|As every year goes by, the National Federation finds itself
with fewer and fewer members; it's a consistent downward spiral. While
people may dislike me for extenuating the negative, I feel someone has
to raise their head above the parapet and ask what's going on.
One of the most important points to make about 18 Plus is that we are
a voluntary organisation run by members for members - that means it's up
to everyone to play a part in the organisation and running of their group.
It's a point that cannot be overemphasised. Any group is only as good as
its weakest member but before anyone tries to work out who that person
may be they should note that there are a range of variables that have to
be considered, the message should be "everyone can do more".
There are so many opinions in 18 Plus as to how we can improve on things
that arguments and personality clashes occur all the time. It's not a good
way to change things for the better if you believe you're always right,
if you're unable to adapt to changes, if you cannot accept that everyone
has a right to an opinion. Argument is good if it's constructive. We should
avoid all the destructive personality clashes and back stabbing.
So having said that, I may go on to note the ongoing argument about
the age change and the involvement of older members, recently discussed
in Plus News by Phil Bristow, Terry Drake and Basil Lewis. First the age
change was voted for by the majority of groups present at last year's ANC.
It came about after a lot of arguing and a long struggle. It had been talked
about since the early 1980's, even before the Federation began its long
My point on this has always been that the age range changed itself when
the number of 18 to 25 year olds joining declined. The average age quoted
at last year's ANC (it's probably higher now) was 29. At least half of
the Coventry Group were over 29. Therefore it wasn't a case of protecting
18 Plus for adult youth, it was a case of recognising that times had changed
and 18 Plus was struggling against its own regulations to change with them.
It was the recognition of reality ! Whilst I respect other people's opinions,
I believe that there is still an over emphasis on age within the Federation.
Getting young people to join is important. In Coventry it's now top
of the agenda. To do that, surely we should be looking at lower membership
fees for 18 to 25 year olds, better liaison with the local youth services
and other youth organisations, and a greater involvement in training and
community work - aimed at promoting our organisation as more worthy. We
also need some professional publicity aimed at promoting 18 Plus to young
However, pushing older members out is not a good way forward. In Coventry
we have managed to change a group that had a rapidly declining membership,
bad venue, zero finance and an average club night attendance of about 6
or 7. We are now a thriving club with 22 new members joining since April.
If we repeat that over the next twelve months we'll be close to calling
ourselves the largest group in the Federation.
Involving all the members and constantly emphasising the importance
of everyone playing a part did what we achieved. It wasn't easy, it's been
back breaking and hasn't been without a great deal of problems. The hard
work did pay off - all we have to do now is keep it up !
During that process I'd have been mad to turn away any help based on
age. I believe older members can play a part on committees and I also believe
that the limit of three terms of office enables everyone to get a fair
crack of the whip. But especially at this point in the Federation's history
we should be looking for the best people for the job.
One of the biggest problems 18 Plus has in my opinion is the constitution.
It's like a sheet of red tape that just binds the whole organisation and
prevents it from a healthy amount of change. I've consulted a number of
people on the point recently, including the regional head of a rival organisation
who feels that it's going to be our downfall.
We live in an age of constant change and adaptation. If we, as an organisation,
cannot keep up with a changing world and environment we will inevitably
suffer. Look at any major multi-national company for drastic and dramatic
shifts in image, culture and technology. Look at the Armed Forces - a massive
shift in culture was needed to open them up to women and ethnic minorities.
Look at BT - how much did they fork out for their image change ?
Modern business practice heavily emphasises the concept of continuous
improvement. It's based on the assumption that continually striving to
reach ever higher standards in every part of the organisation will provide
a series of incremental gains that will build superior performance. In
Japan the process is called Kaizen which consists of the organisation creating
an environment in which all its members can contribute to improving performance
and overall effectiveness.
Change is all about making improvements. To do that the membership have
to develop a culture of adaptability and avoid the natural urge to resist
change. It's not about destroying 18 Plus, it should be about securing
a future for the only social and activities organisation for young adults
in Britain today. That I believe is worth doing.
No change can be made without recourse to the past and just as the military
rely heavily on history for their strategy, so should 18 Plus look back
into its past to see what has worked well. Just as the Japanese came back
from industrial devastation following World War Two by copying successful
industry in the West, so too should 18 Plus look to its nearest rivals
and copy anything they do that's good and make it even better.
Finally, 18 Plus has a mission statement. When I effectively took over
as Chairman of Coventry 18 Plus, I'd been a member for just a month. I
wasn't sure about which way to go but I was aware of the organisation's
aims and I did treat them seriously. Firstly because I knew that media
coverage would depend on how capable we were of promoting ourselves as
an organisation that seeks to serve society and develop its members, not
just an organisation with a fixation on alcohol. Secondly because I wanted
to attract people who wanted to put something back as well as receive.
We're somewhat unusual in Coventry in that we have 12 people on the committee
(most of them people who have joined within the last year) so I feel that
something did work somewhere along the line.
18 Plus is about having fun but who says the odd charity event can't
be fun ? Who says a Personal Development weekend, paid for by the local
council, can't be fun ? Anyone who's met Coventry could never call us a
dull group. In common with all 18 Plus groups we believe in the philosophy
that life is meant to be lived to the full.
While I've used Coventry as an example, I must emphasise that there
is no shortage of talent available within this organisation to make it
thrive once more. We all have opinions - I personally feel that the organisation
should be looking to set a more informal structure up, that will allow
all groups to set their own vision and form their own identity, within
a few core national guidelines.
My final request is for the National tier of 18 Plus to work more closely
with the groups, especially in the area of publicity. Currently we have
a lot of groups out there with no material, be it flyers, leaflets, posters
or publicity guides, to use in their promotion. While I accept everyone
is working hard, all our members pay their membership straight to the National
Federation and most groups paying for venues and their Area levy are left
with nothing to pay for the production of publicity material.
Coventry 18 Plus