The possibility of The Bishopston Society closing down is looking less likely following a lively community meeting that gave enthusiastic support to its work, though the crisis of leadership that led to its viability being questioned is not over.
Thirty six concerned Bishopstonians turned up to The Bishopston Society’s Special ("VIABILITY") General Meeting on 18/11/19 to consider the question of whether TBS has a future - or not – and if it has, then how it might continue to survive, or even flourish, in a reimagined and restructured form.
Wind-up motion postponed
It was clear that the overwhelming consensus of the meeting was that TBS should continue. It was felt the organisation is worth keeping, so a decision to close down the Society should be postponed until the possibility of at least partial resuscitation and rejuvenation has been further examined.
At the same time it was recognised that this possibility of TBS operating in some form in the future depends crucially on new blood, ie new volunteers being prepared to carry out the work and coordinate and lead the organisation.
The meeting had been expected to discuss a motion to wind up the organisation. However in the light of the huge positive response the following alternative motion was instead put to the meeting, voted on and passed by an overwhelming majority:-
This SGM notes that the TBS committee considers the organisation is no longer viable, but resolves to adjourn this meeting and meanwhile explore in more detail options for continuation of some of its functions by carrying out a feasibility study into (part) continuation/merger/transfer of functions.
Who might step forward?
This left open the question of who might take responsibility for carrying out such a feasibility study, then DO the work of continuing in some form or another. Hence it's not yet clear, given the outgoing committee's limited capacity, if there's a path set towards a viable future.
Participants did however submit offers, before the end of the meeting, of what they were prepared to contribute, and many great ideas for positive futures, including for a "TBS lite", came up.
So a stong warm feeling of hope was left behind, despite answers to the big question "Who might step forward?" remaining elusive (and despite the cold winter evening).
Selected key points
Individual views on the situation were given by almost everyone present. A crude summary of some of the many diverse points that were made is as follows:-
- Similar local civic societies such as the Henleaze Society and the Redland, Cotham Amenity Society (RCAS) are suffering from similar problems of difficulties in involving new people to help in their organisations and in attracting younger members
- Might TBS consider merging with another local group like RCAS or combining in some way?
- Sustainable Bishopston manages to survive despite just ‘ticking over’. It doesn’t do much under its own banner but members still become actively involved in a variety of local issues, and maintaining a low level of existence allows it to have charity status and be eligible for various sources of financial help
- Community organisations only prosper because of the individuals in them who are willing to ‘do stuff’. This vital element for survival seems to be missing from TBS members - the work required has been left to fewer and fewer people who are now burnt out
- TBS has a place in the local community but needs a revamp which will need to seriously address the need to attract a wider demographic, across diverse groups. Its Clean Air Bishopston work was a good example of how to try and achieve this through its work with schools
- Has TBS gone for an overarching brief that hasn’t allowed it to focus sufficiently on specific local issues?
- Conversely it has "punched above its weight" in some respects, eg planning advocacy
- The BCR Community Partnership is an ‘umbrella’ organisation and through collaboration TBS needs to structure itself around and focus on specific projects such as making streets more friendly
- RCAS (and also the Bristol Civic Society) in response to membership loss and difficulties in recruiting from a younger demographic is now looking at different ways to operate. Organising around working groups taking on specific issues rather than based on a regular formal committee meeting structure
- The implications locally for the imposing of the Bristol Clean Air Zone could be an issue that would rally a lot of local interest – and involvement?
- Link up and coordinate local groups involved in action on the climate and ecological emergency
- Organise and allocate volunteers (if sufficient!) into teams with shared roles
- Ensure there's a ‘fun’ element to attract, sustain and retain active volunteers
- Explore a ‘lighter’ mode of organisation, including dropping newsletter, membership,....
- Focus on big issues that many in the community share concerns over, such as traffic and parking problems, or the climate crisis
- Bishopston Voice and Bishopston Matters feel strongly that TBS is successful in raising awareness of, supporting and being involved in issues like the fight against the proposed Sainsburys planning development for the Memorial Ground and its Clean Air Bishopston initiatives
- The website is useful and should continue to function if possible, furthermore those responsible for the web site, and social media are prepared to continue looking after these functions
- TBS reporting on and response to planning applications has been of very high quality and was very much respected
- Monitoring planning applications doesn't necessarily require professional expertise. There are good examples elsewhere in Bristol of local groups without qualified architects operating efficiently to critically appraise planning applications
- TBS needs to ‘rebrand’ itself and continue the work it has attempted in modernising its image
- Accept the Society can’t do everything for everybody
- It would be useful to list the assets of the organisation (including its 'soft' assets such as its considerable reputation, not just tangible assets) in exploring ways forward
- Everyone interested should state their interest areas, and what practical input they might personally be prepared to offer to a revamped organisation (including the necessary leadership and coordination work - the residual committee will help ensure a transition only)
What can YOU offer?
To conclude the meeting, all those attending were invited to fill in a slip of paper to indicate if they were willing in any way to be involved in future TBS organisation and work, and if so what aspects/interests/issues they would be most interested in.
These interests and offers will contribute to the feasibility investigation on TBS viability and help inform any decisions on the future structure and functioning of the Society.
If you didn't make it to the meeting, or didn't contribute your offer slip, or can add to the offer you made, or would like to contribute to this debate, please use our Contact form to let us know as soon as possible.