50 Years of Fleet Language Circle
Author: Nick Keeley (13th August 2015)

The Return Home 2009 - 2015

In September 2009 we had to leave the Union Buildings, which the army wanted to sell, and we moved to our present meeting place, the Baptist Church in Basingbourne Road, Church Crookham. This has proved to be a comfortable and welcoming venue for our regular meetings.

After years when the army had not reviewed our rent, we now had to face more realistic rent and insurance costs, so we had to increase subscriptions to £20 per term (£60 per year)

On the face of it the Circle has maintained a consistent format with a number of tables located in the same hall where members join a table to chat in one of the major European languages, usually French, German, Italian or Spanish.

After having an Italian table for most of the life of the Circle, by 2008/9 the table was down to two regular members, Jan Kopinsksi and Ken Emmott. By this time it had no native speaker and only the occasional new member. The table did not survive the 2009 move to its present premises.

In 2009 we did enjoy an influx of new members, a number coming from Hartley Wintney.

Finally, the pleas of Carol Ballard and me were listened to and Gerda Bennett became Chairman in 2010. Pat Humphreys joined as Secretary and Publicity Coordinator in 2012, while I continued in theory as Treasurer and Membership Secretary but in practice running the society, as I still carried out nearly all communication with members.

For some decades the native speakers were still being offered free membership but were not playing a leading role on the tables. In fact the tables had stopped having any designated leaders. From time to time the Spanish table had benefited from native speakers, such as María and Victoria, but they did not act as table leaders. Only between 2012 and June 2015 did a very experienced and enthusiastic Samia Earle take on the role of table leader for the French table.

Although the number of paying members picked up to the mid-20s between 2008 and 2011, attendance on the French table dwindled during this period. Soon after that the German table, which had always had a regular group of members attending, also declined, after a number of older regulars retired. By early 2012 the Spanish table was the only one with regular attendance and we were seriously contemplating leaving the club and setting up a Spanish Circle to meet in each other's houses. In the first quarter of 2012 we were back down to 16 paid up members, of which only two each from the French and German tables.

In fact 2012 produced a dramatic change for the better in the fortunes of the club. An influx of new members brought a welcome increase in membership and, after Pat Humphreys took over responsibility for publicity at the 2012 AGM, we had a surge in new members, especially on the French table. Under the enthusiastic leadership of Samia Earle, the French table became active in recruiting new members by word -of-mouth and by helping to distribute leaflets. By the end of 2012 we had 25 paid members and the French table was by far the best attended.

During 2013 and 2014 attendance at the French table soared and the club had reached 39 paying members, although in any one term the maximum was 31. As a result of this we were able to reduce the subscription from £20 per term to £15 and then to £10 in April 2014.

Gerda Bennett was finding that other commitments were preventing her from playing a full role as chairman and she stood down at the 2015 AGM. At this meeting Bob Rusbridge became Treasurer and I became the fifth chairman in the club's history.

As has happened at various times in the circle's history, the very good attendances of 2012-14 fell off in late 2014 and the first half of 2015. This was most noticeable with the French table, only because it had been so big and successful for the previous two years. I am not sure why this happens but sometimes the success can bring problems with it. It can be a bit daunting for new members to face large tables, especially if the standard is high. At one time or another, this has happened with each of the tables.

The German table in 2014-5 had the opposite problem with only a small group of members, which resulted in many weeks when nobody turned up. Recently the arrival of new members has resulted in more regular attendance and, as I write this in the summer break of 2015, a couple more new members for that table are expected in September. Alan Taylor is now effectively the leader of the German table and works hard to encourage members to attend or at least to let each other know when they will attend.