Members Meeting rather than AGM
Usually at this time of the year Birmingham Friends of the Earth (BFOE) would hold our annual AGM. Covid 19 has brought unchartered challenges across society. BFOE is a Community Benefit Society, which is a form of a Co-op. Co-ops have been given a six month extension time period to delay their AGM if deemed necessary. We decided that we would delay our AGM until potentially October when hopefully we have a bit more stability and can hold a face to face AGM. Instead we decided to hold a Members Meeting instead of an AGM which would consist of much of the same business as the AGM minus the elections for Board Members and Campaign Co-ordinators. Our Member Meeting would cover the BFOE year of 2019
Chairing the Meeting
BFOE has a rotating Chair system where each Board Member is Chair for about two months. I am currently Chair of BFOE and so it fell to me to Chair the Members Meeting. I also Chaired last years AGM so had a decent idea as to what to expect. Last year the AGM was held in person in a room full of people, which was not possible with the Members Meeting. The Members Meeting was conducted via Zoom. Having a virtual Members Meeting (AGM) presents different challenges to an Members Meeting (AGM) in person. The Board also prepared for the Members Meeting through Zoom. Finance reports were scrutinised in the Shared Screen function. I had some technical challenges sending out the invite to our members, supporters and campaigners and with our staff members being on furlough, were not easily able to solve the situation until they did return from furlough. We held a mini Board Meeting the night before the Members Member to run through the details. Richard Bickle, the BFOE Secretary had very helpfully written out a script for the speakers to follow, to help us keep to time.
When somebody registered for the meeting in advance, I received an email confirmation. We had over 30 people register in advance so we were hopeful for a good attendance. I logged into the meeting at five minutes before the meeting start time of 7pm and the Zoom Room was filling up. At about 5 minutes past seven we had over 30 people in the Zoom Members Meeting. I tried and failed to attach the various documents to Zoom for people to see as one thing that the Board failed to organise was sending out things like the Agenda to everybody in advance.
Kicking off the Members Meeting
I started off the meeting with the usual pleasantries. I thanked everybody for attending as well as asking for apologies. One way that Zoom meetings are helpful for Minute Takers is that I asked everybody to type their names into the chat function. This allows the Minute Taker to easily copy and paste the names into their Minutes. As a collective we read through the Minutes of last years AGM via the Shared Screen function and approved them.
We then had a campaigns report from Campaign Co-ordinator Molly who went through the highlights of each campaign. In our Nature Campaign in 2019 we focused on asking Birmingham City Council to support, on a local level, the wider call to double tree cover in the UK by 2045. In our Climate Change Campaign, we lobbied the Council to declare a Climate Emergency, which they did in June 2019. In our Air Pollution campaign, we ran a really successful collaborative project with Nelson Mandela Primary School for Walk to School Week where we delivered an assembly and designed some materials to support learning around Air Pollution throughout the week. In our planning activities we responded and lobbied against several road widening schemes on the Dudley Road and Moseley Road. In July 2020 it looks like our lobbying has been successful as these schemes seem to have been scrapped. Molly also noted that Campaigners have had to adapt to remote campaigning since Covid 19 changed society and thanked the Campaigners for their patience and adaptability in keeping campaigning going. I thanked Molly and Jodie for their amazing work as Campaign Co-ordinators, especially since Covid 19. With Libby being on furlough more responsibility has fallen onto them and they have handled it brilliantly with Campaigns continuing to run successfully.
Following Molly was the Warehouse Report. Firstly Ben Mabett outlined some of the changes to the building in 2019, including work on updating and upgrading some of the Meeting Rooms. Our Meeting Rooms are of much higher quality and more versatile than before the Community Share Offer. A big thankyou was said to all those who volunteered in painting and helped upgrade the Meeting Rooms to their current conditions.
Ben was followed by Karen Leach who spoke about some of the challenges that we have faced from March of 2020 in adapting to our new circumstances. She described about how our tenants moved to working from home and our Meeting Room bookings were all cancelled. We also lost festival income in 2020 from events like Glastonbury. Karen then spoke about how the building is being steadily reopened with Meeting Room bookings beginning to happen again.
After Karen had finished, we answered a few questions about the reports. Nick was up next with the Finance Report. In it he said that 2019 was a year of consolidation after the Warehouse Refurbishment. Our bank balance was a bit healthier than at the end of 2018 with a surplus of over £9000 compared to a loss of over a £1000 the year before. We also discussed the challenges of 2020. We have been able to mitigate a lot of the lost income through furloughing our staff. We are also looking at new ways to diversify our income in case pre Covid levels of Meeting Room bookings and festival incomes don’t return.
Once the Finance Report had ended we talked to the Members about the Share Capital which had been invested in BFOE for the Warehouse Refurbishment. By this point we had hoped to be paying interest, but in the current economic climate, we are not able to do so. This is not a formal resolution, it will be voted for at the AGM in potentially October. The Members understood the reasons for this decision and did not object.
Another staple of AGM business for a Co-op our size is to vote for exemption from Audit. As a small organisation we don’t feel that a full audit that would cost thousands would be necessary. The Members agreed to the exemption. Secretary Richard Bickle covered the Governance business.
Whilst we were not having elections in this Members Meeting, we were happy to be able to Co-opt two new people to the Board. Aldo Mussi is a long term member and volunteer with BFOE. Emma Howard is new to BFOE but impressed by volunteering to take minutes at her first Board Meeting. Emma introduced herself to our Membership.
We concluded the formal business of the Members Meeting. We were joined by Mani from Co-operation Birmingham and the Warehouse Café who gave us a speech about the activities of Co-operation Birmingham when the country was in lockdown. We discussed what Co-operation Birmingham is going to do moving forward as well as the exciting possibilities for the new Cycle Courier Co-op that has started this month in Birmingham.
A Successful Members Meeting
Of course, we had an after party, where some of our members had a drink and a catch up. I have a friend who is a professional Caricaturist, who volunteered to take some visual minutes of our meeting. The pictures in this article are courtesy of him. If you want a Caricaturist or an Artist for an event I recommend him. He drew one of the pieces of art that hangs on my wall. Overall the Members Meeting was a success. Several Members noted that it was a good meeting. They were pleased to see how we have adapted during difficult times. Nearly 40 people attended on Zoom, which is a high attendance. We hope to hold our AGM in October, where Board Elections will take place and we can look to a future with the Warehouse being used as intended once more.