Late 2016 I was asked if I would consider helping The Mindfulness Network with its operations and IT, and so began an adventure. In January 2017 I took over the reins from Sharon Hadley who had decided to move on as business director to focus on other things. I’ve worked with and for similar small businesses many times, so it was not overly daunting, but there was a lot to understand.
It took about three months to get a sense of what the organisation was doing, to begin to appreciate both the scale of its activities and aspirations, and to understand how it achieved so much with so little resource. A little after I joined, Bridgette O’Neill started as retreat lead, and we started to put together the programme of retreats for 2018. In March I attended the annual gathering of supervisors, and it was my first opportunity to get a sense of the people involved outside of the core team. I soon had a sense of the commitment everyone involved had to making the organisation a success.
An early concern was getting a handle on finances. We installed an accounting system to replace the spreadsheets that had been used, and moved to invoicing for all our retreat bookings and for supervisor contributions. That simple step was hugely important, as it meant that we could track finances and chase payments. We spend a lot less time now reconciling payments, which is now really important as in a year our retreat applicants has more than doubled.
Another early concern was the name of the organisation. After much debate and consultation with associates, it was decided to keep the name, but to create distinct work streams for supervision and retreats. This led to the creation of two new websites for supervision (launched in June) and retreats (launched in October). The intention was to give people a simple and effective web experience focussed on a clear need, and to make the content of our web presence more manageable. Halley has done a wonderful job of shaping the websites and making them engaging. Gary has brilliantly handled the technical side. Subsequently this has proved a wise step as we are planning two new work streams for training and compassion that we can handle in a similar way.
Soon we were able to put together a plan for the next full year – one which has seen the programme Bridgette has developed for 2018 that you can find in www.mindfulness-secular-retreats.org.uk. The finances for this were viable, provided we booked retreats to our budget, and so far indications are very positive; by February our bookings for the rest of the year are over 50%, our first retreat was closed to applicants at capacity, and our April retreat is booked to budget – full credit to Bridgette for creating an appealing schedule and to Halley for the marketing.
Then we set to seeing the current year out. Esther continued to work her magic behind the scenes, and the retreats we had on the schedule went well. One challenge arose when we found that Buckland Hall were not set up in the way Trigonos are, and required us to take accommodation bookings. Our VAT registration needed changing to achieve that (or we would end up paying VAT on VAT – not an appealing prospect). This was my first experience of dealing with HMRC on VAT – that is probably worth a blog on its own about patience, acceptance, non-judging and non-striving. I attended the Buckland Hall retreat, which Gill Johnson wrote about, and had my first impromptu experience of helping to set up a retreat (that is definitely another blog).
In July, at the conference in Chester, Alison asked if we might have a discussion, perhaps while enjoying a walk around Chester. How would I feel about us taking on the continuing professional and personal development (CPPD) programme from Bangor University, under licence? That was rather a long and momentous walk around the city walls. Both of us nervously thought it would be a cautious yes, with lots of caveats.
The next day Anna joined to take over a lot of the operations activity I had been doing, such as setting up retreats, managing bookings, invoicing, chasing payments. Previously I had thought I might do a little more academic research, but Anna came along just at the right time to enable us to focus on exploring possible arrangements with Bangor University. Research went on the back burner again.
Throughout the autumn we had many discussions with Bangor University, and we slowly put together a viable business plan to take on the CPPD activities of CMRP. Working closely with Rebecca and Alison we are now in the final stages of establishing an agreement, and taking on responsibility for a range of CPPD activities from August 2018. This caused us to rethink the business structure of The Mindfulness Network, and we realised we need to become either a charity or a community interest company limited by guarantee to offer the training courses. We also need to overhaul and improve our technical infrastructure.
There have been some other interesting challenges over the year. In August I turned up at Buckland Hall to find that they expected me to take full responsibility for the building and its in habitants for the seven day retreat; I signed a health and safety declaration, including one about fire safety, and at 8 o’clock there was a regional power failure for two hours when we had to hand out candles so that people found their way to bed. In November I broke my arm, so I have learnt to dictate into Siri – so any offensive or confusing emails in the last few weeks have not been my fault (honest). If you are dealing with people, things go wrong, and always at the last minute, and we have had quite a few of those. But overall, it has been a delight to work with a team that is growing in numbers and capability and to see the organisation developing in so many ways.
2018 promises to be an exciting and challenging year, more so than 2017. In particular, becoming a charity will open up lots of opportunities. There will be bumps along the way, as there always are. As I write we wait for the license agreement to be turned into legalese, and for the charity application to work its way through. Then from Easter there will be a lot of work, in expanding the team, in putting new infrastructure in place, and in delivering an exciting programme of work.
And in 2019 – maybe I will retire. Again. And do some research. Maybe.
Or maybe not! It has been a privilege to be part of The Mindfulness Network team. Who knows how the next stage of this adventure will develop.