Although this conference is held annually, this is the first time I have attended. I did so because the working group I am chairing at the RFU is looking at a Volunteer Pathway and this was the ideal forum to get ideas and opinions from grass-roots level. It was held in the beautiful surroundings of the Forest of Arden Country Club over the weekend of 14/15 May.
I opened the conference by explaining my own rugby journey from a minis parent to Council Member and talking about the work of our group. There are pathways for players, coaches and referees but nothing for volunteers, so we are looking at something that starts with recruitment at club level and ends with being a member of the RFU Management Board with support, mentoring and leadership training at various stages along the way.
The first session was about Recruitment led by RFU Volunteer Engagement Manager Jenny Box and Louise Latter, Community Rugby Chair in Middlesex and a member of my working group. Various scenarios were posed to the 20 or so CB Volunteer Coordinators (CBVCs) who were joined by five members of the National Youth Council (NYC).
I have been to a few conferences where it has been hard to get the delegates to engage with each other, but this group of people had no such difficulty and the quality of the debate was very high, concentrating on solutions rather than barriers. Perhaps this was helped by the fact that 40% of those present were women and the average age was around 55 when you didn’t take into account the NYC members who brought fresh ideas and new thinking to the conference.
The next session was Leadership taken by Dave Stubley, RFU Club Management & Volunteer Manager, who explored what qualities make good leaders and what it is that makes other follow them. The RFU Leadership Academy has been established for over ten years (I was part of the first Academy in 2004/5) and the RFU has just launched Leadership in Union, an advanced leadership programme being run in conjunction with the Ashridge Hult Business School in Hertfordshire. The programme is aimed at future CB leaders and those who in time may join the RFU Council.
We finished Day One in time to watch Saracens win the European Challenge Cup before dinner where networking for some went on late into the night.
Day Two started with only a few foggy heads and bleary eyes but everyone was back on top form for the session on Succession Planning which included the role of the CB Volunteer Coordinator. The general consensus was that it should be split between an internal function, looking at succession planning with the CB, and an external function which concentrates on supporting Club Volunteer Coordinators (CVCs). This should be done by different people or even teams of people if that works better in a particular area.
The final session was about Reward and Recognition led by Ken Andrews, Council Member for Lancashire. He explained some of the changes to the RFU Presidents Awards and to the President’s Guest scheme where each CB nominates a volunteer to go to a game with lunch beforehand and dinner with the players afterwards. He was followed by Graham from Kent Rugby who explained the award scheme they have implemented in Their CB.
In closing, I was full of praise for the delegates who had remained positive throughout the two days, and particularly for the NYC members who injected enthusiasm onto the discussions. Also big big thank you the RFU Volunteer Engagement Manager Jill Loader who put the conference together. I am already looking forward to next year to report what progress we have made with the Volunteer Pathway and to get some more ideas from this group.
Presentations from the Conference are available by clicking here