Ron Mackintosh –
19th October 2021
Six Years as Chair of BAS
Looking back, the last six years have been a period of quite significant change for BAS and I have had the privilege, and challenge, of leading the board through it. During this time we have seen much greater member participation in the society through the introduction of online voting and BAS Chat on Facebook, the introduction of the current bTB testing protocol, the appointment of a Chief Executive to manage the society, online webinars using Zoom and Zoom enabled board meetings. Membership has grown by almost 30% from 1276 to 1628 members and there is a growing interest in alpacas thought the country.
I was elected at the March 2015 AGM but could not attend the May board because of a pre-arranged holiday and attended my first board meeting in July 2015 to discover that the then Chair Susan Myerscough had decided to resign due to increased responsibility following promotion at work. Here I was, the new guy on the block, without a clue about how BAS worked (although I had just been asked to take on responsibility for producing the Magazine which I have enjoyed doing until Elaine Clark took over that responsibility in August this year). On arrival at that meeting in a dingy room at a hotel in Stoneleigh I introduced myself to the other directors to discover that they all shared a determination not to become the next Chair of BAS. Hours of discussion followed as each director explained why they could not become the Chair. Having only been a BAS member for 6 years I did not feel I had enough BAS experience, although having chaired 6 companies in the business world, the others were convinced I had the skills to do the job, and I ended up leaving that meeting as the new Chair of BAS. The first thing I discovered was that there was no one around to do any BAS work as it was all down to the volunteer board members who were busy with their own lives and businesses. The second thing I discovered was that the BAS board were distrusted by the membership and that it did not matter who served on the board, the board was simply not to be trusted. When I got home my wife, Linda, said why on earth did you agree to do that job and so began a six-year journey where I and my board colleagues continued on the journey of trying to rebuild confidence in the BAS board. In the following weeks I had numerous phone calls to tell me I had taken on an impossible job and BAS could not be fixed.
Fortunately, the other board members all knew change and democratisation of the society was essential with Susan Chitty leading an initiative to introduce online voting so that all members could easily vote at the society’s AGM. Online voting was approved in the March 2016 AGM and members began to cast their votes online at the 2017 AGM. Later we introduced the BAS Chat page on Facebook which has provided members with a forum to discuss areas on interest and create greater engagement in the society. This was put in place by Sue Loach and Emma Taylor.
One of the first encouraging emails I received was from the late Richard Beale. Richard had been an influential figure in the early years of the society and had been responsible for the transport of many alpacas from South America. Richard told me that I needed to appoint a Chief Executive for BAS and that appointment would be the defining thing of my chairmanship. Richard was also very encouraging and predicted a period of strong growth in membership of the society. It was great to hear these encouraging words and I knew Richard was right and that we needed to appoint a chief executive as soon as we could. We were not able to do so immediately but after we employed an outside consultant, Catherine Broomfield, with in depth experience of livestock societies to do a review of the workings of the society the board were convinced that such an appointment was essential. The Broomfield report provided a template for how to improve the workings of the board and set us on a rigorous path to select a CEO. It was a process that took many months with quite a few interviews and the shortlisted candidates required to present their views on the future of BAS. The selection process involved all the board and I was delighted when we all agreed to appoint Duncan Pullar as CEO in 2018.
bTB was a disease that spread fear throughout the society and for many years there had been a significant effort by various board members, vets and the Llama society working with DEFRA and APHA to find a better testing protocol than the feared STATPAC system. When I joined the board Tim Hey and this small working group were just completing the agreement to introduce a new bTB testing protocol that came into force in December 2015. This protocol introduced Enferplex, Idexx and VetDPP as approved testing methods and agreed a voluntary testing protocol as well as a way of handling a bTB breakdown. Tim put in a huge amount of work to get this agreed and produced the scenario documents and flow charts that are on the BAS website, for that effort we should all be very grateful. Back in 2015 bTB was not only feared but also hidden and members who unfortunately got the disease in their herds did not talk about it and there was no shared learning on how to handle and manage a bTB breakdown. Since then, we have moved a long way and while there is still a great fear of this terrible disease, we are all much more open about it and despite all the press about Geronimo I am convinced that Enferplex is the best test available to us and that we should be confident that it can help us find and manage a bTB breakdown. I have personal experience of this having purchased alpacas that brought bTB into my herd and I have used Enferplex to clear the disease from my alpacas and have tested my animals with Enferplex at least 10 times and am thus confident in its use. Looking to the future I feel we must move from a focus on testing for the disease to a focus on preventing the disease through bio security and vaccination and believe the society should make every effort to get a vaccine approved and in use for alpacas.
Looking back, it is encouraging to see the 30% growth in the membership over the past six years and the ever-increasing interest in owning alpacas. Our National Show and all the regional shows are a great statement of the health of the alpaca community, and we have seen alpacas expand and diversify into many new areas such as trekking becoming popular in the media and on TV. It is wonderful to note that recent alpaca farm day saw more than 30,000 visitors to alpaca farms throughout the UK an initiative developed by Sue Loach and Duncan Pullar. Our board has worked hard to increase the engagement with our members and Zoom has provided us with an excellent tool to provide online education and discussion. We had a great series of webinars in the spring of this year and have an exciting programme planned for the Autumn. COVID presented a great challenge to us all yet enabled the board to move to Zoom board meetings. I believe this has been fabulous and enabled a much greater participation on the board making it much easier for directors to attend board meetings. It used to take me at least 7 hours to travel to and from board meetings and for other directors it was often much longer. With Zoom we are able to work really effectively no matter where a director lives in the UK.
I have enjoyed producing the magazine over these last six years and together with our excellent editor Liz Mason I have been actively involved in seeing the magazine develop into what it is today. Nigel Beckwith brilliantly created the current arrangement with our publisher where the magazine no longer costs BAS any money to produce with this being funded by advertising. In the past the magazine was a significant drain on BAS resources and today we have a magazine that has expanded from four to six editions per year and a Year Book that is a great statement of the health of out society. The great thing about the magazine is all the stories about alpacas that Liz is able to source from our members and we all look forward to receiving our copy every two months.
I know there are still complaints about the board, but I feel we have come a long way and are gradually ending the infighting and politics that have plagued the society. It has always struck me as strange – the notion of the board being BAS – in reality The British Alpaca Society is the members of the Society and the board are just members who have been elected to serve for a few years to further the aims of the society. The board members all come from different parts of the country and have different interests and yet share a common desire to improve what the society does for its members, so board members are no different from any other member and as a group there are no vested interests or hidden agendas just people trying to do a good job for us all. We still have our issues, and a member is currently taking court action against the British Alpaca Society seeking compensation for what they believe was ill-treatment. Naturally, the board and our insurance company are determined to fight this and not use members money in this way. At the moment this case is with the courts, and we cannot say any more about it, but it illustrates that there is still a way to go to create a more supportive and inclusive society.
So, six years have passed and while I am sure there are things we could have done better, I feel the society is in a much better position than when I took the role of Chair. There has been quite some change in board membership with only Emma Taylor being there longer than I. We have an excellent group of directors to take us forward and I am confident that Sue Loach will do a great job as Chair. I am looking froward to spending more time with our own alpacas and seeing you all as we get back to showing and if I can help the society progress a bTB vaccine I will be delighted to assist.