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Wednesday, 25 January 2017

Well, That Just About Wraps It Up For The DVCRS

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SEcond in the series of blogposts starting with “That just about wraps it up for….”

The Durham Voluntary Countryside Rangers was formed about 40 years ago as an independant body and, at some point acquired administrative support from Durham Coutny Council. I joined in October 2003 as a guided walks steward and, later became a walks leader. At the time I was doing voluntary work on the Moorhouse andf Upper Teesdale NNR and they were providing lots of training, including the BMC’s Walking Group Leader qualification and, I thought that being involved in Durham County Council’s guided walks programme would be really good for that. And it was. (DCC never really understood about proper group leading qualifications, though)

Times moved on and a parsimonious government slashed local government budgets year-on-year and Durham County Council’s countryside budget began to shrink. In the face of demands for more vital services supporting vulnerable people of all kinds across the county, it seems obvious that access to the countryside would receive a much lower priority.

And so, people disappeared one by one from the countryside service…

Then, recently, it was decided that the DVCRS could no longer be supported  and it would have to move under the umbrella of all the other Durham County Council volunteering  into “Volunteer Durham”

There was an “Extraordinary”  meeting last night at County Hall who’s purpose was to rubber-stamp the extinction of DVCRS and pass the management and oversight of it’s functions to Volunteer Durham.

The meeting was emotional, to say the least. But the motion was passed despite there being little apparent support. And that is that for the DVCRS.

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We were assured that nothing much would change – we would still liaise with the remains of the countryside service and guided walks and so on would continue undisturbed. This simple fact raised a simple question , though, the answer to which seemed muddled and a bit confused. If everything stayed the same, what was the point of the change? The budget saved here would probably only provide some old lady’s home care for a week or two. Or , maybe, a councillor’s expenses for a couple of weeks… The two paid staff at the meeting seemed unable to provide a reason for the move , other than to repeat that the budget for support had gone, but nothing would change. It would all stay the same. This made no sense at all, other than registering all the volunteers under one department might be marginally cheaper. There’d be a more up-to-date database. But the database can’t have more than 300-400 records. Thats a very small database; an afternoon’s work to update at the most. So, it wasn’t that, then. (When I had a job I managed a database of 10000+ staff records, so I have some knowledge about these things)

It would be easy to point out that the DVCRS’s age profile could be described as being pretty senior, and that old folks, set in their ways, would resist  change no matter what it was. But there was a palpable feeling of betrayal, of insult, even. It was all very sad.

The problem, it seems to me, is that whilst the DVCRS committee is to be respected for it’s dedication and hard work, for some reason, likely at the behest of “officers” or, maybe, councillors, they’ve known about this since last June and have kept it principally to themselves. If this is true, its a serious error of judgement. Communications have been limited to hints that they knew something that we didn’t. So, in the end, at the last AGM, it all came as a shock. The outcome was sewn-up. There was, apparently, no other option than to roll over and vote for a dissolution. Except that there was, but the committee, apart from one individual who honorably resigned, decided, albeit regrettably not to rock any boats.

So, I have put in three proposals for guided walks for the summer programme, and, providing I’m not banned for expressing my views here, I suppose that Volunteer Durham (whoever they are) are on some kind of probation. I guess, maybe, it’ll all be alright in the end. I’ve tended to respond to council “cuts” by unilaterally reducing (cutting) my involvement. So, started with 36 walks per year, reduced to 24, reduced to 12, and now, down to 3 (maybe 6). I’m not claiming any expenses because they often/usually forget to pay and I can’t be arsed with the hassle, even though HMRC are making a charge for them (must sort this out)

But as an exercise in how to manage change, this has been a complete cock-up. You can’t keep these things to your chest, guys. You’re supposed to represent the membership, consult with them, explain what’s going on, not present a management fait-a-complit. All respect for the efforts and the hard work over the years, but this time, when it really mattered to some old folks, (DVCRS rangers) you dropped a bollock good and proper. You could have just waited till they all died. Its too late to talk now, though and you can’t resign from a committee that’s voted itself out of existense. I appreciate that in the face of people skilled at getting their own way, that resistance may have seemed futile, but you could have said this to us last June. We love you, but this time you didn’t do it right. I’m just pointing this out, albeit, too late.

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Anyway, for volunteering opportunities, there’s still Durham Wildlife Trust and, apparently, Northumberland County Council and Northumberland National Park. As for me, I’m starting applications with the North Pennines AONB to “champion” a lump of the Pennine Way. I’ve made some diary space for this.  I quite fancy the really high bit over Cross Fell…..

 

8 comments:

Anonymous said...

Well said Mike, Government are pushing the countryside access through the media.While secretly withdrawing funding to councils.

Dawn Linney said...

So sad to hear that Mike. You have put a lot of time and effort over the years. Hopefully your new venture may run a little more smoothly. If I can be of assistance in any way, well, you know where I am.

Andrew said...

False economy me thinks. Usual story that change is better when the reality is that it probably isn't needed. All that happens is that people give up and another good thing dies a death. Sad.

Anonymous said...

Hi Mike
I've been doing some informal voluntary work clearing paths in the local (DCC) country park. I was told that, for insurance reasons, if I wanted to carry on I'd have to register with Volunteer Durham. So off I went to the web page to sign up only to find that County Durham has enough volunteers thank you and registration is closed.
DCC really are rubbish at this sort of thing.

John O'Neil said...

Hi Mike
I've been doing some informal voluntary work clearing paths in the local (DCC) country park. I was told that, for insurance reasons, if I wanted to carry on I'd have to register with Volunteer Durham. So off I went to the web page to sign up only to find that County Durham has enough volunteers thank you and registration is closed.
DCC really are rubbish at this sort of thing.

Doug said...

Very true and well said as it needs to be. I agree completely.

Mike Knipe said...

Anonymous - I'm not so sure it was a very well kept secret!
Dawn - I expect Northumbria would welcome your application!
Andrew - That's what I think too - but its all about spent cash, not value. (Its an accountancy thing, we mortals aren't supposed to get it, really)
John - Your comment was so good I published it twice.(I see you had 3 efforts at the comment so I deleted one of them, but only noticed that two were the same after I'd published them) They had a "pause" on recruiting volunteers, apparently, but didn't tell anybody. My granny (who was as mad as a brick by the way) would describe this as "muckying their ticket". Communications with potential volunteers have obviously been dire to say the least - probably because there wasn't anybody doing that job. Maybe things will get better. Well done for your footpath work, though, DCC really does need more people like you.

John O'Neil said...

Blogger doesn't give any feedback at the point of submission so numskulls like me make multiple comments :(
Just a suggestion (koff, koff) but your pal (I think) Alan Sloman realises this and puts this advice on his site, 'Hi.
Because of spammers, I moderate all comments, so don't worry if your comment seems to have disappeared; It has been sent to me for approval. As soon as I see it, I'll deal with it straight away.
Thank you!'