Stronger Together by Erika Speel (first published in 2008)

Stronger Together: Case studies

Keeping it simple makes light work of leadership

Erika Speel, Publicity Officer, The Guild of Enamellers

In many crafts, apparent simplicity of design often disguises a highly organised process. The same might be said of the thousands of voluntary groups that represent those who take part in arts and crafts – like The Guild of Enamellers. And as with many others who are actively involved in such groups, Erika Speel, their Publicity Officer, doesn’t think of herself as a leader.

Erika first became involved in the Guild twenty years ago when, as a student at the Holborn (now Central) School of Art and Design, she met the group’s founder (see box out). Erika’s training provided her with the craft skills, but not about the history of the subject, so she set out to teach herself, collecting books, visiting museums, and eventually finding work with art dealers.

Erika’s level of involvement has varied – and she has taken time out for work and family – but she has consistently stepped up to the mark when asked to take on various roles. Now a professional enamel restorer and published enamel historian, she has served on the executive committee as Chairman, Vice Chair, Retiring Chairman, and for the past six years, as Publicity Officer and Historical Advisor, and has regularly been a member of the selection panel for the group’s annual awards.

In her current role, Erika is responsible for promoting the Guild by supplying information and occasional articles to the media, responding to enquiries from the general public, schools and researchers, arranging advertising in the Guild journal, and exploring new avenues for publicity: “if there is an opportunity, I introduce myself”.

A strong framework of roles and responsibilities

Although small – the Guild has around 250 members – responsibilities are spread widely amongst a committee of 14 elected members with specific roles, and additional regional representatives, and this is clearly one of its strengths.

The Chair has a three-year active involvement: they are made Vice Chair initially, when they begin the planning of their main task, the next year’s annual conference. Then after their year in post, as Retiring Chair, they continue to have a responsibility in assisting with the following conference. Clearly the roles and responsibilities are well thought out, and have in fact been in place from the beginning.

“Our founder, Hans, was a great one for simplification, even with his enamelling,” says Erika. “So his approach stuck. The secret is not to put too much work on any one person. For example, we have a secretary, but also a separate membership secretary … and if necessary, we will sub-divide tasks.”

The committee meets three times a year, but members communicate regularly by email to allow decisions to be made swiftly when necessary.

To assist the spread of influence and support, the Guild is also divided into geographical regions in the UK, with one representative per region who organises events, welcomes new members and is a link with the Committee. In 2008, a new region was set up in the Channel Islands and in the future they hope that others will be established internationally.

Small is beautiful

A new, more interactive website, allowing members to join online has encouraged growth in membership after a static period but generally the membership remains steady at 250, which includes a certain number who leave and are replaced by new members.

There’s an argument to be made for staying small, explains Erika: “We’re not trying to prove anything, there’s no drive to expand our membership. It is an optimum size. If it was bigger, we would have to involve more people, perhaps even employ professionals, for example to set up the conference … and that would involve charging more. We’ve found that the level of membership works well…It’s important to be satisfied with something that is running well, not trying to get too big – because that’s not what drives us.”

However, as a relatively small group, and one that’s set up purely for pleasure without external funding, Erika feels that they are often undervalued by other organisations “A lot of organisations that get support and promotion are about improving the lives of disadvantaged people, young people … what about groups like ours that are just for pleasure? People are always saying, why don’t you want to expand, increase your membership, become a charity – but it’s found its own ecology, and it works.”

Encouraging others

Nevertheless, the Guild is keen to encourage new enamellers. Nine years ago, they launched a Bursary Scheme that offers a year’s free membership and a place at the annual conference. The hope is that this level of involvement will encourage the recipient to join the committee. Initially the scheme worked on an ad hoc basis, when suitable candidates were found. However, more recently the scheme has been formalised with an application deadline and a thorough selection process led by the Bursary Officer. It is open to all people of any age and qualification . The Guild has developed links with many schools and colleges who help promote the initiative, and in 2008 eleven applications were received.

The Guild also supports the development of individual members through the ‘selection procedure’ that encourages members to put together a body of work that will then be displayed in the group’s journal and at its annual conference.

A truly non-profiting society

Those who are most actively involved take up their roles, Erika believes, because they are asked to, rather than as a result of a desire to lead: “In our Society, it is usually that the person approached is prepared to take on the leadership role or roles as regional organisers or the central executive committee, in order to maintain the smooth running of the society… The people involved have willingness to take on the responsibilities and give up time.”

Erika sees the committee as a group of people who were simply willing to step up to the mark: “Everyone is aware of the genuine decent attitude that exists. The reason we’re involved [on the committee] is because we want to enjoy what we do, and help each other – it’s about unification: and if we didn’t do it, it wouldn’t exist. There’s no gain and no loss and we don’t take on any more than we can deliver.”

She continues: “The universal truth is that if you work with hands you’re practical and you also appreciate other people – you don’t tyrannise. People just naturally want to share information and tips – because you have something tangible to talk about, and no-one’s trying to prove anything or get an advantage from it. Even the advertisers in our journal do it to support us rather than to get business. There’s less competition than perhaps in dance or theatre. It’s a truly non-profiting society.”

It is for this reason that Erika does not see herself as a leader, or that leaders really ‘fit’ within the Guild: “I can make decisions and give suggestions and work within a committee, but in my role within the Guild, the leadership question is not really appropriate.”

“The notion of leaders does not actually fit in with our group – what people mainly want is someone to do the hard work, so they don’t have to. Leaders don’t appear very often, you’re lucky if you get one or two people who stand out, inspire people to follow them. And sometimes you don’t know at the time that they were a leader – it’s only with time that you can tell who was a good leader.”

The Guild’s own own website attributes its strength to: “the way it organises itself to achieve its aims and long term goals…” and says that “…its ability in recognising the breadth of its membership, responding to its changing needs along with the ever-evolving craft industry and spreading the load of responsibility through its executive committee, developing a strong framework, has allowed achievement and realisation of it’s aims.” ‘Leaders’ may not appear to have a place in the Guild, but its ways of working mirror many of the roles and practices involved in ‘leadership’.

Facts about the group

Background:

Established in 1978 to promote and encourage enamelling, and influence its quality standards. Founded by by Hans Theilade, a Danish journalist who came to Britain in 1965, and discovered enamelling through his job selling arts and crafts materials. He saw the craft industry booming in places like Germany – as a result of newer, more easily accessible materials and tools - and set up his own enamel shop, selling his products and teaching enamelling. Hans’s enthusiasm and charisma made him an excellent facilitator and he soon established a steering group on whose principles the foundations for the current organisation were laid.

Size and reach:

250 members drawn from across the UK. The Guild is open to anyone interested in enamelling. Some members sell their work, but there are few people who can make a viable living out of enamelling alone, and members join to share information and support each other.

Aims:

To encourage and promote the craft of enamelling and the work of members

To seek to exert a progressive influence on standards of workmanship and design in enamelling

To foster good public relations and develop links with other crafts

Activities:

An annual conference including workshops, talks, awards

A quarterly journal of information, tips, techniques, sources

A library of books and videos/DVDs

Regional meetings, workshops/events

Factors contributing to success:

Hans Theilade was an excellent facilitator – as well as having traditional leadership qualities such as charisma and enthusiasm

Members are encouraged to stand for election for 14 clearly defined roles: Chairman/Vice Chairman/Retiring Chairman, Honorary Secretary, Conference Secretary, Awards and Selection Secretary, Membership Secretary, Bursary Secretary, Treasurer, Publicity Officer, Web Master, Journal Editor, Librarian, Technical Officer

The wider membership can influence decisions through eight regional representatives, which each have a representative on the executive committee, or direct to committee members. Details of regional meetings are posted in the journal and some have their own local newsletter, organise workshops and training, and have local committees to share the work. Others meet informally in small groups for a day’s enamelling.

New committee members are encouraged and developed through the Bursary Scheme, and the role of Chair is developed and supported through the three-year role of Vice Chair, Chair, Retiring Chair.

The Guild has developed links with organisations for mutual support – it has reciprocal memberships with other enamel organisations such as the IVE (Institute of Vitreous Enamellers) and the BSOE (British Society of Enamellers) and, as it website states, it “recognises the benefits this brings with the interchange of ideas and joint projects”.

www.guildofenamellers.org