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A ‘Virtual’ Speaker for the North West Group

L&B members scattered around the country usually read of the latest land purchase or rolling stock development in the Magazine, whilst many of them also get more frequent updates via our topical website.  But we do not always get a true impression of the sheer quantity of work, and the complex planning, that is behind the announcement of each small piece of the jigsaw of rebuilding the railway falling into place.

Area Groups such as Surrey and Thames Valley benefit from occasional visits from Peter Miles or other Trustees to their meetings, giving them the background of what is behind each small step.  But more distant groups cannot realistically ask our already busy volunteer directors to give up a day or more to visit them, inevitably incurring costs in the process.

So on 8 April 2017, as an experiment, the North West Group set up a meeting in Manchester in our usual meeting room (which has guest WIFI), where Keith Vingoe, long-serving L&B director (currently Marketing Director of the CIC) and L&B historian gave local members a wide-ranging update on a range of topics via the sort of video link that companies use nowadays to minimise the time and cost of holding regular meetings (and which some members probably use to keep in regular touch with distant family).

Ten members (numbers perhaps depleted by a local rail strike, the Grand National, etc.) gathered for the meeting, first viewing shown pictures of our stand at the Rainford Show last weekend, as well as photos of a couple of railway items with a Lancashire connection, seen on Bob’s recent trip to Australia. It was especially good to meet a couple of local members who have not previously attended our meetings.

At the appointed time, we set up the Skype video call between a laptop computer in Manchester and Keith’s tablet computer in his office at home in Cornwall (with the well-known picture of Pilton Yard from the air on the wall behind him!).

The audience gathered for Keith's talk (all photos by Peter Ainley)

For what turned out to be an hour and a half rather than the planned hour, Keith regaled us with tales of the origin of his interest in narrow-gauge railways - specifically the L&B - and of his long period as part of the management of our railway. Then he updated us on our planning applications, land purchases, Carriage No.5 as well as many other topics. We had each come to the meeting armed with our own questions to ask, but in fact Keith covered most of the subjects in the course of his talk, but In the final half hour or so he was able to answer more detailed questions from those present.

Keith launches into his talk...

... while the audience listen attentively...

...the view from the back of the room

When we had to end the Skype session due to the time, our local members enthusiastically showed their gratitude to Keith for sparing the time to talk to us, and for the coverage of his talk. Comments made after the talk further reinforced this view.

So, was our experiment a success? From the local group’s point of view, undoubtedly yes. The Skype call worked well. The sound quality sometimes meant that an odd word was indistinct, but it was very useful for us to put a face to the name, and hear the ‘back story’ behind the achievements we read about via other sources. We could not fail to be amazed at, and grateful for, the dedication of the various directors who work tirelessly on a voluntary basis on our behalf.  We concluded that this technology suits this size of audience, but might perhaps be less appropriate for a very large group.

Keith had, during the course of his talk, given us a clear message about the value of all the local area groups, who are all able to do what the railway organisation in North Devon cannot do and that is promote interest in our railway across the country.

We would hope that, as we move into a future phase of design and construction, occasional briefings by directors via this sort of time-efficient means, could be used to pass on key messages and updates to all parts of our organisation.

Our thanks are due to Keith for agreeing to participate in this experiment.

Bob Barnard


The idea came from Bob's wife Sue being a regular SKYPE user and as Bob has commented, for any of the Trustee or directors to get to Manchester for a two-hour meeting would be very time-consuming. Whilst I have taken part in many video conferences over the years, these had all been over the internet via virtual private networks, SKYPE was something new to me.

I downloaded the program onto my Android tablet and within a very short period of time I was in touch with Bob both of us making sure that it all worked well, in advance of Saturdays meeting.  Using SKYPE proved to be a good way of briefing an area support group without actually having to undertake the journey to Manchester. Also, to express my appreciation to them first hand for the work that they do promoting the railway.   

Having now used SKYPE, I can thoroughly recommend it to anyone who has yet to take the plunge. Is the L&B the first railway to use SKYPE in this way? Probably not, but using modern technology to brief the membership with the latest news has surely got to be a good thing.

Keith Vingoe

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