Branches are for members in need
12 February 2019
Brian Williams, branch secretary
Ever wondered what your local NUJ branch could do for you? If you’re in a large, powerful chapel the answer is probably no – in which case you should count your blessings. But the vast majority of staff journalists who no longer enjoy that luxury, and freelances who never did, can take heart from the fact there may be a workable alternative on their doorstep.
There was a time when you could count on having access to an active branch. Sadly, those days have gone. But, should your branch be dormant, don’t despair. If Brighton and Mid Sussex is anything to go by, a few like-minded enthusiasts can reawaken it in no time.
You are no doubt familiar with the whereabouts of Brighton. Mid Sussex, on the other hand, is harder to pinpoint. For those who are interested in such things, it’s a local government district in the county of West Sussex that contains the towns of East Grinstead, Haywards Heath and Burgess Hill, among others. But our patch doesn’t end there any more. The branches that once bordered us have fallen into disrepair and we now have members as far apart as Hastings and Littlehampton – a distance of more than 50 miles.
It’s an area that contains a lot of working journalists. Sadly, too few of them are in recognised chapels – which is where the branch comes in. For members in need of help – be they staff or freelances – we aim to be their first point of contact. Our brilliant national officials are stretched to the limit, so anything experienced and knowledgeable lay officials can do to ease their burden has to be good for the union. We don’t claim that we will resolve everyone’s problems. But we are more than happy to help when we can, and point people in the right direction when we can’t.
It was a recognition issue that provided the spark to re-ignite the branch. As a union, we have been pressing Newsquest to recognise the Brighton Argus chapel for some time. As part of our recruitment campaign there, we organised a get-together in a local pub for the journalists on the paper who wanted to know more about the NUJ. As the local custodians of the union’s dosh, a branch is generally expected to pick up the tab for events such as these. Trouble was, the branch hadn’t met for well over a year and there were no serving officers.
There was a contact number though, and happily the owner of that number turned out to be a lifelong NUJ loyalist. With his help, not only were we able to pay our bar bill, we were able to get in touch with fellow union stalwarts in the area, and before we knew it we were gathered in the same room holding a branch meeting.
Since then, we’ve organised regular monthly meetings, a summer social and a Christmas party.
We are determined that we won’t become a tedious talking shop. Yes, there is union business that the branch must attend to and we get that done. But there is so much more we can offer members – guest speakers who can shine a light on the subjects that interest journalists, a chance to network with colleagues you might not otherwise meet and targeted advice such as how to make a success of freelancing. Oh, and we like to have some fun while we’re doing it. Being sociable doesn’t stop with the summer social.
The key to success, we think, is to ensure that the entire workload of the branch doesn’t fall on just one or two people. Of course, officers have take responsibility for the roles to which they are elected, but the whole thing becomes so much more enjoyable if the tasks are shared around.
That said, we don’t claim to have all the answers – we’d love to hear from any branch with ideas that would help us attract more members. And, perhaps, if your local branch has gone to sleep, we could assist you in giving it a wake-up call.
If you’re ever in Brighton and Mid Sussex, be sure to look us up. We’d love to treat you to a spot of south coast hospitality.