Most members know that once a year, usually in June, the Trustees (Mancom) spend a weekend at Esperanto House, for an annual 'Planning Meeting'. It's an invaluable opportunity to step back and consider, in a slightly more thorough fashion than is possible in an afternoon in London, the major issues facing the Association, and prospects for the year ahead. This year, everyone was there, except David and Jean Bisset, who were caught up in the drama of grandparenthood, and Geoffrey Greatrex, who had an inescapable lecture commitment in Germany; we welcomed our new (and youthful) Trustee, Clare Hunter, and we were joined for particular agenda items by Angela Tellier (Education), Stephen Thompson (Publicity) and Viv O'Dunne (Office).
Once again, Angela delivered a very upbeat report on our Education activities, especially Springboard to Languages, which has attracted a great deal of favourable attention throughout the Esperanto world; Angela herself has been in demand as a speaker, abroad as well as in UK. The main problem remains (as ever) recruiting pilot schools but the Springboard team continue to pursue a variety of possibilities, several of which look quite promising. The (independent) project evaluation by Manchester University continues and, two years in, is beginning to produce really interesting results. That research, along with work being done by Angela at Essex University, and the ongoing Comenius project, provides the basis for a new 'Research & Development' programme which, we hope, will draw in researchers (on Esperanto & language-learning) from across the worldwide Esperanto community. Springboard funding will continue for 5 years beyond 2011.
EAB finances, in common with the world economy, have suffered from the recent financial crisis. However, once again, Joyce Bunting (Hon. Treasurer) has defied gravity, thanks to our higher-than-average proportion of funds in cash and fixed-interest investments, which have suffered much less than the stock markets. Now, since the turn of the year, we have been 'drip-feeding' funds from there (where interest-rates are now rock-bottom) into carefully selected equity-based investments; already this has proved successful, so fingers crossed!
Ever anxious to reduce costs, Joyce (with advice from Clare, herself an accountant) will explore the possibility of reducing the cost of our annual 'independent examination of accounts' (audit, more or less), while still meeting all the requirements of the Charity Commission.
We were delighted to hear from Viv O'Dunne (Office Manager) that, after some years of slow but steady decline, membership figures have actually stabilised over the past year or so. (This may, of course, be a statistical 'blip' - time will tell). Hilary Chapman has gallantly taken on the job that Eric Walker used to do, chasing up 'lapsed or lapsing members'; not only do we find out why people give up their membership (for example, age and/or eyesight), but sometimes manage to persuade people to stay on.
The work of Esperanto House seems to be ticking over very well, thanks to Viv, her new part-time assistant Emma Hudson, Joyce, Malcolm Jones (who co-ordinates residential courses) and Jean Bisset (2009 Congress). Book sales remain very healthy, especially relative to membership numbers.
We are aware of a couple of members of the Association who work in libraries in a professional capacity. We hope to draw them into the work of the Butler Library, although it would be undiplomatic to mention names - in case they say No! In the meantime, Geoffrey King soldiers on, for the most part solo.
Stephen Thompson joined us for a big discussion about Publicity. For the past 9 months, we have retained a professional PR firm (The Encore Organisation) to work with Stephen on media relations, the Association's image, and other aspects of publicity. Sadly, this has not been altogether a success. There do appear to have been some failures of communication, and Stephen favoured continuing the arrangement until the end of the year. In the end, however, we decided that the results simply didn't match the cost and that we should end the arrangement, with effect from end-July.
One of the areas identified by Encore for action is our website. While the content is first-rate, the general appearance (they advised) could be improved. The publicity team, led by Geoffrey Greatrex and Stephen Thompson, are to discuss possibilities with [webmaster] Bill. They will also discuss with Helen Fantom, how best to incorporate her work at the Language Show into the overall publicity strategy.
In recent months we have become aware of a number of minor anomalies in the Constitution, which should be corrected. After the kind of discussion that constitutions always provoke (complicated!), we agreed that it might be beneficial to take this opportunity to streamline the constitution, rather than just tinker with it. Edmund Grimley Evans and David Kelso volunteered to come up with some concrete proposals for consideration.
Edmund also reported on Publications. The 'Mini' series is developing well: Dictionary (Mini-D) recently reprinted, new beginners' course (Mini-C) just published, Grammar (Mini-G) in hand; a phrasebook (Mini-P?), vocabulary (Mini-V) and reader (Mini-R) under consideration. Other projects are 'on hold', for the usual reasons (inc. Edmund's very young family).
Clare Hunter agreed to take on responsibility for liaising between Mancom and the editors of, respectively, La Brita Esperantisto, Update, and the website; we agreed that they should work out for themselves what would work best...
These were the main items of business, but there were, of course, lots of other things: we're going to try a 'virtual meeting' in September; interesting developments on the Buchanan Prize (still under discussion with Liverpool University); collaboration with India and Africa; developments (well, lack of, actually) at Wedgwood Memorial College; Charity Commission requirements regarding 'public benefit'; and so forth...
The weather was very pleasant, but I'm afraid the programme didn't include any excursions (except to the 'Plume of Feathers', sometime after 9:00 pm!)
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