Some personal thoughts on the question of 'When might Woodturning Club Meetings start again'?

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Established Member
1 Jun 2012
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Cottingham, East Yorkshire
A recent thread highlighted the awe-inspiring work of Joey Richardson MA – a professional artistic woodturner whose work is in galleries the world over. In pre-Covid times, Joey, and other professional demonstrators, demonstrated at woodturning clubs, which prompts me to mention the predicament that all hobbies clubs find themselves in during the pandemic. I guess few of us could have imagined that the pandemic would have gone on for as long as it has, and with no end in sight, albeit the consequences of falling seriously ill or dying have been mitigated by the success of the vaccine programme in terms of the take-up and effectiveness of it.

For 20 years or so, I’ve been a member and committee secretary is East Yorkshire Woodturners.

Until February 2020 we met on the third Tuesday evening each month in Skidby Village Hall to the north of Hull. The term of office of the committee of eight expired in February 2020, since which time that committee has acted in a ‘caretaker’ role to look after the Club’s interest, to formulate an action plan, budget, and risk assessments to enable the Club to be re-launched. It the five years to 2019, membership of the Club had grown from fewer than 50, to 65, with an average attendance of 50 – about 75%. Though we continue to refer to our Club ‘members’ the reality is that until the Club is relaunched, we don’t have any actual members – we have 65 ‘former’ members, most of whom we hope to re-join when conditions will allow us to re-launch the Cub.

49 of those ‘members’ have internet so we’ve kept them informed via email newsletters and on what would have been ‘club-nights, we have a Zoom meeting for any ‘members’ who might like to have a natter, to show examples of their work, to share ideas, seek advice and generally socialise. For those ‘members’ not on internet, we’ve occasionally posted newsletters if we’ve had anything of significance to say.

For Clubs such as ours, whose format has traditionally been to have a programme of professional demonstrators at all or some on their Club-nights are faced with, three key conditions need to be fulfilled before the Club can be re-established. Namely:

1) Demonstrators must be prepared to attend:

In normal times we have a pro demonstrator at each monthly club-night. We've checked with all of our demonstrators booked for 2021 and all but two are keen to resume activities. Of those two has retired, the other has given up on demonstrations at Club premises and has invested a lot of money in giving Zoom demonstrations from his own workshop as an alternative. Such sessions can be live, interactive, and exclusive to a Club if there is an internet connection at the Club premises. Alternatively, if the Club pays a fee, those members who wish to participate could (for a fee payable to the Club), participate in such Zoom demonstrations from home.

Here’s my take on Zoom – which others might not concur with:

Like most I guess, I’ve made the best of lockdown, but what it has taught me is that though Zoom (and MS ‘Teams’) has enabled businesses to continue to function, for non-business applications and socialising, it’s the ‘least-worst’ option when face-to-face meetings can't be held. I don't go to club-nights to just see a demonstration, but to socialise with ‘kindred spirits’. Likewise, I don't go to a restaurants or coffee shops because I'm hungry or thirsty - I can have something to eat or drink to satisfy that need. I do it to socialise. So why on earth would I want to be a ‘Billy No Mates’ and watch a Zoom woodturning demo at home if I can watch a real-life demonstrator amongst chums in a social setting at the Club? That said, I'm aware that during lockdown, some woodturning Clubs which only exist on Zoom have gained quite a following, so I'm not knocking Zoom per se - just saying it doesn't have a close fit with traditional Hobby Clubs such as ours.

2) All restrictions on social distancing need to be removed:

At our Village Hall venue, even a reduced ‘social distance’ of 1 Metre between seats would reduce the capacity of the room from 75 down to 24. As mentioned above, we have (or rather ‘had’), a membership of 65 and average attendance of 50. A normal meeting would involve taking an entrance fee on the door, selling raffle tickets for a draw, having sales tables for members 'bring and buy', a refreshment break for members to mix and mingle. The Hall is now in use for small groups (Zumba, Mothers and Toddlers etc), but present risk assessment compliance would negate most of our Club activities. No handling of cash/issuing of tickets, no use of the kitchen, all to remain seated and wearing masks, (no mixing or mingling) all surfaces, light switches, window catches, door handles, chairs, tables to be sanitised, and so on. Simply setting the room out involves 80 pieces of equipment - lathe, tools, projectors, screen, PA system, cameras, cables, and so on.

3) Enough members will need to re-join for the Club to be financially viable.

If the same meeting format is to be retained for our Club, to enable us to cover the fixed and variable operating costs and enable the Club to be financially viable, a minimum of 45 to re-join, with an average attendance of 34 (75%). We've contacted all members (or more accurately former members before we had to cease activities in Feb 2020). We're encouraged that most are keen to resume as soon as we're permitted to meet once more.

Strictly speaking, from Monday 19 July, all Covid restrictions are (allegedly) to be removed, so in theory, meetings should soon be able to recommence, but frankly, I can't see the Village Hall Management throwing caution to the wind. In the next few weeks, we’ll seek their views on whether or not (regardless of what relaxation of mandatory rules the Government might decree), the onerous restrictions presently in place will be removed.

For us to re-launch the Club, we'd have to call an EGM with one month's notice in writing to elect a committee to serve until the next AGM in Feb 2022. Enough former members would need to re-join and if they did, there’s a chance we could re-start the Club in Autumn 2021. If sufficient members didn’t re-join, we’d see if things are more settled by the AGM in 2022. We remain positive about the prospects of re-launching the Club, but if insufficient members are forthcoming, at the 2022 AGM, the Club would need to be wound up, and any residual funds after all debts are settled, distributed to local charities. Hopefully that a bridge we won't have to cross.

Like almost all woodturning Clubs, ours is affiliated to the Association of Woodturners of Great Britain. (AWGB) which arranges public liability and all risks insurance for Clubs as a group scheme. Because we had no idea (still don't have), when we will next be able to meet, though we've had no income in 2020 & 2021, we've retained our membership of AWGB and paid our insurance premiums. Along with some modest expenditure on admin costs to date amount to £600.

Over the next few months, it will be interesting to see how many hobby Clubs are able to re-establish themselves on a sound footing. In my village of Cottingham East Yorks, (really a township of 20,000 residents), until lockdown there were some 80 clubs and societies catering for every interest. Only a small handful have yet been able to re-start to date. It will be interesting to see what happens post-lockdown from 19 July.

I hope this rather wordy post doesn’t come across as a negative whinge, less still a rant. I just thought it would be useful to set out the challenges that Clubs, (or at least our Club), face, and go some way towards explaining why there isn’t a simple response to the question ‘When will Club Meetings start again?’.

I hope it's of interest.

West Oxfordshire Woodturners have informed members that their next meeting will be on September 7th with Emma Cook, The Tiny Turner, demonstrating.
Excellent and heartening news. Emma is a great turner - very personable and entertaining too . A long way from home too for a ‘Yorkshire Lass’ - Leeds to Oxfordshire! (Worth watching her on Youtube).
Other factor that may challenge clubs is quality of AV kit - folks are now used to being able to see in great detail via a range of camera views what is going on. I’ve seen some clubs do this really well pre-COVID, others less so but I wonder if expectations will have changed now for what is the ‘minimum standard’?

I too belong to a small wood turning club that has carried on with Zoom meetings and demos. I really don’t like zoom and can’t get on with it at all, so have only ‘zoomed’ in a couple of times!
I’m sure the club will continue when we can get together again, hall committee willing, but can’t come soon enough for me!
Other factor that may challenge clubs is quality of AV kit - folks are now used to being able to see in great detail via a range of camera views what is going on. I’ve seen some clubs do this really well pre-COVID, others less so but I wonder if expectations will have changed now for what is the ‘minimum standard’?


Thanks for reading the thread Simon and for your comments.

Our set up involved two cameras mounted on a frame which also holds a polycarbonate screen to protect the audiences from chipping flying off the lathe. One camera is mounted above the lathe headstock for overhead video, the other at the tailstock end. An operator switches from one camera to the other as appropriate for best viewing. We have two digital video projectors - one at the front of the room with a 2 M square screen, the other projector and screen half-way towards the back of the room.
We also have a PA system which uses a wireless Bluetooth mike so the people towards the back of the room can hear as well as see the demonstration.

Our pre-Covid room layout was eight rows of seven seats set out 'cinema style' which is fairly typical. We have Bring & Buy tables for tools, equipment, timber etc., a competition table for a monthly competition, and a library of DVDs/Books for free loan to members. We have a refreshment break at 'half-time. We have an annual subscription plus an entry fee for each meeting attended, and sell tickets for a raffle to fund raise.

The format works well for us and membership grown to 65 at which point we were on the brink of creating a waiting list.

As things stand, the Village Hall risks assessment forbids most of those activities and we await an updated risks assessment which would enable us to resume activities as before, given that there are now no mandatory limitations which would prevent resumption. But if for example, the Village Hall are risk averse and insist upon retaining social distancing, no cash handling, no issuing of tickets, no use of the kitchen, sanitisation of all surfaces, chairs, window catches, door handle, light switches, all to remain seated - no 'mixing and mingling' etc etc. (which it presently does), then we will not be able to re-open any time soon.

Different of course for Clubs which have their own premises or don't trouble themselves with risks assessments or the small print of the terms, conditions and exclusions of their insurance.

We have to keep reminding ourselves that it's a hobby, and hobbies are about the relaxing and enjoyable use of scarce leisure time - not one more think in life to get stressed out about.
Our woodturning club used to meet monthly September thru June in the sets/props workshop of shop of a local theatre. The club has about 50 members and dues are $20Can a year. Meetings started with club business, then a coffee/donut break (small payment for what you took), show and tell, a 1/2 hour demo by one of the members and ending with a draw (buck a ticket) for wood, sometimes tools brought in by members and a couple $25 gift cards generously provided each month by the local Lee Valley store. Attendance was anywhere from 25 to 35 per meeting. The weather and distance, up to 3 hours for some a factor.

With Covid we held monthly meetings on Zoom and attendance would sometimes approach 50 and we still collected the annual dues of $20Can. End of the meeting we drew for the 2 Lee Valley gift cards they continued to provide. There were a few demos, usually pre-recorded, but not every meeting. The good thing about the Zoom meeting was that the people living several hours away could still attend and sub zero weather wouldn't keep people from attending although it does stop those without shop heat from turning. 🥶

Our restrictions have all been lifted so in September we will be meeting again starting with a barbecue and a regular meeting a week later at a local high school wood shop. As long as outbreaks don't return we will continue to meet. The members are of a type that have had both their jabs but I will initially at least wear a mask and see how it goes.

The local wood working guild did basically the same as we did with the Zoom meetings with the restrictions in force. They also resume live meetings in September.

Not woodturning, but my wife is in an amateur wind orchestra and they have done a really good job since it all came to a halt. Not restarted yet, 40 people in a room all blowing out though tuneful tubes is deemed high risk. Typically they rehearsed one evening a week and perform 2 concerts a year.

Some things they have done which might give ideas for others in clubs:

  • They have kept in touch really well and asked opinions before taking decisions. Members are typically 60 ish, although many are much younger and much older. Late summer last year they could have met up outdoors in sections (flutes, reeds, brass etc) but collective view was not to.
  • The small committee were all prepared to continue so they did a simple composite agm motion to reappoint and approve accounts, sent round by email and passed at a short zoom meeting at the start of one of their socials. Most similar organisations articles want agm in person but I doubt any authority in the land would challenge their method during covid.
  • They kept the music alive, largely thanks to their really good conductor/music director. He sent individual parts around with a click track, members had 2 or 3 weeks to record video and audio on their phones, he knitted it all together. They stuck to their concert timetable, so when the normal Autumn one would have been they put up a concert of the 6 months worth of work on you tube with a range of pieces and got far more views than they normally get at the concert.
  • They kept the social alive with fortnightly zoom meetings, link sent out by one or the other of the committee or longstanding members and anyone could join in, typically one hour max, typically a dozen or so joined but not always the same people. Keeping social and music separate seemed to work well.
Adapting this to woodturning clubs, maybe each month a new gallery page for members to send pictures of recent work and perhaps some wip pictures? A regular and separate zoom social for those that want it. Some sort of club only buy/sell message board. Some months you could mail out a simple design drawing and ask members to post pictures of what they made: just to keep it all alive and involved. They won't all, but some will and its costs nothing to try it out.

Some of the professional venues near us did re-open and are doing split shorter concerts. Instead of a programme of 2 halves, they have a 6.30-8.00 concert repeated at 8.30-10.00, each with a half sized audience. The performers still get paid for a concert, the venue sells just as many tickets, and although the audience just gets half the music its very focussed and the 'good half' - normally in a classical concert you get 2 or 3 shorter pieces before the interval and a major symphony after. They just do the 'after', twice. I wonder if you could do that with professional demonstrators to get round venue limitations: we pay you normal fee, you do a shorter demo but do it twice. Not ideal, but maybe better than nothing.

The key is involving members in the decisions - some might be desperate for real meetings, others might be fearful of lots in a small room and prefer other ways to stay engaged for now.
What worked for our Zoom meeting "Show and tell" the best, was for people to send their pictures to the moderator in the days before the meeting. When we got to that part of the meeting the mod put up the persons pictures while that person commented and answered questions. Then they moved to the next. That way there was no issues with share screen problems across different platforms and the person having their pictures at the ready.

Good point, not just for 'amateur clubs', thinking about the number of times I have been in board meetings in the last year where screen sharing has been difficult and we all murmer politely while presenters panic. "Can you all see that". "No" .... oh bother. Or worse.

What you need is a benevolent autocrat to take control. That doesn't have to be the chair, it just needs someone who is good at it.
I wish I could attend a wood turning club a couple of evenings per year but allas it would take a day to get there n back....hahaha

one of the sacrifices of living in the sun....
I wish I could attend a wood turning club a couple of evenings per year but allas it would take a day to get there n back....hahaha

one of the sacrifices of living in the sun....

Well you do at least have Nicos Siragas in Rethymno!

Until a couple of years ago when he retired from demonstrating, at least in the UK, Nicos used to demonstrate for us every December and it didn't cost us a penny in travel costs! He married a lady from Beverley in East Yorkshire and would come over to the UK every December to spend Christmas here. He used to work his way up the country, demonstrating at Clubs on the way up here to help him pay his way. Well worth looking at his book 'From Tree to Gallery'. A goblet like the one on on the front cover was turned and shaped at our Club, as were most of the items in his book.

He seems to have an inexhaustible supply of Olive, so no surprises there!

From Tree to Gallery | Nikos Siragas Wood Art

A great guy - larger than life in every respect.

Good point, not just for 'amateur clubs', thinking about the number of times I have been in board meetings in the last year where screen sharing has been difficult and we all murmer politely while presenters panic. "Can you all see that". "No" .... oh bother. Or worse.

What you need is a benevolent autocrat to take control. That doesn't have to be the chair, it just needs someone who is good at it.

For anyone who uses Zoom for conferencing, this will be all too familiar. It will seem more like a documentary than humour:

humour+the perils of zoom conferences+youtube - Bing video

And this:
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