79th Annual Conference, Nidd Hall Hotel, Harrogate

A grand weekend - and in a grand venue.  A personal view of the Conference.

After formally opening the Conference, Immediate Past District Governor Ron Goodwin handed the reins over to District Governor Tony Fairley who started the ball rolling by announcing that his theme for the weekend was "IMF" - not Monetary Funding but Information, Motivation and FUN.  And we certainly got all three - from thought-provoking and informative through to hilarious, we enjoyed an excellent line-up of speakers.

The first plenary session  started with a "Celebration of Rotary in District 1030".  This featured the formation of the Interact Club at Durham Trinity School - an excellent, professionally made video was presented by Barbara Broadbelt from the sponsoring Durham Elvet Club.

We then went on to a "two-hander" as IPDG Ron Goodwin and John Mayes told us of the achievements in the District over the last year.  From youth projects to a pair of racing pigeons (Durham and Elvet!), we can certainly be proud, and we were reminded that a total of 40 RI Awards and Citations were gained during the year.

The session continued with an address from the RI President's Representative Kenneth M. Schuppert.  His key message was a reassurance that the Rotary Foundation (TRF) funds were completely safe in these difficult times.  Ken reminded us that all grants from TRF were funded from investment income which had fallen significantly in the current financial climate.

This first session ended with a presentation, fronted by DG Elect Les Fay, of the exploits of the Outgoing GSE Team to South Africa led by Les in 2008.  

After dinner on Friday evening, we were entertained by Su Jayne, Lady Magician.  I have to admit that I missed all but the last few minutes of this but it would seem her act was quite impressive.  Given his interest in magic, DG Tony was certainly in his element - and he probably knew the secrets behind the illusions!

Up bright and early on Saturday morning to enjoy a hearty breakfast and we were ready for the second plenary session.  This opened with an extremely entertaining talk from Rtn. Peter Vaughan entitled "A Lawyer, a Politician and a Gentleman".  A founding member of the Rotary Club of Whickham Clavering and now a member of the Gateshead Club, Peter is a solicitor dealing almost exclusively with medical negligence claims and a Lib-Dem member of Gateshead Council.  As you can imagine, this breadth of experience gives him a certain wry outlook on life.  But I'll take his word for the "Gentleman" bit!

In complete contrast, the next speaker, billed as the Eco Warrior, was Professor Dermot Roddy of Newcastle University.  This professor is no sheltered academic, having only recently joined the University after 20 years in the energy and petrochemical industries and his presentation addressed the very real issue of the world's rapidly dwindling oil and gas resources - what he called the Triple Crunch of climate change, energy security and economic crisis.  Professor Roddy is, among various other activities, Director of the Sir Joseph Swan Institute for Energy Research and he described an amazing array of research into alternative energy sources, from the cultivation of algae (seriously!) as a bio-fuel, to - wait for it - coal!  This last one I particularly liked as it is something of a private hobby-horse of mine.  We still have vast resources of coal under our feet that could last for hundreds of years; all we need is some imaginative new technology that will allow us to exploit it safely and cleanly.  The Professor described how the coal could be gasified where it lies and - a nice touch - the resulting cavities would then be used to store the carbon dioxide resulting from the combustion of the coal gases.  This was a truly informative and enlightening presentation, the positive and optimistic tone going a long way to redress my somewhat cynical attitude to the "climate warmists".

After a much needed coffee break, the session resumed with an address from Inner Wheel District Chairman Brenda Wilkinson.  The theme of Brenda's presentation was the enduring partnership between Inner Wheel and Rotary - and long may it last.

Then came another motivational address from Ken Schuppert.  He described his future vision of Rotary, telling us to Assess, Plan, Respond in meeting our commitment to Service Above Self.  Interestingly, he used the story of the sinking of the Titanic and the roles of the ships nearby, the Carpathia and the California, to illustrate this; one obeyed the rules of the sea and did nothing, unaware of the tragedy unfolding nearby while the other, fully aware, assessed the situation and responded very effectively.  His message: maintain awareness and act accordingly.  Ken concluded by encouraging us to aim high (a favourite mantra of mine) in our service projects, because the inevitable shortfall will bring us bang on target.

There then followed a presentation by the incoming GSE Team from District 7170 - Upper New York State, led by Terry Donlick from the township of Groton, NY.  The team consisted of a nurse, a teacher, a retailer and a writer for role playing games (takes all kinds, I guess!).  They were an interesting bunch - we had the pleasure of welcoming them to our weekly Club meeting (Durham) on the following Thursday.

There was another complete contrast in the next speaker: Conrad Dickinson, a well-known Polar Explorer, described his expedition to the geographic North Pole.  This was a quite extraordinary story of an unsupported trek, dragging a 150 kilo sled containing all his food, fuel and equipment, illustrated with some quite graphic images - 482 miles in just over 52 days.  To me, just about the most startling detail (among many) was when he and his companion reached their objective, according to the GPS, they camped for the night after telephoning (via satellite) for a helicopter lift back to base and by the following morning they, or rather the ice they were perched on, had drifted eight miles to the south!  And when the helicopter arrived, they were surprised to see that it was almost full with other intrepid explorers - it must be almost as busy as Everest up there!  I know I shouldn't ask - but why do people do this sort of thing?  Google his name to find out more about his amazing exploits.

That was enough excitement for the morning, so the session ended and we had the rest of the day to enjoy the leisure facilities of the hotel.  After dinner on this Saturday evening we once again enjoyed dancing in the Pavilion Late Lounge to Freeway, the resident band.  On this occasion, the ball had a 1930s country house weekend theme in recognition of the hotel's origins.  

President David Grey and Vice President Margaret Anderson of the Durham Club enjoy a jive.

Those of us from the Durham Club were particularly thrilled when Christine, the wife of President David Grey, was judged to be the most authentically dressed.

Christine receives her prize (a Rotary Jigsaw!) from DG Tony.

Sunday morning saw quite a few bleary-eyed Rotarians at breakfast, but there was a good attendance for the start of the third plenary session.  We started with an interesting Thought for the Day from Rtn. Cynthia Fairley, DG Tony's wife.

We were then entertained by RIBI President David Fowler telling us all the good things about Rotary.  But his key message was an exhortation for us all to attend the RIBI Conference in Bournemouth next April.  And I'm sure many of us will be there.

The next  keynote speaker was Neil Etherington on the subject of The Ghost Ships.  Neil is the Group Development Director of Able UK Ltd., who are, as most of us will know, the market leader in the decommissioning (and recycling) of marine structures.  This was another thought-provoking and informative presentation.  I'm sure many of you will have seen the images of ships being broken up on the beaches of Bangladesh with virtually no control over toxic materials or safety issues.  Fittingly, Neil's message was that the owners of these marine structures must pay to have the job done properly.  I'm sure we all agree.

After the coffee break, Question Time, chaired by Stephen Croft (Conference Committee Chairman), revealed some interesting concerns and issues in the variety of questions asked and answered.

It was then time for some real hilarity - Rosemary Hawthorn, "The Knicker Lady" gave a truly sparkling performance, describing the development of underwear over the last couple of centuries.

Rosemary is something of an expert on the history of fashion, so it was good to know that it was she who judged the 1930s costumes at the Saturday evening ball.

After we'd all settled down, there was just time for Stephen Croft to tell us of the plans for next year's District Conference.  As an experiment, and in response to repeated requests, it will be held within the District - in Durham, at the Gala Theatre.

This should be interesting for those of us who live in Durham  it's a good job I've got my bus pass!

DG Tony then brought the formal part of the Conference to a close, thanking us for attending and those behind the scenes for all their hard work.

But that was not the end of the weekend , as there was ample time to enjoy the leisure facilities and the extensive grounds of Nidd Hall.  From a water-colour painting demonstration to some hotly contested bowling, there was lots to entertain us.

Sunday evening saw us enjoying more dancing to Freeway and a cabaret from Fortissimo, a group of four talented singers who presented a medley of songs from the shows.

By Monday morning, it is fair to say that the consensus was that DG Tony had indeed achieved his IMF objectives.  We had been informed and motivated, and, along the way, we had lots of fun and fellowship - a Grand Weekend.

Eric Colling, Rotary Club of Durham and newly appointed assistant to the District Website Administrator.
As I indicated earlier, this has been very much a personal view.  I apologise for any errors of omission or commission - they are entirely down to me.  And, of course, the opinions expressed are mine!

Many thanks to FearWorks (the official photographers) for providing us with a selection of photos. 

District Conference 2009 pages:

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