Last week (6 Feb) was a fairly momentous one for me. I officially handed over the Nature Society, which I founded about a year ago (27 Jan, according to one of my blog posts), to a new committee (: The past year has not been very easy, and in some ways I think I failed to achieve my vision, and I am honestly thankful and hopeful that I managed to handover.
The process of founding the society started not long after I arrived in Cambridge to start my undergraduate degree. While shopping around for Things To Occupy My Time Instead of Studying at the Freshers’ Fair, I found out to my horror that there was no nature society or equivalent in the University of Cambridge itself. Having spent lots of time doing nature-related activities in Singapore before and during my gap year, I was gutted that all that might not happen while I’m here, studying (of all things) Zoology. Anyway, shortly after that, a few weeks into Michaelmas Term, I met up with Emily Dunning from Cambridge Hub to see what I could do here (cos at that time I was presumably not tied up with school work and miscellaneous things) and she seeded the idea in my head of starting up a Nature Society. And amazingly enough, I managed to get about 20 or so people to come to an initial meeting where I formed a committee to kick start to process of registering an official society.
At the start of Lent Term, we received the news that we have officially been registered and that was the start of it all. We organised a few walks and documentary screenings, mostly. Not much, because as a first year you don’t really know much (who to approach to give talks, organisations to collaborate with etc). I had a vision though, maybe just because that was what I experienced back in Singapore and I was so immersed in it and really enjoyed myself, that I hoped I could continue it here and that everyone else would be able to experience it too. I really wanted the Nature Society to become like a community, a group of friends who cared about Nature and loved biodiversity and wanted to learn more and share with the world what we know – in order to prevent further damage. People whom you go on trips with, followed by a nice meal (I can still remember the satay dinner/supper at Lau Pa Sat after a TeamSeagrass monitoring trip eons ago, Sunday morning Lontong at Ubin etc) and generally good conversation and fun. So that was somewhat what I was hoping to work towards. I know you can’t build Rome in a day, and you can’t build a community overnight. So I just tried to do my best over the next few months.
Honestly though, it was quite disheartening. Cambridge terms are short and brutal, and everyone is fighting for your attention, time and energy. You really learn to prioritise, and so attendance is highly variable. And I guess honestly our events aren’t that exciting, constrained by timetables and limited resources and knowledge. Easter Term in Cambridge (before exams) in particular is a bit like a zombie town, as everyone is busy studying for exams. During Summer was when we lost quite a bit of momentum, I think. I was overseas without contact for quite a while, as were most in the committee, and well, we came back in Michaelmas Term a bit deflated.
I had organised activities of course, and did up the website, but without much enthusiasm. We had an emergency election to replace some in the committee who were no longer able to commit. By this point, I was rather jaded with the Cambridge way of things and wasn’t even frustrated that we couldn’t get attendance up. I just accepted it, (did think about how to remedy it of course), but honestly, I (still) don’t know what can be done. We did have a couple of talks, one at the end of Michaelmas Term and one at the beginning of this Lent Term that saw numbers go up, which was quite encouraging. But attendance at walks and the general feeling of a community just wasn’t there, and I think I was no longer prepared to devote most of my time into something I felt, I couldn’t really change anyway.
My concern over not being able to handover naturally arose as a result of low attendance – if few people are coming for events, then how many would want to take the lead and actually organise them? I was quite prepared to commit to another term of presidency, and while I no longer had the energy and enthusiasm as I did at the very start, I would definitely still have put in the effort, time and commitment necessary to ensure that we survived. My objective would probably have evolved from building a community to just getting people to attend events. Come at least once (we have some 200 over people on our mailing list and our “regulars”, ie people who have come more than once amount to about 20), and if you’ve come once, come again.
Anyway, thankfully enough, my fears were unfounded and the number of people who applied exceeded the number of positions available in the committee – so we just created a new position. The new committee comprised a few who had already been on the committee before at some point, and most are second years (in my year), so I am fairly assured they will be fine (: Some people think that I must be quite upset to ‘give up my baby’, no longer be president etc, but honestly, I think I’ve done my bit, and while I will definitely still contribute in whatever ways I can, I’m quite happy to hand over the baton. And when I saw the new president’s first email to the society, I felt that warm glow that you get when your baby finally takes it’s first baby step, and sometimes I allow myself to dream what my baby might grow up to be.