Junior Gathering Senior Conference

Update on events held in 2020

Dear Friends,

Further to our previous communication, we have been exploring different options for holding Junior Gathering and Senior Conference safely in 2020. The outcomes for both events are summarised below.

Senior Conference 2020

After much deliberation we have decided that an online Senior Conference for ages 14-18 is something we are able to offer. Please see the see ‘Letter from the Trustees’ below and the Senior Conference 2020 news post for more details.

Junior Gathering 2020

Due to a number of reasons we are very sad not to be able to offer a Junior Gathering event this year. Please see ‘Letter from the Trustees’ below and the Junior Gathering 2020 news post for more details.

Letter from the Trustees

To all FSSE events participants, their parents and guardians

As you will have heard, because of the exceptional times we are currently living in, FSSE trustees and management committee have taken the difficult decision to overhaul the way Junior Gathering and Senior Conference will run in 2020. Junior Gathering will not run in any form this year, and Senior Conference will run as a virtual event, across a shorter timetable than the week it has traditionally been.

These decisions will, of course, have an emotional impact on all involved. We feel it is important to explain what the changes will involve, and the reason we came to the conclusions we did.

We have held several remote meetings to discuss the events over the past few months, keeping ourselves abreast of the ongoing COVID-19 situation and the impact of lockdown and other related considerations on the holding of large-scale residential events. Initially it appeared as if the events could retain some physical form. However, as time went on it became clear that, even if lockdown restrictions were eased, the ongoing threat of illness, and the ability of both Leighton Park and Sibford Schools to accommodate us whilst they navigated their own way forward through this difficult situation, meant we could not confidently offer either event in the week-long, community based 100+ participant format, that we are used to and which has meant so much to all of us over the years.

Once we had accepted this reality, we explored alternative ways of running the two events. Initial discussions centred around a ‘virtual’ way of offering the two programmes, and the coordinators and arrangements committees for both events worked to scope this. This discernment of all related aspects – practical, emotional and spiritual – led the Junior Gathering coordination team to the conclusion that such an event would not necessarily be appropriate for the 11-14 year old age group, who may be suffering from levels of ‘digital fatigue’ after several months of home schooling being managed this way.

It also became clear, when sounding out the views of the crucial team of adult volunteers aged 20+ who would support the event, that the undertaking required to do this for a virtual event is very different from a physical one. We would not be able to guarantee staff in sufficient numbers to run the event safely, and did not want to put extra pressure on the rest of the team at a difficult and uncertain time for everyone.

We therefore decided that we could not in all conscience offer Junior Gathering in any format in 2020. We have, however, taken the decision to invite this year’s fourteen year olds to take part in the virtual Senior Conference we have planned.

We have looked at alternative arrangements, for example potentially offering a weekend residential event in Autumn 2020 or Spring 2021, to take place in a local meeting house on a similar basis to a London Link weekend. We should stress that this is subject to a great many things over which we have no control, and we are mindful that multi-person gatherings of this nature may not be possible from a health and safety or legal perspective. We will review this, and any other alternatives we consider, in line with emerging medical and legislative advice.

We are aware that there is no substitute for the full, residential, nature of both events, and so please accept our assurances that we are working to the assumption that both events will run, in full, in 2021.

Thanks to the scoping work undertaken by the Senior Conference coordinators and arrangements committee of 17 and 18 year olds, we have confirmed that Senior Conference is not subject to the difficulties faced by Junior Gathering, and so we are in a position to offer this event in a ‘virtual’ format, to take place between Saturday 15th and Wednesday 19th August 2020. The arrangements committee will be in contact with more details as to what this looks like.

We are offering the event at no charge to participants, although we are requesting a voluntary donation of £20 per participant to cover the cost of web services that will be used and to enable digital access for all participants. We want to ensure everyone has the same level of access to what we believe will be a very special event.

We hope this explains our approach and decisions. It follows a comprehensive process of exploring all available options, and we have not come to any of these decisions lightly. Our collective memory suggests this is only the second time in Friends Southern Summer Events history where we have been unable to run one of our two events at all. That situation came about in 1997 when it was clear we would not have sufficient numbers of volunteers to manage Senior Conference. This is a very different set of circumstances, where the direct and indirect impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, rather than a lack of willing and available staff, have meant we needed to review our entire operational approach.

We would like to thank all involved for their work in exploring these issues, scoping potential solutions, and for being so open in terms of what we can realistically offer our participants. We would also like to thank the wider FSSE community, including participants’ families and loved ones, for helping us to uphold the decision.

In friendship

FSSE Trustees, Management Committee and Senior Conference Arrangements Committee

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