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Raynes Park and West Barnes Residents' Association
Serving the community since 1928

For want of a nail ...

There are some disturbing notices being posted (at the time of writing, in December 2000) around Motspur Park and West Barnes about the winding down of the Association - not because of a lack of members or workers - but because although we have plenty of "Indians" we have too few "Chiefs". This might be thought to be an unusual situation. It is not. But, as the famous poem goes, for the want of a nail, the war was lost.

Widespread problem

Last month, Betty Claircourt and I raised this problem (by way of apology for our repeated absence from the meetings during the year) in the hope that representatives of the group might be able to tell me where we have gone wrong. For it is true to say that I, at least, feel I have failed you in not being able to find the necessary enthusiastic replacements for either of the two key posts of Chairman and Secretary of the Association.

It seems, however, that this is a universal problem - not only with Residents Associations - but also with many other worthy voluntary organisations, clubs and societies. A number of representatives of the Wimbledon Union of Residents' Associations came up to me after the meeting and said "I know just how you feel - Iíve been Chairman for seven years, and no-one else is prepared to take the job on". Or "at every AGM I ask members if they want us to continue to watch over and protect our local environment. They all raise their hands and murmur fervent agreement. But when I ask for volunteers for the Committee, to help with the work and keep us going, itís eyes down, much shuffling of feet and a stunned silence".

Avoidance of 'Responsibility'

What is going wrong with our Society? Of course, I understand that the pace of life is somewhat frenetic these days, particularly where our younger members are concerned. Most families of this era have two working parents and simply donít have much time available. On the other hand, people are retiring younger - and indeed staying younger for longer - and one would have thought that such people would welcome the diversionary interest that active membership of the Association can offer. And, in fact, they do. For, as I have said, we have no shortage of active workers prepared to take on a limited and clearly defined rô such as Road Steward or Area Chairman, but they are shying away from the "ultimate responsibility" of taking a leading rôle.

Getting involved

I have been asked what is actually involved in the rôle of Association Chairman and Secretary. The answer, to quote Paul Daniels, is "not a lot". Particularly when all the Officer posts are filled. Who are these officers and what do they do?

In the best of all worlds, the Chairman is largely the "front" man or woman. The spokesperson to be quoted in the press when there is an issue. He or she must, therefore, have a finger on the pulse. The Chairmanís main responsibility is simply that : to chair the regular meetings of the Association, be the titular head and voice of the organisation, and make decisions about what (or what not) involvement the Association should have in particular issues. He or she should also (but doesnít have to) write a short piece for each monthís "Guide" commenting on the issues of the day.

The real hard worker is the Secretary (if there is one!). Between meetings, the Secretary is usually the first point of contact for enquiries and/or concerns, and for putting members in touch with the right Council Department or other organisation who can help. The Secretary will also write letters (where these are necessary) and generally keep things ticking over. In addition, he or she should provide a short piece about the work of the Association for The Guide each month. The Secretary should also make sure that any correspondence in connection with The Association is answered, and that relevant letters (not sent directly to the Editor) are passed over for inclusion in the magazine. The Association Secretary may also be responsible for convening any meetings called, and producing notes or Minutes of these meetings, however, when there is someone available, this part of the job can be separated out and done by a Minutes Secretary.

The Editor has a tighter remit, being responsible for producing "The Guide". This involves collecting in all the material for each issue and ensuring it is with the printer on time. It often involves nagging the various contributors who are late with their copy; editing out mistakes and inappropriate material, and finding "fillers" to fill the blank spaces. Currently, Wendy also acts as Advertisement Manager, and so she also has to invoice advertisers and ensure they are sent a copy of "The Guide" each month.

The Distribution Manager takes delivery of "The Guide" from the printer in the last few days of each month, and ensures that the right number of copies are promptly delivered to Area Co-Ordinators for onward distribution to the Road Stewards.

The amount of work any of these jobs entail depends entirely on the post-holder and his or her way of handling the tasks. Each Chairman and Secretary brings with him or her, their own strengths and style. There are NO laid down rules about how the job is to be done, only that it is done to the best of their ability. The amount of time involved very reasonable, always provided all the posts are filled.

Unthinkable

It is unthinkable that this truly marvellous and unique Residentsí Association should wind down or put in mothballs. The latter would spell its death knell anyway. It simply must not happen, especially in the first year of the Millennium. I could say it will happen "over my dead body" - but that is a risk Iím not prepared to take. As Garry Hunt has said over and over again, he, Wendy and I have been in the "hot seat" for far too long and thatís part of the problem. I suspect that some members have looked at us and said "I couldnít do that" (for whatever reason), and perhaps our style, our being around for such a long time, our views, have simply put people off. No one need feel that, however, because the man makes the job. Anyone prepared to take one of these jobs on will do it their way and will be answerable to no one but themselves and members of the Association.

Jill Truman (Vice-Chairman, RP&WBRA)