British Naturism is a membership organisation run by volunteers, supported by a small paid staff and consultants. Volunteers at the management level devote many hours of their spare time to working for the organisation. There’s always a lot to do and it’s not always the fun stuff! Every member of the EC is working hard in the background, dealing with many issues on your behalf, every day, including some you may not think of! We’ve been busier than ever during the pandemic. Weekly meetings of the Directors and senior staff on Zoom have been introduced, and full Executive Committee meetings have also been held virtually.
Members can read about many of the issues currently dealt with by British Naturism in the BN magazine and on the members’ forum (log-in required), but these sources don’t necessarily demonstrate the depth of detail with which these issues have to be considered. Some of them, such as the acquisition of the Sunfolk site and closure of the Northampton office, represent major decisions which will have significant impacts on the future of the organisation and need in-depth discussion.
In this article we’re aiming to give you an idea of the kinds of issues British Naturism’s Directors and other members of the EC have to grapple with on a regular basis.
- Sunfolk – Acquisition of the site by British Naturism provides massive opportunities for the future, but in the meantime a great deal of work needs to be invested in order to deliver over time the “gold standard” naturist site we want to see. Mark Walsh has been masterminding the day-to-day work, guided by discussions at the weekly meetings and in particular by Vice-Chair Jon Williams who has been overseeing the work at Director level. Recently we received advice about the importance of commissioning an ecological survey during summer months – something that will be essential if any future proposals aimed at promoting naturism require planning permission. If the importance of that hadn’t been appreciated, future work might have been delayed by up to a year.
- The Northampton office: Over the summer we took the difficult decision to close the office at Northampton and to say goodbye to our staff based there. We now have to think about the best future for the premises, and this is again under the oversight of Jon Williams. Sale of the premises would provide a one-off opportunity to enhance British Naturism’s reserves, so is certainly an option under consideration. Some of the proceeds would undoubtedly be invested in Sunfolk, but we expect there to be significant sums left over which could be used for different purposes. For now, the Northampton postal address and telephone numbers remain in use.
- Events – Many of us are missing the opportunities to take part in naturist events, swims and social gatherings, and for much of the year even our clubs have been closed. The success of our online events has been a marked achievement under the guidance of Mark Walsh and President, Mark Bass, but it can never substitute for the enjoyment of physical events. One of the biggest annual events is, as many readers will know, Nudefest. Unusually among BN events, Nudefest has in recent years been organised by a group of volunteers separate from the EC. An event attracting up to 500 visitors is expensive to put on. It represents a major opportunity, but also a major financial risk, for our organisation. The unprecedented challenge of COVID-19 that caused first postponement, then cancellation of Nudefest meant the Directors had to step up and work with the Nudefest team to control and minimise the financial damage. This has been an ever-present discussion topic over the spring and summer. Directors have specific responsibilities under the Companies Act to work in the best interests of the company and in certain circumstances could become personally liable if expenditure was not properly accounted for, so this sort of oversight is an absolute necessity.
- Legal work: One of the features of British Naturism that is most valued by members is our legal work. Two major pieces of work are underway at the moment. We benefit from excellent service from Peter and Christine Wright as our internal source of support for members, but we do sometimes have to instruct external professionals. Cases might concern the interests of individual members or more general issues: for example we sought legal advice following the cancellation of The Gathering when the hotel went into administration, and we obtained Counsel’s advice confirming our view that naturism can be considered a philosophical belief under the Equality Act. Edwin Kilby is now leading the work to improve the professional legal support for the organisation that will sit alongside our internal structures. The second piece of work, led by Mark Bass, concerns the law itself. We have been consulted by the Law Commission to ensure that naturist views are represented during ongoing consultations on Hate Crime and definition of intimate images.
- International matters – We believe that it is important to be a leading member of the International Naturist Federation (INF), the organisation representing naturism globally, as well as maintaining good bilateral relations with naturist federations in other countries. After all, the naturist community doesn’t stop at the UK border. But we have had our issues with the INF and have been pushing for positive change. This October International Director, Edwin Kilby, had been scheduled to attend the biennial World Congress of the INF in Slovenia, as British Naturism’s delegate. Unfortunately, that Congress has become another victim of the pandemic and has now been postponed until late March. That’s a shame, because it was shaping up to be an interesting event. The Congress, when it is finally held, will include elections for key positions, and we learned recently of nominations from around the world which are likely to mean that there will be a real contest among candidates with widely contrasting visions of the future of the INF. Among others, the current president, Sieglinde Ivo, who has already served for 12 years, plans to stand for another four-year term, and the post will be contested by Stéphane Deschênes, a former member of the INF Board who is now the proprietor of a well-known naturist park in Toronto.
- An online global event: Given the postponement of the INF Congress, we’re looking at the feasibility of hosting a global naturist conference online. This would be quite separate from the INF event and managed by British Naturism in partnership with naturist federations from other countries. These considerations are, at the time of writing, at a very early stage.
- The BN Shop: We know that many members have been missing the opportunity to buy branded goods – towels, clothing, beach items and promotional goods – from the BN shop, and we’ve been looking at ways to bring it back. Like so many issues on the EC’s agenda, it is not as simple as it sounds, and we need to avoid holding large amounts of stock of goods that won’t sell or make a loss for our organisation. The good news is that we expect the shop to reopen around the time of the AGM. The use of outsourced “print on demand” services should mean that we can be much more flexible about the goods we offer without the shop becoming a financial liability. Jon Williams has been leading on this project.
- Strategy: At the end of last year we created various working groups to look in detail at various issues that we wanted to address within BN. These included overall strategy, policies and procedures, and the relationship with our clubs. A new one, to review regional arrangements, has just been created. It’s fair to say that not all the working groups have progressed as quickly as we might have liked but there are only so many hours in the day and the pandemic lockdown has generated some huge time demands that were not foreseen in our original planning. Nonetheless, we are starting to see results. The Clubs working group has carried out an in-depth survey of clubs and swims and we’re currently analysing the results with a view to seeing what, if anything, needs to change as regards how BN and its clubs work together. The Policies and Procedures group has been updating some of BN’s older internal documents and, perhaps most importantly, has produced a volunteering policy and strategy that has just been adopted by the EC. John Gelder, who has very considerable experience in this area, has agreed to become BN’s Volunteering Officer. The importance of volunteers to the success of BN as an organisation can hardly be overstated, and we expect John’s new role to be pivotal.
- The Annual General Meeting: We’ve been concerned with how to conduct the meeting in a way that is not only safe in a world where COVID-19 remains a considerable threat, but also attractive and accessible to members. Last year’s AGM was held at Northampton and attracted just a couple of dozen members. It is not surprising that relatively few people are interested in travelling significant distances to witness the rather formal business of an AGM on its own. We have been considering ways to make the occasion more interesting, perhaps adding presentations on various topics of wider interest, as well as a question-and-answer session. We had hoped that we could invite everyone to Sunfolk. We were also contemplating whether we could make the proceedings available to people who did not want to travel to the outskirts of London by filming and streaming the meeting online. It turns out that streaming such an event is not as straightforward as it sounds and to do it professionally would carry a significant price tag. However, our success with online events during the pandemic combined with the ongoing restrictions imposed by COVID-19 makes the obvious choice to be run the AGM as an online Zoom event. A couple of motions have been proposed by the EC; one updating the bye-laws and one proposing a review of regional arrangements. These motions don’t just appear, they require meticulous preparation, and the bye-law proposals in particular are the results of hours of painstaking work. Following the successful deployment of an online voting system for the elections held this year, online voting has been rolled out for the AGM motions too.
These represent just a few of the issues currently on the table, and one thing all new members of the EC soon learn is that unexpected issues can arise quite quickly. We are also conscious that these sorts of details don’t interest everyone, and many members would prefer just to get on and enjoy Naturism. We do our best to keep members informed of major issues affecting everyone without boring the pants off you all (if you’re wearing any) and we are sure you will lose no time in letting us know whether you think we have the balance right.
Picture credit : Drew Beamer - Unsplash