BeNeLux Judge Conference

BeNeLux Judge Conference

With my recent run of Grands Prix and other professional judging engagements it is easy to lose sight of the fact that being a judge is more than travelling and working and what better way to regain perspective than driving 1500 miles for a two day conference in the Netherlands with a bunch of people that I barely know?

I currently have the privilege of being the chair of this year’s UKISA Regional Conference Organising Committee and with that comes the responsibility of delivering a high quality, enjoyable and memorable conference for the judges of UKISA. As part of that role I wanted to experience some conferences that are done a little differently. The BeNeLux region run their primary conference as a residential retreat with a huge emphasis on social bonding whereas here in the UK we tend to put on speaker-based programmes in a hotel business suite or similar. I wanted to try and see whether we could take some ideas from our northern European neighbours and do something a little bit different over here.

Alongside the more academic justification for going, a few good friends and fellow judges from Bristol and Cardiff also wanted to go so we immediately jumped on the questionable decision to spend all day Friday driving to Netherlands through France and Belgium, enjoying a long weekend of learning, socialising and not sleeping all that much and then driving back overnight on Sunday to be back in the UK for first thing Monday morning. Also, I am the only one of the group that can drive!

Needless to say, the trip was exhausting. I left Preston on Thursday afternoon for the four hour drive to Bristol. After a nightmare time sorting out a rental car I was incredibly thankful to be met at the door with a roast chicken dinner cooked by the increasingly indispensable Sophie. A 7am departure from Bristol to make the lunchtime Eurostar departure was tough, but we made decent time and were still in decent spirits (mainly fuelled by Toblerone and left-overs sandwiches). A quick dash through France and then what seemed like hours in traffic in Belgium saw us arrive at the converted farm, just outside Tilburg, that was to be our home for the weekend a little after 6pm.

I was immediately struck by the relaxed atmosphere amongst those already in attendence. I put it down to the close knit community that the BeNeLux judges have developed over the years (their region has about one third the number of judges compared UKISA). However, as the weekend progressed I became increasingly aware that the format and style of the conference was a big part of that atmosphere.

I’m not a social butterfly, so I was really concerned about fitting in with the group but it quickly became apparent that there were enough other people willing to overcome my natural anxiety that I found myself relaxing more and more. In the end the twelve hours of driving was too much and I retired to my bunk bed fairly early in the evening.

Saturday started off with a series of talks and seminars which were informative without being ground breaking. I must add here, that I am probably not the target audience for most conference content these days, but I still love hearing what others have to say and I am often surprised by one or two seminars at any given event that teach me something new or open my eyes to a new perspective. The real highlight of the main schedule for Saturday was an opportunity to take a lead on a 2 on 1 (a confidential, open discussion between two experienced or senior judges and another judge with that judge providing the agenda). These are often emotional and can be difficult on both sides but I was really happy with how it went and I sincerely hope that the other participants got as much out of out as I did.

Saturday dinner time included my turn to wash up the pots, pans and crockery (each attendee was rota’d to do chores throughout the weekend, which I felt was a massive part in building the atmosphere I alluded to earlier) and then the main social time for the weekend. There was a bonfire, ping pong, drinking and singing along with boardgames and even a few games of Magic breaking out. Again, I retired relatively early (though still well after midnight) due to the fact I was driving another 800 miles the next day.

Following some more seminars, including my surprise for the weekend – a talk on active listening – it was time to pack up and leave. We had been in the Netherlands for less than forty-eight hours.

I ended up being really glad I made the trip and was incredibly happy to have come away with some key learning too. Firstly, setting up the right atmosphere and environment for community and social development is something we can do better in UKISA and I am already scheming away to find ways to implement some things for out conference in October. Secondly, residential conferences can work but will be difficult to make happen in our region. I am definitely going to try and work out a way to develop the idea for next year or the year after. Finally, I came away feeling really energised about being a judge. I have spent the last six months being a professional and had forgotten a little bit about how fun judging and being judge can be. The Judge Program is a harsh mistress and the future for judges is not as rosy as I would like it to be, however, the people I meet and the times I spend with those people are incredible.

One Reply to “BeNeLux Judge Conference”

  1. Wow: Taking the lead on a 2-to-1! Sounds like an empowering experience to be trusted with that, especially since it falls outside how you usually seem to define your own skillset.

    What was the most important thing you learned/gained from the experience? How will you employ that knowledge in future?

    What was the biggest challenge and what skills/experience/knowledge did you use to overcome it?

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