A report by Steve Jordan on his return to BAR after a little time away
Well it was nice to be back. This year was the first BAR (British Association of Removers) conference I had attended since 2010 and it was very much like going home: back to where it all started all those years ago. Thank you all for the warmth of the welcome I received and the friendships renewed.
BAR 2019 was in Stratford-upon-Avon, Shakespeare’s birthplace. Around 200 members of the moving community from the UK and worldwide joined together for three days of business, chat, entertainment and relaxation in the Crown Plaza Hotel, a regular home for BAR on the banks of the river.
The conference kicked off with a golf tournament, almost compulsory at conferences nowadays it seems, followed by a tour of historic Stratford, dating back to the 12th century and the reign of Richard I (of Lion-heart fame) for the benefit of the overseas visitors. Everyone then met back at the hotel for a welcome reception in the form of a barbecue on the terrace, watching the river glide by and picking up on friendships that seem to endure year after year without interruption, no matter how long the time between meetings.
Day two’s entertainment was the RBA (Removers Benevolent Association) party night which started with a gentle, and really rather lovely, drift down the river and a glass or three of gin and tonic to liven the spirits. From there a short walk to a local pub for food, a few beers and, for those with energy to spare and a complete lack of inhibitions, a bop around the dance floor. Again, it was relaxed, friendly and just what was needed to bring and keep people together in a town full of distractions.
The business sessions were, in my opinion, very well targeted. They included a session on cyber security from Rupert Irons from C3IA Solutions; Laura Smith and Stephanie Walkerdine from solicitors Backhouse Jones talking about employment law; and Ciaran Mullarkey from the Young Movers representing the future of the industry. After lunch on day one the meeting heard from Glynn Jones from the Bank of England with his opinion on the effect of an ‘orderly’ Brexit on the UK economy (he was less forthcoming about the prospects for a disorderly one); and Mark Hayward who gave a very entertaining and frank presentation on behalf of the National Association of Estate Agents.
Day two’s business was structured differently with the meetings split into three rooms focussing on the Commercial Moving Group, the Overseas Group and the National Group. Not being able to be in three places at once meant that I couldn’t see everything. What I did see, however, was well presented and targeted. The overseas meeting, for example, featured a presentation from Jesse van Sas, the FIDI general manager.
Although the meetings were generally excellent, I always think it’s a shame that more people choose not to attend them. In the plenary meetings on day one, for example, I estimate no more than one third of the registered delegates took part. This is not a reflection on the speakers; it’s always been that way. Of course, when the meetings split on day two the audiences diminished even more which did mean, in some cases, that the speakers were playing to a sparse attendance. In my experience these meetings are packed with useful information and it’s sad when people don’t make more effort to take part. It’s often said that you get out of association membership what you put in. That is a great example of the principle in action.
The keynote speaker was Steve Cunningham: the world’s fastest blind man and someone who has been described as ‘the most inspirational man alive’. He’s been blind since the age of 12 and, since then, has achieved some remarkable things, including flying a light aircraft around Britain and holding both the land and water speed records for a blind person. His story was both heart-breaking and uplifting and delivered with great sincerity and flair, especially as Steve couldn’t have any notes nor could he see the audience reaction (movers tend not to be very noisy audiences) so it must have been hard for him to judge the mood in the room. It was truly an extraordinary story.
That said I do have a bit of a problem with ‘inspirational’ speakers. I take nothing away from Steve when I say this, because he was excellent, but I don’t really get what we are supposed to do differently when we leave the room. Yes, we can all feel empowered to ‘do anything’, but I wonder how long those feelings last? Whenever I hear these speakers, and I have heard many, I am always impressed and very often moved, but I don’t know what I’m supposed to do about it. Maybe it’s because they fail to have a call to action or perhaps it’s just supposed to be entertainment. I would genuinely be very interested to hear from anyone who heard Steve’s speech who has really resolved to change something fundamental in their lives as a result.
BAR always has a vehicle exhibition giving vehicle builders the opportunity of showing off their products and talents. This year, however, the latest technology was joined by vehicles from the past, including horse-drawn vehicles from Whites, Gersons and Fox and an abundance of the movers’ life blood throughout the decades. In a proud display of the moving industry’s finest the vehicles paraded through the streets of Stratford, led by the newly crowned BAR President, Ian Palmer on a BSA 650 A65 Thunderbolt motorcycle, owned by Paul Fox, with his wife Sandra riding pillion. It seemed as if most of the town had responded to the media call for support with families waving their appreciation throughout the route. One couple asked me what it was all about. After explaining they said, “We had no idea. These people really do care about what they do don’t they!” Well done BAR. This was a stunt that did the professional moving industry in the UK no harm at all.
The gala dinner, a rather grand and rather endearingly traditional, black tie event was held in the hotel. Incidentally, I was chatting to one of the overseas visitors who said that in his country a ‘black tie’ event is a funeral. He wondered who had died. Anyway, I digress. It included the presentation of the Commercial, Domestic and Overseas Mover of the Year awards won this year by Universal Commercial Relocation, Alexanders Removals & Storage and Bournes respectively.
Entertainment came from a mime duo called, I believe, Men in Coats who were very funny; and stand-up comedian Zoe Lyons who is quite well known on UK television. Zoe was very polished and had done her homework so adapted the act for the audience very well. She also kept the show clean, which was a blessing, because many TV acts relax a little too much when they get free of the broadcasting restrictions. It was undoubtedly amusing, but was it really funny? Humour is a totally unforgiving art; it either makes you laugh, or it doesn’t. I saw quite a few around the room laughing, many smiling broadly and some appearing unmoved. These might largely have been the international guests who, as Zoe delivered the entire performance like a machine gun, probably didn’t understand much.
In summary, BAR 2019 was an excellent conference with good content and delightful social events and a fabulous vehicle parade. Maybe a move away from the inspirational speaker and stand-up format next time? Most of all, it was great to be back. Thank you BAR.
Summaries of some of the key presentations will be included in The Mover next month.