"I'm tremendously excited - and I confess a little nervous - about becoming District Governor, and about our District Conference. Excited because I believe with all my heart in Rotary's aims and ethos, and I regard it as a huge privilege to be taking on the role of District Governor. I recognise it is an enormous responsibility - the 2-year lead-up period has reinforced that - and I have some great footsteps in which to follow. And nervous, because of precisely those challenges. Also, because we are 'daring to be different' this year with our District Conference.
Each conference has its own approach to this wonderful opportunity to network and showcase Rotary's work, and I've enjoyed listening to so many inspiring, motivating, and often touching stories presented over the years. Our approach in 2020 has come about as a result of the canvassing of clubs I've been doing as I've visited across the District, and of listening to people when I've asked them why they come - or don't come - to what I believe is such an important event in the Rotary calendar. Rotary's activity programme is progressive year-on-year, and conferences should be too: we've taken on board the feedback. It's still our District 1200 Conference, with the core elements of keynote speakers, updates on Rotary locally and internationally, House of Friendship where we welcome charities and organisations to showcase their work to us, and a conference dinner on the Saturday evening - but with a few twists, including a summer festival vibe! 'Caring for our World' will be our topical theme.
2020 will see day delegate options at what we believe to be a very reasonable price (that came across to us loud and clear!), due in no small part to our sponsors, MHA Monahans and MHA Monahans Wealth Management, both of whom have contributed significant sums to help us encourage you to attend and benefit from what the conference can offer you. We are incredibly grateful to them and we hope you will visit their stand. Delegates can also enjoy the fuller weekend programme as usual. This year, Friday night sees us hold an informal 2-course hog roast, and we will break with tradition and have the formal District handover that evening, so that we can crack on with the programme on the Saturday! Golfers amongst you can tee off at Oake Manor from 11am on Friday.
Saturday's conference programme is being held in the magnificent environment of Taunton School, and we have decided to give it a 'light touch' with a festival vibe - look out for street food van options at lunchtime (and a sneaky gin bar trailer!). We know many of you have a competitive spirit, so you, and the young people we hope will attend, will have your 'Rotary Around the World Passport' which you can complete by visiting breakout sessions and the House of Friendship, then you will be entered into a draw for a fabulous prize. In order to showcase many initiatives and activities by Rotary clubs in the District, to create a programme where you can choose which sessions you wish to attend, and to facilitate engagement between participants, we also have a breakout session programme with presenters - not just speakers delivering their talk, but interactive activities, too. Our aim is to create a memorable experience.
We have also responded to requests for a programme which is likely to engage family members and we proactively invite children this year - there will be lots for them to enjoy (see the dinosaur's dissection, for a start!). And as we all know, recruitment to Rotary is an uphill struggle for many clubs, so by keeping the price so low, we are asking you to invite and encourage non-Rotarians to attend, too, and get a flavour of what Rotary is about and how they might join in.
By the way, I should perhaps mention another personal driver for me, and that is, giving back to Rotary - because it is through Rotary that I met my wife, Julie. Many of you know the story and were possibly there when she was one of the speakers at the National Conference in Belfast, and then at many District Conferences afterwards - including District 1200's in Jersey. I owe Rotary a great deal for this. Though her version may be, 'Rotary's got a lot to answer for'!
So - yes, we are setting ourselves huge challenges in trying to meet the expectations of many attendees and prospective attendees. (By we, I mean the District 1200 conference committee, who are working tirelessly on this programme and to whom I owe a tremendous debt of gratitude - and probably a few drinks at the end!) But as Rotarians, we are always up for meeting the big challenges, aren't we?"