A Gap in the Map

During my tenure in the role of Area Director for Area 42, I became more aware of the distribution of clubs in the South West of England, and noticed the gap of many miles between the clubs in Bristol and their Western neighbours, Exeter.

As I am always keen to have a project on the table, I started to think about this situation and did a little research into towns that fell between the two clubs. By a process of elimination, it became clear that the ideal location for a new club would be Taunton. The advantages of this location where numerous. It had one of the highest concentrations of population, it was on the M5 corridor, and had another large town, Bridgewater, only a few miles away.

I spoke to the trio, Andy Hammond, Florian Bay and Arnaud Satre, outlining my idea, and asking for advice. Florian sent me a very helpful workbook that he had developed called ‘Launching Successful Clubs’ and I started to gather my team together.

I initially invited two members from Casterbridge Speakers (Dorchester), who were travelling some distance from the North of Somerset to attend the Casterbridge meetings, and with their encouragement and support, and in early Spring 2019 I put together a timeline for all the steps I would need to take to achieve the goal of launching a new club.

I began in February with looking at the surrounding clubs, and finding their meeting schedules, in order to select a night when there were no other meetings nearby, so that we could ensure some support during the early weeks.

I then drew together a formal committee, which a member from South West Speakers, Grace Jones, now Area Director for Area 62, joined, so with a group of four, we began to plan. We set up a series of online meetings, with formal agenda’s and minutes, in order to keep track of our progress.

By the beginning of March we were looking for a suitable and affordable venue. All our research was online and by phone, until we found a venue that looked promising, and then two of us went to see if it lived up to expectations. It was reasonably priced at £15 per hour, had a bar and pub food available, was large and had ample parking. This fitted our criteria, so it was booked until December. We felt this was wise, in case a better option was found at a later date, but this was ideal to get us off the ground.

We then had work to do, deciding the name of the club, the club mission and vision (which we largely cribbed from other clubs), and one of our team started work on the club website. We applied for help with registering on Easyspeak, and allocated officer roles for the three potential members. We appreciated a great deal of help and coaching from Casterbridge for the VPE and Treasurer roles and progressed through our journey, opening a bank account, which I did quite simply and quickly online with Lloyds Bank.

I informed Arnaud that we were in process of planning our launch on 10th September, and he sent me a box of goodies for the club. I then registered the club with Toastmaster International, we offered the role of Club Sponsor to two of the founding members. As we had to pay a little over £100 to headquarters to register, we asked for sponsorship from Casterbridge. They agreed to loan the club £50.00 of the needed funds. We then received another box of materials from headquarters. Purchase of the basic club needs became an item for the budget. We had some lights and other materials donated from another club, but had to purchase a lectern (Amazon) but still needed to work on our budget and member fees. We received help from experienced treasurers with this key part of the planning, as setting the financial basis for the survival of the club was of utmost importance.

We organised invitation cards and labels from a local print shop, and two of us toured Taunton and the surrounding area, leaving information at reception desks, canteens and business premises, including conference centres. Our launch was also put onto Eventbrite, and we were sponsored by the Bristol Clubs to be published on Meetup. As we were fortunate to have one member who was in the publicity business, we put press releases into the local papers, and had two six minutes exposure on the local Radio station.

The date arrived. We were to serve a simple finger buffet, and we had a launch cake, with the Toastmaster logo boldly displayed as part of the cake topping.

The response from Eventbrite was encouraging nine guests arrived and were greeted with warmth and enthusiasm, supported by members from Casterbridge and South West Speakers.

We had decided to follow the usual format for the agenda, but only have 2 speeches. As we wanted to introduce guests to the journey they could follow, we selected two fairly new members, one from each supporting club, and delivered one Icebreaker and one speech from Pathways Level 1. We felt this would make potential members feel reassured that it was possible for them as well. We had a lively and enjoyable meeting, with four of the guests committing to join, and others willing to think about it and spread the word. We also had some additional cards printed with the regular club schedule on them, for all to take away. All the guests participated in Table Topics, and the atmosphere was relaxed and supportive.

Our district Director, Florian was there to support us and took the General Evaluator role, and we also had support from Mike Burrows, District A Director, who has been a source of knowledge and help throughout the process.

We now have to carry this momentum forward into the coming months. The leadership knowledge we have gained has been invaluable, and with the support we have had, we are confident that Taunton Speakers is here to stay.

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