Post-YHA, a new century and the Internet

For me two main themes dominated the group during the first decade of the 21st century: the change in our relationship with the YHA and youth hostelling, and how we responded to the world wide web.

A few years before I joined, the group had become independent of the YHA. One effect of this was removal of the "YHA" from our group's name. Hence the Harrow and Wembley YHA Group became the Harrow and Wembley Outdoor Group. For me though another more subtle effect has been building: the reduced profile and interest in the YHA and youth hostelling. Whether that's related to our group's independence or a wider change affecting other YHA and outdoor type groups is the unknown bit. Many of our members are not now (2011) YHA members.

With membership of our group hovering around 46 during the first few years of the noughties, the committee elected in 2002 made increasing membership its priority. Within three years membership had risen to 105 and has remained over 100 until at least now (2011). A new century.

Of note is that female membership almost quadrupled. In 2002 our group had just 17 female members versus 29 male. For the past few years it has had 60+ and for the past 7 years females have outnumbered males.

Once membership increased the priority was to make our group more outdoor focused. This was an attempt to keep and raise the profile of youth hostelling - a big part of our group's history - countryside-based activities, the gaining of map and compass skills, weekends away and experiencing new places.

Underlying the push for members and ensuring our group's outdoor focus was embracing the many benefits offered by the Internet. Beyond our website and email, we introduced online event forms to standardise submissions, a second email group to enable our first to focus on our outdoor events and essential group communications, and online payment for membership, events and surcharges. But the most controversial benefit offered by the Internet was that it replaced Thursday evenings as our main source of communication and information.

Despite efforts over a 6 year period to get more members to attend the weekly meet which had been part of our group since 1936, it was reduced to a monthly meet at AGM 2010. By then clear evidence had been collected to show that the vast majority of members attended few or none of our hall meets, and with only one of seven committee members willing to run them, they had to change.

We also tried and mosly failed to get more members to gain map and compass skills. Despite organising full-day theory and practice training sessions over a four year period, most who attended did not go on to apply these skills for us as event organisers.

Beyond the YHA and Internet, probably the only other major change during the noughties was that all members were required to contribute to our two events programmes each year. Funnily enough not to everyones liking but it sure focused and reduced the effort by committee behind the scenes. Two events programmes a year mostly planned in two months of a year.

In 2011 our core events programme now comprises (at least) a walk virtually every weekend, a weekend away each month, a few weeks away each year, a monthly hall meet on a Thursday evening in central Harrow, and a monthly key social event. This programme comprises around 150 events each year. Members can use our second email group to promote any other social events, sales and wants etc.

Behind the scenes the size of committee was also reduced during the noughties - from 10 to 7 - as has the number (6 to 4) and duration (2 hours maximum) of meetings. So the almost 1 in 4 members on committee in 2002 has fallen to 1 in 16 in 2011.

The continuing challenge post 2011 is probably to define what the 'outdoor' in our group's title means within the context of a different, arguably more distant relationship with the YHA, and with the majority of members no longer being YHA members. Who will introduce new members to the delights of hills and mountains, woods and forests, valleys and ridges, stunning views of terrain and wildlife; footpaths, cycle trails and youth hostels? Who will show new members how to use a map and compass and gain the basic navigation skills required to organise countryside-based activities? I had done little of these before joining the group and loads since - thank you HAWOG for all the places I've been to and all the friends I've made since joining the group in Dec 1999.

During my time with the group I've had the pleasure of meeting a number of members of our group from the 1950s and 1960s at various events to mark our two anniversaries (70th and 75th). I hope to return in thirty or forty years time and be able to meet our future members. It was lovely being able to put real people to faces on the black and white photos in our History pages, and to hear first hand about our group, the YHA, the area, and life at the time.

Account by Steve Redmond
Chair 2002-05 and 2007-11 and YHA life member