A meeting of minds

thought of running your own conference? It’s not impossible. The members of the
Mid Downs OH Group Conference Committee explain how it has run a successful
annual conference for more than 10 years

requires 200 rolls and sandwiches, 32 litres of liquid, up to two kilos of ham
and cheese and more than 16 hours of discussion? You may be excused for
thinking it was your occupational health and safety meetings, and in fact you
would not be far from the truth.

is what the Mid Downs Occupational Health Group Conference Committee gets
through from January through to November each year.

Mid Downs Conference and Exhibition started in 1990 and was organised to
promote occupational health practice and has always been organised by OH advisers,
members of the Mid Downs OH Group. Over the years the conference has developed
in many different ways with more exhibitors, high-profile speakers and links
with our European colleagues giving delegates an insight into how OH works in
other countries.


key objective of the committee has always been to ensure there are practical
elements within the conference that allow delegates to go back to their
workplace with new ideas and renewed motivation to the benefit of employer and
employees. The conference also provides an excellent opportunity to network and
meet with colleagues working in similar environments.

committee needs to ensure speakers provide delegates with a presentation that
is informative and interesting. Recent technology has allowed many of the
presentations to be projected onto a screen via a computer. This format
significantly improves quality and makes it possible to project photographs.
Judging by the delegate evaluation forms it is seen to be a considerable

exhibitors, who usually number more than 40, have consistently given excellent
support to the conference and the group has developed good working
relationships with many of them. They like the venue, The Hawth in Crawley,
West Sussex, because of its layout and the number of delegates that they are
able to meet during the day. Delegates also have the opportunity to win some
excellent prizes and, of course, to look at new equipment, services and
technology that they may be able to persuade their financial managers to agree
to purchase.


conference committee is made up of Mid Downs members who volunteer their time
and resources to ensure the conference maintains its high profile in the OH
calendar. A conference secretary keeps the whole bandwagon rolling and ensures
committee members stay in line when they are given specific tasks. The
conference secretary also provides a central point of contact for exhibitors,
delegates and venue organisers, all of whom need to be contacted and informed of
the conference arrangements.

January each year the committee meets to review the previous conference – in
particular, the build-up, speakers and the evaluation forms. One of the vital
tools in this exercise is the delegate feedback form. The objective is to
identify subjects for the next conference and provide a balanced programme of
speakers. This year, as always, speakers’ subjects are driven by delegates’
feedback. The diversity and relevance of the subject matter ensures a high
attendance. The  Hawth is very popular
with delegates due to its accessibility, size, layout, and food. But even this
has to be considered: what arrangements should be made for lunch, what will be
the layout of the exhibitors – there is always something to consider. The venue
can pose its own problems, for example, it may not be available. So it is
booked early just to be sure.


issues that have to be reviewed include the design of the mailshots. The
programmes that arrive in the post at people’s home, workplaces and education
establishments each year are revised to ensure they reflect current trends in
design and layout. The committee adapts advertising material’s size and design,
plus the advertising strategy to ensure people do not forget to put the date in
their diaries. This is based on the previous year’s response to advertisements
and mailshots.

fees have consciously been kept as competitive as possible, remembering that
the budget for training and courses can be under pressure.

the day

the day, the exhibitors need to be able to set up quickly for early arrivals so
group volunteers are on hand from very early in the morning to assist with
minor problems that crop up, typically with the availability of extension
leads, and so on, and space requirements. The catering is also up and running
early to provide tea, coffee and bacon sandwiches before delegates arrive. The
lunchtime menu always provokes a great deal of discussion as we have to ensure
it caters for a wide range of tastes and preferences.

the day of the conference runs fairly smoothly. Speakers are allocated
"minders" to ensure they get to the podium on time and their
presentation material is loaded and ready to go.

the end of the conference each delegate receives a set of speakers’ notes and a
certificate of attendance, the former usually hot off the press and only
arriving just after lunch. This signals the end of the day and everything needs
to be packed away, remembering that in a few months the whole process will start
all over again.


the conference has brought some direct benefits for the Mid Downs OH Group as a
whole and for its members. It allows the group to meet every last Thursday of
the month at The Hawth, a venue that is easily accessible for the growing
membership who work and live in the south-east of England. Every month it has
speakers on a wide range of subjects which have included the expert witness,
manual handling and alternative therapy.

also provides an opportunity for members to raise issues, discuss them and find
out if others have had similar problems. A recent development is the group’s
ability to provide funds to assist members to go on courses.

1994 the Peter O’Malley Scholarship has been awarded to individuals to promote
research and development in occupational health. This has been possible because
the success of the conference has made funds available.

conference will hopefully run for many years to come to promote occupational
health and provide a focal point for OH advisers to meet, have discussions with
and get support from like-minded colleagues.

Comments are closed.