One of the most valuable things about the Society for Editors and Proofreaders (SfEP) is its network of local groups – a great way for members to get away from their desks, meet some like-minded souls, and swap ideas and advice.
Towards the end of 2015, a volunteer was needed to become the next coordinator for the Manchester group. Having been in the group for a couple of years, I felt settled in and was tempted to step forward – but also felt slightly uneasy about some aspects of the role, especially chairing meetings. Then, though, I went to my first SfEP conference and came away full of positive thinking: ‘Yes,’ I thought, ‘I’ll do it’. So I did.
I wanted to keep up the good work of my predecessors, Louise Bolotin (who had founded the group, and was helped by Paula Clarke Bain) and Tammi Merrell. I didn’t have any big changes in mind, but the group was quite small, typically with between six and ten attendees at the meetings, and I hoped to expand it.
So, well before arranging my first meeting as coordinator, I searched for potential recruits on the SfEP’s member list, and considered also looking for non-members through social media. But, before I had gone as far as contacting anyone, along came a flurry of emails from prospective newbies, and I put the recruitment drive on hold – probably for good, as it turns out.
At that meeting, in January 2016, there were fourteen of us – far more than ever before. It was a strange day: I started it feeling nervous about chairing the meeting – especially with such a big turnout expected – but was soon knocked sideways by the news of David Bowie’s passing, and hardly even thought about the meeting until I went to Manchester in the evening. The nerves had subsided by the time it started. (A year later, I chaired a meeting a few hours after getting some health news of my own that gave me plenty to think about – nothing life-threatening, though.)
There were only nine people at the next meeting, in April – more like the old days – but we then had twelve on a sweltering night in July. We were using a small, semi-secluded room in a large bar, which was ideal for the numbers we’d had before (except for the background noise of chatter, music and tinkling glasses, which could be a minor problem), but was now starting to get crowded.
This created a dilemma: I wanted to do something about the crowding, but certainly didn’t want to discourage people from going. Luckily, the same venue has a ‘Boardroom’ upstairs, which the management are now allowing us to use free of charge (on the understanding that we’ll spend a reasonable amount at the bar). We now have a table with space for fourteen, or more if we spread out (and there are plenty of spare chairs), and no background noise to speak of. Since moving to our plush new accommodation, we’ve had turnouts of fourteen in October and twelve this January.
Even these numbers don’t reflect the growth in interest in the group since the autumn of 2015. The invitation list (including non-members of the SfEP) has nearly trebled in size, from 17 to 47. I’m not claiming any credit for this – I don’t think it can be attributed to anything I’ve done other than responding to, and keeping track of, all those who have shown an interest. I’d like to think it reflects the good health that the SfEP is in, especially as it embarks on its drive for chartership.
So, what exactly does a local group coordinator do? There are, of course, the meetings (quarterly in our case):
Another part of the role – quite a big one over the last year or so – is to respond to initial contact from new people, usually members or prospective members of the SfEP who are interested in attending the next meeting.
This doesn’t all have to be done by one person: the duties can be shared with other group members, and some groups have two or more co-coordinators(?). Also, the range of activities can vary between different groups.
Being a group coordinator has been very rewarding and enjoyable, and a nice challenge. It’s good to feel that I’m contributing to the SfEP, hopefully encouraging newcomers to sign up, and helping SfEP colleagues – who happen to be a really good bunch of people – to reap some of the benefits from their membership. To anyone who is thinking about becoming a coordinator, I would say: if you have a bit of time to spare and some half-decent organisational skills, and aren’t thoroughly terrified at the prospect of chairing meetings (which isn’t as scary as you might think), why not give it a go?