Delegates at the UK Community Volunteer Conference 2012.
IET volunteers from across the UK gather in London.
The 2012 UK Community Volunteer Conference – dubbed ‘UK Communities Together’ – took place in London on 12 and 13 October.
As the ‘Volunteer Conference Weekends’ of previous years had been held in the same venue and at the same time of the year, it was agreed to try to make this event as different to the old VCWs as possible.
The organisers were also aware that volunteers would be giving up a weekend to attend the event, so they felt it was necessary to ensure that it was both enjoyable and worthwhile for all concerned.
Bearing in mind the budget, they decided that a one day conference was the way forward. They scheduled the start of the conference for the Saturday, with a pre-event dinner on the Friday night, to give those not able to travel until after work on Friday the chance to still attend the main sessions the next day.
Luckily, most of the delegates were able to make the dinner, which was more than a little bit different to previous years. Organiser Rhys Phillips said: “We wanted to keep the bit that worked well last year – the informal Q&A with the outgoing and incoming presidents. We also wanted to entertain people and we wanted to reward communities in the UK that had been ‘doing good stuff’.”
The conference chair was Jon Holt, an IET member, head of systems engineering – and an escapologist. So, a few months earlier, Rhys asked incoming IET president Andy Hopper if he’d be happy to be put inside a straitjacket at the dinner.
Rhys said: “He said yes and then promptly forgot about it until the night. Or so he said... I got up and tied Andy in the straitjacket. Nobody was expecting him to escape. But he did! Everyone was amazed until we later found out that Andy had been having lessons from Jon over Skype – still an impressive achievement but it does show how cunning our new president can be...”
The evening also saw light-hearted ‘Community awards’ given out, which recognised the community event with the most long-winded title, the speaker with the longest beard, and the community that had simultaneously booked events and committee meetings at the same time the most often. It finished with IET vice president Alan Watts doing his best Fluff Freeman impression and giving everyone the ‘Top 10 Misconceptions that volunteers have about the IET’.
The key theme for the conference was getting IET communities to work together – meaning Local Networks, Technical and Professional Networks, staff, Young Professionals, and many other volunteering categories. The organisers were pleased to have good representation from all groups on the day.
They also wanted to make sure that volunteers had their say at the event and were not ‘talked at’. With this in mind, there was only an hour of ‘being talked at’ throughout the whole day. The morning commenced with a brief 15 minute update on IET strategy, a talk on communities working together, a briefing on the IET’s sectors and an explanation of the Academic and Corporate Partner programmes. These last two were topics we perceived to be least understood by volunteers in the UK. Each of those sessions was followed by 15 minutes of discussion.
Next up, volunteer-chaired breakout sessions were held. Participants were asked to discuss topics such as communication between staff and volunteers, community policy (for example, how long should someone serve in one position) and specialist communities (for example, technical sections and geographically based micro-communities).
After lunch came training sessions. This was one of the most popular elements at the 2011 Volunteer Conference Weekend, so the organisers wanted to keep this aspect in and develop it further. The sessions were run in parallel by a mixture of staff and volunteers, on the following topics: working with schools, finance, mentoring, event planning, marketing/communications and MyCommunity.
The afternoon finished with five volunteers presenting on an idea from their community that had improved the way they do things. There was also a reprise of ‘Alan Fluff Watts’ and the top 10 things that event delegates told the organisers throughout the day.
Rhys said: “Everything other than the dinner was filmed – the main sessions by IET but also the breakout sessions by volunteers using a free web service, which allowed people at home to watch online and use the chat facility to interact. The event received positive feedback and enjoyed by all – organisers and delegates.”
For more information on the ‘UK Communities Together’ event, please see Alan Watts’ VP Blog on MyCommunity.