and landowners. A lot of work still needs to be done to complete the trail, and if you’d like to volunteer to help, check out the Friends’ website here.
Has your group got a cracking idea for a project, but haven’t yet had the funds to make it happen? Scottish council executive committee has up to £500 you can pitch for – but we need your applications by 11 June. Up to five groups will be invited to pitch to a friendly version of the ‘Dragon’s Den’. The forms, named 'Scottish Council challenge', are here.
Ramblers Cymru – Big Welsh Walk, Let’s Walk Cymru and Designated Landscapes Review
Ramblers Cymru are currently celebrating the success of the Big Welsh Walk. The day went fantastically, with 231 participants walking over 2000 miles. It was great to welcome a diverse group of people, 67% of whom were non-members. Going through the feedback, the participants seemed particularly impressed with the footpath maintenance work which had been completed in the area in advance, especially for the event. They also enjoyed the general atmosphere. It’s amazing what you can achieve with a great team, lots of external support and some amazing volunteers.
The Welsh Government has funded Ramblers Cymru for a further six months to run the Let's Walk Cymru scheme. The grant is for £128k and is a holding position whilst Welsh Government align their new well-being bond. Ramblers Cymru has also now appointed a full Welsh staff team, including the new role of walking spaces officer. This officer will work closely with the Cambrian Way Trust, footpath volunteers and local authorities and will develop a community council engagement toolkit.
National Parks and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty in Wales are facing a period of uncertainty as the Government looks to act on the recent Review of Designated Landscapes. We are concerned that the proposed way forward detracts from the key emphasis on the conservation of these beautiful places and people’s enjoyment of them; instead, leaning towards economic development and changes to planning powers. An emergency motion passed at Welsh Council in April made members’ views clear and we will be pressing Welsh Government to involve Ramblers in any decisions so that we can play our part in protecting access and walking in these treasured places.