Only a couple of weeks into my new role as Chairperson of An Óige, I was warmly invited by YHA England and Wales to be a key note speaker at their 2016 AGM held in the Motorpoint Arena in Cardiff on July 9th. I accepted without trepidation. YHA have long been good friends of An Óige. They are currently doing tremendously well – both financially and in regards to their impact on young people.
YHA have a vision to impact 1 Million young people by 2017 (and are nearly there!). It was decided that I should travel with Marie McDonnell – a dedicated An Óige stalwart with over 53 years involvement with the association. I was delighted Marie could join me. Being a relatively young person as Chairperson, Marie could offer me help with the history of An Óige and introduce me to all the right figures in YHA England and Wales.
On the flight from Dublin to Cardiff, Marie let it slip that YHA’s AGM was to be historic. It was the first one ever which would be open to all YHA members to attend. A couple of hundred members were expected to be present at the arena. This little fact had slipped my mind before as I was so busy with college work. I had only ever spoken twice publicly before – and they were pretty small audiences. I had no techniques in mind of how best to engage an audience or how best to cope with nerves. The only solution was to not think about it!
We arrived in the impressive Cardiff Youth Hostel with plenty of time. I spent the morning finalising my presentation, meeting YHA members and staff and exploring the hostel. The Cardiff Youth Hostel was formerly a hotel and provided a mixture of dormitories and deluxe private rooms (Hostelling in 2016, eh!?). The Motorpoint Arena is only a 20 minute walk from the hostel – so, myself, Marie and Stewart from SYHA walked over together and sat in our seats before the formal agenda was to start. The arena itself is normally the host to some of Cardiff’s biggest concerts and a section was cordoned off for the YHA AGM.
— Jon Smith (@jonsmithinfo) July 9, 2016
The time came for me to speak. I was extremely nervous sitting in the audience throughout the morning proceedings listening to the likes of YHA CEO Caroline White and young adventurer Alex Staniforth talk about how hostelling changes lives. I had put together slides, accompanied by notes. It was to be an update on An Óige’s financial situation and my own hostelling story. I was to finish touching on ideas for the future of Youth Hostelling in Ireland. Once I was on stage – (realising my notes was in too small a print to read) – I spoke from the heart. I thought; ‘I know this – I have been volunteering for 3 years – this is my life’. I opened with a joke about my scruffy hair; ‘I know that I am part of the formal proceedings today…but my plan is to make my speech as informal as possible – and I think my hair has already done that job!’. Everyone laughed and my nerves were sucked out of the arena.
The trip to Cardiff and the speech were extremely educational for myself and Marie who were amazed by the professionalism of YHA England and Wales. Our wish is to bring An Óige to a similar healthy state and increase our impact on young Irish people. All of this will be part of a new vision that we are working on right now.
See you next time.
Chairperson of An Óige