After more than 18 months of hiatus, in-person branch events have made a welcome return to the AAT calendar.
The resumption of in-person meetings is reinvigorating AAT’s branch network after more than a year and a half online as a result of the pandemic.
Running alongside the online events, there is also now strong demand for the in-person events, which provide a range of CPD and networking opportunities to members.
Branches have wasted no time in organising their return events, AAT product support and delivery manager Tom Duncan explains. The Leicestershire branch’s event on trading with the EU after Brexit on 27 October marked the first in-person AAT branch meeting since March 2020.
“One of the biggest advantages of local events is networking and building local connections,” he says. “It’s a great opportunity to have a cup of tea with people in a similar position and discuss those issues – whether it’s getting the answer to your question or can talk it through and feel better about it.”
Those connections can be crucial and are more difficult to replicate through online events, Duncan notes.
“The online branch events were really successful, and these sessions were well attended and received very good feedback as a great way to gain extra CPD, but on the flip side, they didn’t replace the networking that happens at in-person events. The fact that the online events were so successful and offered a convenient option to members means this is still an opportunity to keep that going. We will blend that with the opportunity for members to actually meet in-person, so we can provide the best of both.”
There are further benefits for those who wish to help out at their local branch, including the vital experience volunteering can provide for future senior roles in other organisations.
“A lot of people who have gone onto AAT Council, vice presidency and presidency of AAT have started their progression by volunteering for the various local branches,” explains Duncan.
“It’s a great way for people to get more involved and volunteer their time to progress in that way. Past president David Frederick is a good example of that – he was on the London branch committee before going onto AAT Council and subsequently becoming vice president and then president last year.”
For younger members who are likely to have less work experience, Duncan adds, volunteering for your local branch represents an ideal opportunity to add more strings to your bow through roles such as treasurer or event planning and organisation, which otherwise may be hard to come by.
Steve Harratt is the Vice Chairperson of AAT’s Leicestershire branch. Like all branch committee members, he is a volunteer, who fits organising branch activities around his work and his personal commitments. The return of in-person branch events is not only welcome, he explains, but absolutely crucial to maintaining the relationship with local members.
“From a perspective of the branches, we feel we’ve out- Zoomed ourselves,” he says. “We had our first face-to-face committee meeting recently and it actually felt much more real. When you have members on Zoom and you’re trying to sort things out for them, it’s different.
“Over the last 18 months, we’ve not done as much as we usually would by virtue of being remote, when we usually would have six or seven events over 12 months. Actually meeting in-person like this is great.
“I joined my local branch nearly 20 years ago and it’s a resource I absolutely did not want to lose. It was a training tool to me and that’s the reason it’s important we try and retain that. If we can get back to physical meetings, it will feel more real to people.”
AAT president supports branches
The return of in-person meetings is something AAT’s new president Heather Hill is delighted to see, and she has taken the opportunity to attend and meet with members, starting with the Leicestershire branch.
“When I first moved to my area in the early 1990s, I set up on my own, but I felt quite isolated,” she explains. “I remembered AAT has its branch meetings, so I joined my local branch. I was so happy that I had somewhere local to go and start networking. When you’re in practice on your own and just starting out, it can be handy to talk things through with someone else who can offer you that reassurance.
“Nothing beats in-person and if you find out somebody needs assistance, you exchange contact details, so you have that supportive network and bonding. Branch meetings have such a warm atmosphere and it’s great to be with other like-minded people.You miss that online.”
The photograph illustrating this article is a library shot taken before the pandemic and may not represent the way current events are held.
Calum Fuller Calum Fuller is editor of AT and 20 magazines. He's previously served as editor of Credit Strategy, assistant editor Accountancy and began his career at Accountancy Age..