Reflections of a conference first-timer

key_conference_registerHi! My name is Diane and I am disabled. Now I have made that confession, I would like to share my reflections of being a first time attendee at conference.

A few months before the conference I deliberated whether or not to attend the spring conference in York. Due to my disability I required support to attend the conference and this can be quite costly as most things are for disabled people.  Also I was unsure what actually happens at conference and I was concerned that I did not have enough knowledge to fully engage with the motions being put forward.

I have only been a member since April 2015.  I joined after seeing a Question Time for women at my university and I felt the Liberal Democrats were the best fit for my views.  I also heard a couple of Nick Clegg’s call-in shows on LBC and his appearance on The Last Leg and he came  over as a fair-minded person who was willing to challenge the status quo. All of this convinced me to join as a member.

To get to grips with what would happen at conference, I read through the conference pages on the website and I went through past discussions, but also I came across the ‘Access to Conference’ page. I didn’t know such help was available and felt this was a good scheme to promote inclusion at conference.  The ‘Access to Conference’ fund provides financial assistance for attendees who require childcare assistance, disability support or are on a low income to attend conference.

I applied online via a straight-forward form and outlined what kind of assistance I required. My application was assessed within a week and I received a grant to help pay for my support costs.

At conference I attended the rally and the first timer’s reception on the Friday. On the Saturday I watched the motions being debated, I took part in the voting and participated in the liberal values consultation. I remembered my Positive Action Pathway mantra – ‘Feel the fear, but do it anyway’.  A minute is a very long time to speak when you are nervous and you are improvising! I challenged every member to be insurgent and to challenge behaviours that exclude or marginalise people.  Actions speak louder than words.

I even got to try a Motability scooter for the first time – Michael Schumacher I wasn’t. They are so hard to reverse. I was getting glares and tittering about my driving. For other people’s safety I had to hand it back!

The only negative was on the first night I got to be little Jack Horner because there wasn’t a place for a standalone seat in the allocated disabled area. On a plus note some people thought I was an official.

I would like to thank members who donated to the fund as it enabled me to attend the conference. It was very kind of you to support inclusion of all members.  Please can people continue to support the access fund and if any member requires help to attend conference please apply, the application process is really easy and you will feel the benefit from attending conference.

In addition to this, at the next conference I propose maybe holding a themed black-tie ball as a fundraiser for the access fund.

* Diane Reddell is a member in the Wansbeck constituency

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13 Comments

  • So glad to hear you enjoyed conference, Diane – I was a first-time attendee too, although I went with my husband who’s a veteran :-). I thoroughly enjoyed it – and I LOVE the idea of a black-tie ball! I have two young kids and don’t get out much… ☺

  • Diane, thank you for this article. I’m glad that the access fund made such a difference for you. See you in Brighton?

  • Barry Snelson 21st Mar '16 - 11:09am

    Heartwarming post. Thank you for sharing your experience.

  • Could someone please tell us how we can make a donation to the access fund.

  • Diane Reddell 21st Mar '16 - 12:32pm

    Thank you for all your supportive comments. You can donate to the access to conference fund in the following ways:
    As Autumn Conference is being held over 4 days, there will of course be additional expense. We hope that you may choose to give generously once again so that we can help as many of your fellow members as possible. You will once again have the opportunity to give anything from £5 to £100 when registering for the conference. If you are unable to attend and would like to make a donation nonetheless you can do so by posting a cheque – details are given below.

    Cheques should be made payable to “LIBERAL DEMOCRATS”.

    Conference Access Fund
    Liberal Democrats
    8-10 Great George Street
    London SW1P 3AE

  • Diane Reddell 21st Mar '16 - 12:33pm

    I plan to come to the next conference in Brighton too.

  • Belinda Brooks-Gordo 21st Mar '16 - 1:58pm

    Diane,
    A (belated) welcome to the party. Well done on your first conference, and first LDV post – I know I was nervous about writing my first one. The fundraiser sounds like a great idea – I will certainly mention it to national fundraising board. If it is not possible to do a specific fundraiser for the Access fund at conference (for that would be Conference Committee’s final decision) then I shall suggest that it is a theme that should be tried in some other way. Does that okay good to you?

  • Diane Reddell 21st Mar '16 - 4:24pm

    Hi Belinda

    Thank you for willing to take my idea forward to raise funds for the Access to Conference. Yes I think it is a good idea to promote it outside of conference if an event cannot be included at conference.

  • Diane I’m glad you came to Conference and are planning to do it again! I enjoyed reading your LDV post espcially the challenge to be more insurgent on inclusion.

  • Information about the Access Fund, and how to contribute, can be found here: http://www.libdems.org.uk/access-fund

  • Belinda Brooks-Gordo 21st Mar '16 - 11:44pm

    Hi Diane, that is great. I can report back that I emailed fundraising team and they have acknowledged it. With the two ways to contribute above I hope the post generates more funds too. I look forward to meeting you in Brighton.

  • *goes to donate*

  • Diane Reddell 22nd Mar '16 - 3:26pm

    Thank you Jennie and Belinda.

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