Anyone interested in my earlier article `Rambling Through Adversity` (this blog 10 December 2009). Might be interested to know how The Ramblers are faring.
Sadly, the Scottish and Welsh offices have now been closed with a number of redundancies, leaving only one office, the organisation`s headquarters in London. As predicted, it does seem that suggestions the organisation might move it`s HQ out of London are unfounded (though many members feel such a move would be desireable !) and probably intended to annoy Chief Exec Tom Franklin.
On 24 November last year, Mr Franklin met with a number of members of The Ramblers in Leeds to put his side of the story. As always the case in this kind of situation, various views and concerns were expressed and a number of issues addressed, but a few points stand out as being of particular interest.
Pressed on the reasons for the downturn in the organisation`s finances, Franklin explained that membership, donations and income from appeals were all down, with membership standing at 125,000. Low interest rates also meant that income from assets was low, and there were problems with some legacies, property being harder to sell. Apparently he conceded that income and expenditure had only been monitored quarterly prior to the crisis, but stated that this was now being done on a monthly basis.
Franklin did, naturally, list a number of recent achievements, some of which I mentioned in my earlier article. Whatever criticisms may be levelled at Tom Franklin, there have been a number of positive results during his tenure as I`ve mentioned before.
Faced with comments that the organisation was becoming a `pedestrian` (walking for health) organisation and straying too far from it`s original campaigning role, he disputed this, pointing out that £133,000 was at that time allocated for 8 ongoing cases (Some of these have now been resolved successfully. In at least one case, the Ramblers have been able to claim costs from the other side).
It`s fair to say that not everyone was convinced and doubters are now organised around their own web site , http://concernedramblers.web.officelive.com/ . One great source of annoyance has been the decision to make cuts in the Campaigns Section, rather than one of the other areas. Another is the increasing workload of Group Secretaries etc, who are all volunteers, as The Ramblers increasingly turn their attention to urban issues such as gated alleyways. Many feel insufficient funds have been allocated to campaigns for the comning year, particularly given that many feel the Publications Section is needlessly extravagant ( £540,516.00 has been allocated to Campaigns, as compared to £667,407.00 for Marketing and Communications, £681,091.00 for Publications and £1,216,257.00 for Operations).
It does appear that some of this lobbying is having a result. Tom Franklin appeared on TV`s The One Show recently to talk about the Kinder Scout Mass Trespass (one wonders what Benny Rothman would have made of that !), and the Spring 2010 issue of Walk (http://www.walkmag.co.uk/) has more campaign news than usual.
News of office closures and redundancies sent shock waves through the organisation. Many supporters felt this very deeply, particularly since some had formed close bonds with campaign workers over the years. Poor communication with members exacerbated the problem, but there does seem to have been an issue with insufficient monitoring of income and expenditure, and also of a lack of accountability. One problem with charities, one which I`ve encountered before with another organisation, is that they`re regulated externally by the Charity Commissioners, who often seem somewhat limited in their scope for action, and internally by a Board (sometimes called a Council) of Trustees who, despite having a legal responsibility to ensure that organisations are properly run, often seem to simply rubber-stamp management decisions without subjecting them to too much scrutiny. One wonders whether a similar situation existed with The Ramblers.
Tom Franklin and The Ramblers have ambitious plans for the comming year. Whether there are sufficent funds and manpower (and whether those assets have been sensibly allocated) to deliver on those plans remains to be seen. With a history going back over 75 years, The Ramblers have (quite literally in some cases) weathered a few storms and I feel certain the organisation as a whole will live to fight another day !
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