In the end, 18 of the 43 traditional maritime heritage organisations from around the North Sea who expressed interest in joining the NSR made it to Portsoy on the 26th of June. At the all day meeting, we got to know each other better, learned what we have and what we do with it, and discussed what we want the NSR to become.
The groups at the meeting represent the wide range of interests in maritime heritage. They ranged from boatyards producing traditional craft, through registries and organisations who certify traditional boats, to organisations attempting to transmit traditional craft knowledges and individuals who are preserving and promoting detailed aspects of maritime heritage. As part of the meeting, we did an exercise to capture the assets, skills, resources and expertise contained within the group, and the result was very impressive. The North Sea Ring is made up of individuals and communities who have many important skills, many important assets and a lot of experience working with the communities in which they are embedded.
A key question concerned what the members want the organisation to be. In extensive discussions a consensus emerged that the NSR would be a membership organisation (with a modest membership fee), but that it would remain an informal network for the time being. Amongst participants, there is a keen interest in finding new ways to use the maritime assets we all have in order to ‘bring the boats into the community’ and to raise new sources of activity-based income to supplement sometimes unreliable funding from governments. And the Ring will act as a catalyst, as a connector for those who wish to do these things together. Given that all attendees were clearly ‘doers’, it was decided that the NSR will not get in their way, but rather will help them connect with other like-minded ‘doers’ so that they can get on with doing the things that matter to their local communities. It was decided to keep things as informal as possible in order to not get in the way of this. Members are free to set their own priorities, create their own initiatives, and work together to share knowledge, experience and entrepreneurial activities. The Ring will act as a network, and as a clearing house which brokers connections between members so they can work together.
One key issue, however, was how to manage membership fees and communication within this informal network. Not only do we need to manage the small amount of membership fees to benefit members but there needs to be a central clearing house for news and information. These two functions need a secretariat. The Scottish Traditional Boat Festival organisation volunteered to serve as a secretariat for the first two years, with responsibilities for regular communication and for managing membership fees. It is envisaged that different member organisations will take over that responsibility in subsequent years. Our thanks go to the STBF for providing this service (and for hosting us!) and we will work with them to help find further funds to sustain the secretariat services.
At the end, discussions turned to ‘what is next?’ Suggestions were made about hosting further gatherings in Denmark or Norway, and of potential collective projects which can be sought under European and other funding. The website (www.northsearing.com), having been set up, will be maintained through the STBF and efforts are currently under way to create a members-only password protected section which we can use for communication, news and sharing of project bids, significant events, etc. It is hoped that members will begin to send notifications of news and events to the secretariat so that the website becomes a valuable source of information for all involved.
We hope to continue to attract like-minded communities and are discussing potential activities such as a ‘Ring of Festivals’ where we could meet each other again. A key point that arose was that we do not have to wait for funding to get together next time. The consensus was that we might have formal (and funded) meetings every three years. Certain members offered to host the Ring in their home port in the intervening years. Watch this space!
On a personal note, when facilitating the discussions in the meeting, I was very impressed both in the way that each group and member listened to the others, whilst at the same time they spoke up where appropriate, suggesting ways to work together, new ideas and their support for the idea and each other. What unites us all is a love of the boats and the scene surrounding them, and a desire to find new ways to integrate them into the wider community while finding new ways of raising income when doing so. And finally, to have fun doing it!
All in all, the first meeting was a great success. Much was learned, new friends were made, and inspiration was shared by all. I think I can confidently say that we are all looking forward to the next time we can get together again.