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Quainton News Archive - Quainton News No. 32 - Summer 1977
Volunteers, Not Conscripts! - By Janice Uphill
It is often said in QRS (and, no doubt, in other similar societies) that we are all volunteers and therefore cannot be ordered about! However, although it is true that we are neither employees nor paid for our services, as members or associates of the Society we do agree to abide by the Rules of the Society and to be responsible for the actions of any persons we may nominate as Family Associates. It is sometimes forgotten that the rules also include our operating rules, which are based on the BR 1950 Rule Book, and that we also have to observe the requirements of the Health and Safety at Work Act, 1974. The Department of the Environment has power to limit our activities if we do not abide by this. It is one of our membership secretary's duties to see that all people who work on the site, particularly on open days, are members, and this of course includes anyone in the 6024 Group who actually works on King Edward I. So this means that anyone working at Quainton has agreed to abide by the rules.
The Society has the advantage of being a limited company and a registered charity, which brings many privileges to us, financial and otherwise. But these, privileges bring liabilities and responsibilities; you cannot have one without the other, and failure to carry out prescribed company obligations brings legal penalties in the first instance to the officers of the Society, but ultimately to all the members. The business and affairs of the Society are managed by our Executive Committee, aided by sub-committees which consider and report on particular matters, and in company law the Executive members are equivalent to directors. All members can take part in the Annual General Meeting at which matters of policy are discussed, though only shareholding members may vote; it is the Annual General Meeting which elects the majority of the members of the Executive and therefore it is the shareholding members who ultimately control and are responsible for the Society. As members we can therefore help form the policy of the Society and change any rule or practice which we think to be wrong, misguided or just out of date. Although each person only has one vote and at any given time we have all power and yet none, as a corporate body we can do great things: by having mutual respect and trust for each other; by co-operation; by general discussion in AGMs, sub-committees and general meetings, or just ad hoc chats round a paraffin stove in our restoration shed, and in this way getting "the feeling of the Society." Should any "dictator" try to undermine us and take over the Society there are plenty of safeguards, but it is up to each one of us to make sure it does not happen; we have only ourselves to blame if it does. Because the Society is democratic one can make change like the drop of water hollowing out a stone, not by violence, but by soft falling.
Now many of you reading this will probably say, "What do we want with all these rules and regulations restricting our freedom? We come here to do our own thing," or words to that effect. You may be surprised to know, after reading the above, that I am at heart an anarchist and the first person to do the opposite if someone gives me orders in a dictatorial tone! So you may ask, why am I writing about obeying rules?
I think the answer lies in the reason for my joining QRS. It was because I was interested in railways as a form of communication in general, I was particularly struck by the democratic nature of the Society, and most important, the profit motive did not come into it at all. There was no question of me becoming an employee to an employer, a slave to a boss, a non-person like a cord in a switchboard just waiting to be plugged in at someone else's whim. However, in any organization of people one has to have codes of practice in order to avoid chaos, and it is a paradox, but within a particular code of practice, presuming it is fair and just, one can have pretty well absolute freedom; as long as there is co-operation between people and a willingness to accept collective decisions. Complete obedience is tyranny, but total freedom is chaos, and therefore one wants a balance between the two, and this is co-operation. Of course it is important that the codes of practice or rules are taken in the spirit in which they were meant, and used as a tool, and do not become the master. It was Cicero who said that, "The good of the people is the chief law," and therefore of course unthinking obedience to the law or rule must not become more important than anything the rules were intended originally to protect.
This is where the democratic organization comes in; we all have the right and opportunity to do something about anything we do not like in the Society; that is, there is the correct channel to put it right, through our Executive, our sub-committees and our AGM. And even although we each only have one vote, small beginnings can grow like the ripples after a stone is dropped in a pond. We are very lucky to have such freedoms as we do in QRS, for as readers are probably aware, members of some other railway societies have nothing like the powers we have, with their holding companies, etc. Despite the fact that some members have more expertise than others, we are all equals as each has only one vote; it is not what we are but what we make of what we are that is important. And because we are equals we have no servants to do the dirty work or clear up after us; each of us is responsible for what we do and to carry out our work tasks, which we have agreed to do, through to the end, and not leave the boring bits for someone else to sort out, or mind if we are called to account for our actions.
When we visited QRS for the first time in August 1969 (which incidentally we found out afterwards was the first open day at Quainton) I was immediately struck by the friendly atmosphere and, for instance, the reasonable behaviour of the car park attendant; this contrasted strongly with the car park attendants at the Harrow Show that year where we were treated very rudely and expected to carry a hundredweight of model steam loco across a hundred yards of mud, it being forbidden to bring in a car. The good omen in the QRS car park continued inside and a number of members spoke to us when they saw we were genuinely interested in what was going on, and not dressed up for Ascot and complaining we had got smuts on our best clothes! here did not seem to be anyone in overall charge and yet everything appeared to go smoothly; in fact we did not even find out who the Chairman was until sometime after we had become members.
However, it must be obvious to anyone, and particularly to those of you who remember those early days, even although you had different reasons for joining QRS than I, that the only reason the day went as smoothly as it did was because the volunteers did take a responsible attitude and get on with the job.
Since the Society has grown so much, this is even more important; we have to look after a much larger area of land these days, for one thing; and as for the amount of rolling stock and locos, these have more than trebled. To me the beauty of our Society, because it is basically democratic, is the amount of freedom we have to do what we like, and it is for this reason that I am prepared, in fact quite happy, to, e.g. get up at 5 am to light up a locomotive, or stand for hours in the freezing cold, without a break, working on Signals and Telegraph. If this were my paid job I would be quoting all the union rules about having breaks! In a way the fact that one is a volunteer is an advantage-in one 's heart of hearts one knows that one cannot be made to do anything, and you get back to the feeling that you are doing something, however unpleasant, basically because you want to; you want to see the Society a success with our Treasurer's eyes lighting up as he counts the pound notes, so that we can go on improving our premises and getting more acquisitions and restoring them. Work is commitment, positive and active, and there is such a sense of achievement at the end.
Turning back to the fact that we are all equals: it is also true that in different circumstances we have different roles to play, and because we are volunteers, it is quite easy to be in a different role and to accept other people in different roles. For instance, you probably know that recently I was co-opted onto the Executive to take the minutes, as it was felt that my particular secretarial experience would enable me to impartially record what went on in the meetings, however unpalatable some of the decisions might be. In this situation the Executive relies on me. When, however, I put on my trainee fireman's hat and am on a live steam locomotive, I am under the jurisdiction of one of the 9 official drivers. It may be that the driver is a member of the Executive, but in this situation it is I who do what I am told, because I trust these 9 drivers and know that if anything goes wrong it is they who carry the can. The same of course goes when an ordinary member takes on the responsibility of a stationmaster.
Therefore, to get back to my first sentence, that we cannot be ordered about. That is true, but we can be asked or advised to do something, and if we are willing, it is up to us to do any job we have agreed to do or taken responsibility for, carrying it through to the end and not lumbering someone else with it at the first sign of trouble and when a decision needs to be made. Of course it takes courage and confidence to stick one's neck out, but this is the price one pays for taking on responsibility. And in the end it is better to try and sort something out than let a wrong fester and multiply, which it could do if not stopped. It is unfair to expect a fellow volunteer to do one's dirty work and become the scapegoat. If we are all reliable and take full responsibility for what we do, however boring or difficult it may be, then no longer will the few conscientious members have to half kill themselves doing too much work, while at the same time other members feel they are not wanted. On the other hand, should at any time, by virtue of change in home or work circumstances, for instance, it become necessary for us to give up a particular responsibility, there is no need to be a martyr, and again because we are volunteers we have the freedom to resign without the fear of not getting another job and going on the dole.
There is much satisfaction and joy in discovering that one is helping to make Quainton a success, and to feel that the hard work one does is bearing fruit. The Latin saying "To work is to pray" is very true, for one has the pleasure of realizing that the difficulties have been overcome by one's own efforts, and how much more true when it is done voluntarily and not by force or because there's a wage packet at the end of it.
Text © Quainton Railway Society / Photographs © Quainton Railway Society or referenced photographer
Page Updated: 12 November 2017