Branch Chair’s Report 2012-2013

The following report was presented at the Branch AGM on April 14th 2013.

RLSS Surrey Branch – Chair’s Report 2012-2013

Those of you who were at the Branch Competition a month ago, understand why I am feeling so excited about lifesaving in Surrey right now.  Nearly a hundred competitors, plus their Instructors, Team Managers and parents, friends and family members, packed into the Woking Leisure Centre pools and had an uproarious time.  Organising events like this involves a lot of people and this one demonstrates the need we have in the Branch right now for more and more people to get involved.

Kudos to Rowena for picking up the threads from the Youth Committee, to Stephanie for keeping it in line with national standards, to the half a dozen judges and timekeepers (including one parent who almost returned to lifesaving that night), to the team managers on the night, and the Instructors who had factored in preparation for competitions over the weeks and months beforehand.  And, to the taxi-drivers who sat and watched from the gallery.  Nearly a hundred people took part.  And still, there were clubs, secondary schools, and swim schools not represented – and only one leisure centre entered a team.  We could realistically set ourselves the goal of doubling the participation next year!

I’ve agreed with Alison that I shalln’t steal her thunder this year by reporting on all the exciting things we have planned for the next twelve months. The Lifesaving Coordinator is one of the hardest working roles – you might not believe just how many enquiries are made each day, how many questions are unique and need a balanced response and often detailed follow-up with River House or elsewhere.  And, then there’s all the calls at the last minute to get people out of a fix.  We could all do our bit to save Alison some of this effort, but regardless, we are extremely fortunate to have such an asset amongst our midst.

The transition to Survive and Save has gone remarkably well.  Although the number of Awards taken will have taken a hit in this hand-over (and I think Gail will provide the statistics later), the clubs and instructors have risen to the challenge of change superbly.  The enthusiasm from young people is just as strong as ever, they are encouraging their friends to take part, and looking forward to the far wider-reaching syllabus.  I had one young man (a 14yr old) approach me the other evening – he wanted me to spell out what was involved in all the elements of the awards and how he might achieve his Distinction Award.  I don’t think I ever had such a conversation with anyone about the old Distinction Award – and if I did they would have been in their late teens.  That’s what I call inspiring aspiration.

With more of the awards being processed centrally, the focus of the work of the Awards Officer has shifted, but keeping track of all that’s happening is a significant administrative task and I’d like to thank Gail on our behalf for all her hard work.

Another role that is easily overlooked and yet is crucial – is that of the Safeguarding Officer.  Every couple of years those us in regular contact with young people have to go through the vetting process.  This not only protects these children but also establishes the credibility of the RLSS.  In our Branch, Lucy has been quietly keeping us all on our toes and making sure that these checks are carried out in a timely fashion.  As more and more people get involved, so the workload increases.  So, I’d like to thank Lucy for her efforts.

In the last year, we’ve not only converted most of our Trainer/Assessors to Survive and Save Instructors, but we’ve trained many new ones, and brought into our fold a number of school PE teachers and swimming teachers.    The average age of our Instructor community is dropping – it is perfectly reasonable for a 15yr old to be getting involved in teaching these days and those who go on to University can expect to have a proper sport teaching qualification to take with them.  

This frees the rest of us up to do more – any S&S Instructor can become a Tutor and teach new Instructors, we can seed new clubs and classes, we can focus on the more ‘adventurous’ activities – open water and beach, and we can coach competitive lifesavers.  At Branch, Regional and National level, the Society needs more people to become involved in officiating, campaigning and promoting.

Several of our clubs are at capacity, and one has had (and continues to have) a waiting list for over 6 months.  Another is negotiating more pool time.  

We have recently started a new dedicated Sport section open to anyone in Surrey which meets most Friday evenings in Dorking.  

Over last summer, we ran two still-water weekends and one beach weekend, which not only enabled many to take their very first specialist Survive and  Save awards, but also allowed several Instructors to qualify to run courses in open water.   In the past, some clubs have turned up, aimed for minimum immersion, put their classes through the Bronze or Silver Cross assessment and then rushed off home.  The new S&S awards are not designed for this kind of approach.  They are about gaining experience in a different medium.  This takes a bit more time and effort.  And, as Instructors, it is our job to create a fun, enjoyable time that also challenges.  Last summer’s weekend in Eastbourne involved swimming, using all kinds of rescue equipment, and translating book-learning into reality.  The culmination – after all the awards had been assessed – was a two-mile ‘expedition’ paddle in glorious sun.  This is the kind of thing that turns interested kids into lifelong lifesavers.  They aren’t present today, but I’d like to record our huge thanks to Eastbourne Volunteer Lifeguards for their hospitality, and to Frank and Kathryn for making it all happen so smoothly.

The Society has been encouraging Branches to make sure that more younger people are involved in their running – so we created a dedicated Youth Committee which met a number of times and has been closely involved in organising several of the activities this year.   Their main focus was on the SE Region youth conference.  To be honest, it was disappointing that so few Surrey club members attended the day.  I gather it was great fun, taught skills in new and exciting ways, made things fall into place for many, but above all else helped those who did go understand how they fit into the bigger family of the RLSS.  The trouble with Youth Committees is that people outgrow them!  Almost as soon as they start to get involved, people are off to University, embarking on careers, starting families and so on.  The Society has a kind of arbitrary top age level of 26, so if there are ANY keen people who are under that age, we would welcome them into the committee.  If you let myself, Rowena or Jessica know then we will try to find ways of getting them involved. In the meantime, let’s say thank you to the Youth Committee collectively for their efforts.

This year, mainly through Stephanie, Rowena and Karen Wheatley’s efforts, we have begun to embrace social media.  Not only do we have our Branch website, which has been going for ten years now, but we have a Facebook page, a Twitter feed, and fairly regular news updates.  It really is very easy to get started but it requires effort to manage and invigorate these.  They are our primary means of communicating with members, but they also raise awareness of the Society and the Branch to a wider community (and Facebook especially offers the potential to embrace young people and their mothers and grandmothers!).  That isn’t meant to be sexist even if it sounds like it – Facebook’s demographics are well known.  If we could only find someone who could tackle this strategically, and at the same time would be prepared to roll up their shirt-sleeves and do it with us, then we could attract many more people to our work.

No one really doubts the benefits of lifesaving to the community.  It is an excellent means of building fitness, encourages leadership qualities among young people, and imparts skills that can literally save a life – what’s more it is accessible to people of all ages.  It would be great if even more people could benefit.  

These things take effort though and the burden falls on too few shoulders.  We desperately need more committed volunteers who are prepared to take on something to help us grow.   This can range from organising an aspect of one of our events – such as the accommodation for the beach weekends or programmes and a prize draw at the Branch Competition – to longer terms roles, such as managing our web-presence or setting up a new club.  (There are parts of the county where it is almost unbelievable that there isn’t one already – there must be a market even if we need to stir up the demand.)  

If you feel you’re interested in doing something, even if you’re not entirely sure what, then PLEASE give me a call and let’s see what’s possible.  I haven’t mentioned everyone that contributes, and I hope that you’ll forgive me for that, but let’s just acknowledge the efforts of all those others, now.

Interestingly, over time roles do change and we have to be flexible.  With the introduction of centralised accounting, and the almost universal use of email for communication, the roles of treasurer and secretary are reducing in scale.  To such an extent, that many Branches are looking at their combination in one Administrator position.

Always in the fore, Surrey Branch, for some years, have had just this.  Albeit more from necessity than plan.  

And this brings me to the saddest part of my report.   Over the last two or three we have been very fortunate in having an excellent ‘Administrator’.   But, of course, Stephanie’s involvement with the Society and the Branch goes back MUCH further.  Those of you who are familiar with the book on the History of Lifesaving, will know that Stephanie’s picture is in there – and I’m not going to embarrass her by saying when from!  She remains dedicated to the Society – travelling literally around the world supporting it.  She is continuing to do this, but she has decided to move away from Surrey and is now beginning to embrace a different Branch.  We would like to honour all that she has done, and so I am going to close and hand over to Clive to say a few words.

Thank you.

Graham Wilson (Dr)