Hi, I’m Barry. I qualified as a veteran in 1998 having completed 25 years service, attended my first Reunion in 1999, joined the Management Committee in 2000 and enjoyed a 14 year stint as Secretary before handing over to Colin Fletcher.
Like many, I turned up at my first Reunion, enjoyed the craic, a few beers and a nice meal without realising the amount of work that went into ensuring the day was a success. I think it appropriate that I reveal the secrets to a perfect Reunion.
First, there is the planning. For the 2023 Reunion, this started in January 2022 when we decided on the Date and Venue so it could be included in the Newsletter. Our Chairman asked the Committee to table suggestions for President and Speaker at the next meeting.
Our next meeting was in February when these suggestions were discussed and a President and Speaker were provisionally selected.
In April, these selections were confirmed with formal invitations to be issued.
Following the 2022 Reunion, we held a detailed review into what went wrong (not much), what went right (almost everything) and what could be done better (there’s always something). We then reviewed the arrangements for the 2023 Reunion making some minor tweaks. Then, our discussions turned to the theme for the coaster with suggestions invited for the next meeting.
Since Covid, all our meetings have been via zoom except the December one. This has its advantages (some of us have to drive to Chelmsford, difficult to find a suitable venue) but also disadvantages (easier to discuss some things face to face). We find that this mix of on-line and face to face works well and intend to continue with it for the future.
At the December meeting, the coaster theme was decided. There were initial discussions around the menu selection, ticket pricing and a possible change to the day of the Reunion. It was decided to conduct a survey of those receiving the newsletter to see what was felt about changing to a Friday or Sunday to achieve a lower cost/price.
Between the December and January meetings we received an initial design for the coaster. There were some changes proposed to this design which were incorporated in the final version.
Our January Meeting saw us confirm this design and decide on the quantity to be ordered. We also discussed the menu, deciding to conduct a poll via email. This gave rise to the selected menu (so if you didn’t like it, it’s not my fault).
The April Meeting, this is the biggie! The Reunion arrangements were reviewed (for the umpteenth time). Duties were allocated/confirmed (MC, Merchandise sales, Absent Veterans, Loyal Toast etc.). Raffle prizes were organised. Secretary reported ticket sales. Committee arrival time set. Fingers crossed that nothing goes wrong in the 3 weeks before the day.
All the above was just one item on the agenda of our meetings. Other items include noting the passing of Veterans (regrettably many) and signing of new (regrettably few), reviewing our finances, participation in various relevant exhibitions etc. and the Newsletter amongst others. Our meetings generally last around 90 minutes.
Then there’s the implementation. When I joined the Committee, Bernard Hazleton was Secretary and he had the Reunion running like a well oiled machine. However, Bernard was not a computer man and his system was paper based and laborious but it worked! When Bernard announced that he wished to retire and I agreed to take over, I worked with him for a year. His system was logical, easy to understand and worked well. But I could see many areas where it could be computerised to reduce the work.
Firstly, I moved the membership database from DBase to an Excel spreadsheet so I could extract information into the Reunion spreadsheet.
Then I created a spreadsheet that duplicated the input side of Bernard’s system and provided the outputs automatically without any manual effort.
As the years passed, I have tweaked things to provide instant access to various information that would have taken Bernard hours to do.
- The List of attendees builds continuously as tickets are sold.
- There is a list of those who attended the previous year but have not yet bought a ticket (helps with chasing).
- A list of the number of Veterans for each ‘Company’ (helps with table planning).
All the time, I have tried to work to the principle of ‘If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’ only try and make things easier.
I’ll now hand over to Colin who can talk of the changes he has made. I am proud of the fact that I managed to bring things into the 20th Century but Colin has moved us into the 21st Century.
Colin here. Firstly, a big Thank You to Barry.
I became a Veteran after meeting Peter Turrall in, of all places, the waiting area of the GP’s surgery. Peter, always on the ball, asked why I was not a Veteran and before I could say ‘There’s no place like home’ I was whisked away to the MVA. To continue…
‘What have I done?’ That was the first question I asked myself after the 2017 Reunion.
I was currently on a run down to retirement at the end of 2017 and thought to myself ‘I need something to keep me occupied during retirement’. Meanwhile at the Reunion a little bird whispered (?) in my ear that Barry was looking for someone (anyone?) to take on the role of Secretary. Fortified with several glasses of house red, I cast aside my shyness and approached Barry and volunteered to take on said role. ‘Alea iacta est’. Before I knew it I was on the Committee as the Apprentice for the office of Secretary.
So began a year’s apprenticeship under Barry’s guidance. Barry explained the mechanisms of being Secretary. Over the years Barry had created a straightforward method. Through all of it Barry emphasised ‘Do it your way’. (This will happen, but first learn and understand the system before making changes – if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!).
The baptism of fire began with the 2019 Reunion. It started with the invitations and Newsletter to be printed and posted. This meant contacting Leonardo and arranging for the printing of over one thousand Newsletters and associated cover letters and forms. In addition a request for stationery and postage.
The newsletters are printed; and now begins the traditional ceremony of ‘Envelope Stuffing’. The Committee members congregate and stuff the pre- addressed envelopes with a copy of the Newsletter, the covering letter and invitation and the form for Subscription and Reunion. The envelopes are sorted according to destination and conveyed to the post room at Leonardo. Here they are sent Worldwide. The majority are in the UK but there are some which reach the other side of the world.
Meanwhile the design for the Coaster has been agreed and an order placed.
Sure enough, a week after the Newsletters have been sent out, the replies start arriving through the letterbox. Most are completed forms with a cheque and some with messages from those members unable to attend. Sadly some are returned unopened.
Regular trips to the bank to pay in cheques were occurring, sometimes three times a week.
The 2019 Reunion was the first that I organised/arranged/monitored. Unfortunately there were complaints about the service at the Reunion. This did not bode well for the future. Never mind we shall soldier on.
2020 arrives with an uncertain future. Although the newsletter has been printed and posted and cheques are pouring in, the Covid lockdown strikes. The 2020 Reunion is cancelled. It couldn’t happen at a worse time. 2020 was the centenary of the historic Dame Nellie Melba broadcast from New Street. Suddenly the task of organising refunds or credits for the Reunion payments becomes necessary.
That year we lose Veterans to Covid, including our Treasurer Don Mott, 2019 President John Bower and others.
During this dark period the following events force changes:
- Zoom emerges from the shadows to enable contact between friends and family. This also allows MVA Management Committee meetings to take place. This reduces the need to travel to meetings and becomes environmentally friendly. In addition meetings can be recorded, which speeds up meetings as there is little need to take notes for the minutes. However it does mean the Secretary attends the meetings in triplicate; once for real and twice while writing the minutes.
- Hamptons is sold and will no longer serve alcohol. This forces a change of venue.
- The new venue is prompted by the CH Tower at Baddow being granted protected status, and brings Pontlands into focus. Pontlands is close to the CH Tower and the Baddow Research site – ideal for next Reunion.
- The payment system for subscriptions and Reunion tickets is enhanced by allowing Members to pay by bank transfer, which greatly reduces the need for cheques.
- Following a survey the number of newsletters is reduced from over 1,100 to approximately 300. For some time newsletters were being sent out with only 25% response.
2021 arrives with Covid still a threat. The Committee decides to hold the Reunion in September and gradually return to the April date by holding the 2022 Reunion in July. It is at the 2021 Reunion that tickets now have special dietary information printed on them.
The Reunion is a success. The Pontlands staff are helpful and efficient at all levels of the organisation and along with the feedback encourages the Committee to
continue booking Pontlands for future Reunions.
2022 The July Reunion sees the introduction of a Card Reader for Merchandise payments.
2023 and the Reunion is back to the regular April slot.