Why most Bonsai clubs in the UK are struggling for members?

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Why most Bonsai clubs in the UK are struggling for members?

Post  Tony on Mon Nov 19, 2012 7:10 pm

I started in bonsai over 25 years ago; as with so many it grew out of curiosity, visits to Flower shows and I guess Karate Kid fired my imagination. Back in those early years the only information was from books and if you were lucky a local bonsai club or society.

The majority of clubs were made up of long standing members with a few ‘young bucks’ eager to learn from the wiser and more experienced amongst its members. My first visit to my local club happened to be the Annual General Meeting and one of the items on the Agenda was ‘Membership’ and more importantly how to encourage new members. I was asked “as a new visitor… what should the society do?” My answer though rather naïve was “keep creating beautiful bonsai, just like those brought along tonight by the members”

We had no visiting speakers as many members had years of experience under their belt, we had an annual show that was open to the public and it was a ‘success’ My formative years in that club were happy, happy in ignorance as I adhered to the club adage that all you need to know was right here at your club and the trees you were fashioning were exactly what Bonsai was.

All that changed when in 1991 the BCI World Conference came to Birmingham UK, with guest speakers, workshops, a huge exhibition and many bonsai traders. At the next meeting I proposed that we organise a club trip to the event. After a show of hands NOT ONE PERSON wanted to go as it was considered too far (90 miles) and too expensive (£12.00) this was a defining moment for me, the best in the world were coming to our doorstep and at a stupid cheap price and we were NOT attending?

I made my own way along to the BIG event with fellow club member Terry Foster and one old timer who came along because I was happy to drive and what ‘harm’ could it do. Let’s just say that when I returned home I gave away all the crap in my garden and started again… I had wasted at least 7 years working on material that would NEVER amount to anything and without any style whatsoever!

That was over 20 years ago and I am sad to say that attitude still prevails in some clubs. I attended a ‘club’ show at Capel Manor near London… (ONE of the Few clubs that are actually making a difference to their members) and entered into conversation with a friend from London and enquired as to how many of HIS fellow members were in attendance. “NONE” was his reply! … “Too far… 20 miles too far”

I can count on one hand how many ‘Bonsai’ Clubs in the UK actually do ‘Bonsai’ and NOT simply promote planting trees in pots, keeping them healthy and calling them Bonsai. I understand that the social part of ‘being in a club’ is important, but not at the expense of ‘clipping the wings’ of those wanting more. The attitude of “Our club has been going for xxx years so we know more than that young upstart” And… “Why pay for a teacher when we know it all already” is a case of the blind leading the blind, stifling creativity and holds back those who wish to excel.

There is NO SUBSTITUTE to going to a exhibition of top class trees, no books, web site or video can compare with standing in front of a majestic living bonsai… having the ability to get up close and personal, to discuss with fellow enthusiasts and to delight in the wonder.

The Internet is NOT the answer however it goes a long way to helping understand the fundamentals, share Ideas, and learn techniques. There is NO SUBSTITUTE for working in three dimensions on a living tree, understanding its unique traits, horticultural requirements particular to your location and actually sharing ideas. It’s no wonder that those who wish to excel or simply create good bonsai leave clubs and seek, like minded individual out teachers and workshops beyond their locale.

**Steps down off soap box**

BTW if you want to do my Poll you can do it Here

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Re: Why most Bonsai clubs in the UK are struggling for members?

Post  fiona on Mon Nov 19, 2012 7:19 pm

Have commented on the site.

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Re: Why most Bonsai clubs in the UK are struggling for members?

Post  coh on Mon Nov 19, 2012 7:44 pm

Wow, that's a sad description of bonsai clubs. Makes me feel very lucky to be where I am...

Good thing you made that "long trek" back in 1991!

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Club members

Post  lennard on Mon Nov 19, 2012 7:59 pm

Here is Rustenburg, South Africa, we have the same problem. I live in a city with more than 1 million people, a nine month temperate growing season, a lot of yamadori to be dug but we only have 7 active members in our Kai!

The biggest reasons here are that people want to spend time with the family, watch their favorite sport on Saturdays.......and experience critique/advice as an personal attack.

Lennard

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Re: Why most Bonsai clubs in the UK are struggling for members?

Post  Nemphis on Mon Nov 19, 2012 9:25 pm

Well here in Romania the bonsai art isn't so popular and there aren't any kind of bonsai clubs,exhibition or workshops.
It still must be pioneered,but by whom?

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Re: Why most Bonsai clubs in the UK are struggling for members?

Post  BigDave on Mon Nov 19, 2012 10:35 pm

tony wrote:I started in bonsai over 25 years ago;
Mr Tony,

Very interesting article. We have similar experience (darn karate kid) Razz

I've seen an ebb and flow in interest in our local club.

We were losing members steadily over the years. As current president We started some new things. People want stuff

they want exciting programs, big raffles, good food, exceptional speakers.

the first thing we did was give our newsletter to all the old members we could find. boom lots of renewals, newsletter goes to almost 600 a month snail and email

second we gave freebies. Any one thru the door got in to the raffle--free, everyone was invested for nothing and but then started adding to their position--more money for the treasury

Next we salted the raffle with trees, thats what bring in the dough

budgeted for higher end demo artists, two ofsite picnics with auctions and free steaks picked up by the club (of course the auction brought in 4 times what the food cost

bugged the H3ll out of the local press. got TV, magazine, newspaper so far

2 bus trips to bonsai events 100 miles away
visited 3 bonsai nurseries as a club

2 large scale public bonsai show, with continuous demos and 7000 attendees

Had 60 new members go thru beginners class

Contests, prizes, parties...you know fun and lots of classes, wire wire wire

New website where you can pay for any and all club events online

We are sending a woman to Japan for a 3 month short term study at Aichi-en. She has agreed to in turn teach our members for an extended term as payback.

Geez this got out of hand, not meaning to brag, just that people want more more more and if you can give it, they will come.
30 new members just last month.

Want to join us or receive our newsletter...

If in the area contact me for the VIP treatment, (especially of you are a world class bonsai artiste'... king )

click to go to club website

good luck,

big D

ps. anyone wanting to help a super nice lady go to Japan check out...
click to go to website




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Re: Why most Bonsai clubs in the UK are struggling for members?

Post  ironhorse on Mon Nov 19, 2012 10:48 pm

From another perspective:

I am not a club member, nothing against the club concept, but I don't feel the need to make my interest a social event or experience, just happy to grow my little trees for my own selfish pleasure. None of these will ever be show winners but I really don't care. Content to learn and share what sparse knowledge I have gained through practical experience on this and other websites, and admire the dedication and works of those who strive to achieve greater and even more impressive results.

Dave


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Re: Why most Bonsai clubs in the UK are struggling for members?

Post  Tony on Mon Nov 19, 2012 11:07 pm

To Clarify: I am not against Clubs...far from it just take a look at what Big Dave is doing over in San Diego. What I am against is clubs NOT progressing and holding back those who want to thrive. Look at how we envy the hard work the Guys at Wirral do... and the results they get, a great club. And Swindon progressive! UK has some great clubs but also a derth of poor ones.

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‎"Study me as much as you like, you will never know me, for I differ a hundred ways from what you see me to be. Put yourself behind my eyes, and see me as I see myself, for I have chosen to dwell in a place you cannot see." — Rumi

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Re: Why most Bonsai clubs in the UK are struggling for members?

Post  fiona on Mon Nov 19, 2012 11:52 pm

tony wrote:...but also a derth of poor ones.
Don't think you mean that surely. Dearth means a lack/scarcity of something.

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Re: Why most Bonsai clubs in the UK are struggling for members?

Post  Khaimraj Seepersad on Mon Nov 19, 2012 11:57 pm

Dave,

it is much the same here. We started off with 7 friends just getting togther at homes. It was wonderful. Then the push for a Bonsai Society took over, within 3 months, the two that wanted to be famous took over and that was that. No more friends meeting and talking about trees.

It ended up with wiring ladder trees and many dead yamadori, an ugly situation. No desire to invite any new blood in, wiring was the bomb.

I just do, talk to few overseas, by telephone and e-mail. I don't need all of that noise.
Now that they are all ageing, getting them to help with a Bonsai museum - hah.

And of course, the money, the money, the money from sales of trees. UGLY.
Later.
Khaimraj


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Re: Why most Bonsai clubs in the UK are struggling for members?

Post  BigDave on Tue Nov 20, 2012 3:27 am

Yes Sir,
Always the egos, its hard on any level to keep that in check. I have been feeling guilty all day for tooting my own horn above... Very Happy



No matter what size a club is I think you need small groups of folks you can connect with. Study groups where all are experienced beyond beginner level --where no one has to dominate--- is very satisfying. It is the ultimate bonsai experience...I think

Any comment on Martha Choy or should I start a new thread to tell you how great she is ?

alien

-D

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Re: Why most Bonsai clubs in the UK are struggling for members?

Post  leatherback on Tue Nov 20, 2012 5:31 am

BigDave wrote:Yes Sir,
I have been feeling guilty all day for tooting my own horn above... Very Happy

I actually thought it was nice and inspiring to see someone having a club that goes the extra mile to offer more than a social experience..

BigDave wrote:
Any comment on Martha Choy or should I start a new thread to tell you how great she is ?

Would be happy to hear more!

As for clubs in the Netherlands.. In general I understand many are suffering membership problems. The one I am a member of (Bonsai Vereniging Overijssel, http://members.home.nl/bonsaivereniging.overijssel/agenda.html) is doing quite well. We have roughly 40-50 members. There is a clear skew towards to older age group though. With my 36 years of age, I am clearly one of the younger members.

In order to keep membership up, the club really promotes visibility. This year we participated in the Floriade (http://www.floriade.com/), a large "green" exhibition in the Netherlands. When an arboretum celebrated their 50th anniversary, the whole club turned out, and at 5 locations bonsai display areas were put up showing bonsai next to their fully grown sisters. At the entrance to the arboretum a Japanese doorway was installed. This effort alone resulted in some 5 new members. We attend many open days of garden centres where demonstrations are given by our more experienced as well as start-up members. The latter especially drawing interest, as they are less threatening to people who are just start-ups themselves.




When budget allows (Once a year, every other year) a better know artist is invited to come along, discuss member-trees and assist during a workshop.This year Maarten van der Hoeven (http://www.shohinplaza.com/) came to the club.

The main problem I see is the lack of finances. Accomodation is expensive, and trips & artist are too. Most members of the local club are on a limited budget (e.g., Retirees) and as such raising membership fees with a a few euro's per year is dificult. Naturally, this reduces the nbumber of activities that are undertaken.Fortunately, the club has some members who have 30+ years of experience, and some really great trees. (Although not the Pavel & Jun types with great styling vision to create art out of garbage Wink).

Would it be an idea to set up a thread specifically aimed at sharing ways to get local clubs more in the picture & interesting to new members?

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Re: Why most Bonsai clubs in the UK are struggling for members?

Post  Tony on Tue Nov 20, 2012 9:22 am

fiona wrote:
tony wrote:...but also a derth of poor ones.
Don't think you mean that surely. Dearth means a lack/scarcity of something.

oops... never type when you are angry.

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‎"Study me as much as you like, you will never know me, for I differ a hundred ways from what you see me to be. Put yourself behind my eyes, and see me as I see myself, for I have chosen to dwell in a place you cannot see." — Rumi

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study groups

Post  Tony on Tue Nov 20, 2012 9:55 am

It is inevitable that within a club a few ‘hard core’ do most of the work and the rest tag along. If that hard core have the ‘right’ attitude then the club will create an atmosphere or learning and sharing. There is nothing wrong with ‘spin outs’ from clubs in the form of informal study groups. I know of 3 such groups within clubs in the UK. What they do and know is that they all want to go the extra mile and learn more.

With a study group (usually under 6 persons) it’s easier to handle, a club can be unwieldy. Imagine a Study Group as a speed boat, and the Club as a cruise ship. The speed boat is fast, can change direction quickly and can get to its destination without too much trouble. On the cruise ship everyone is having a good time but it does not turn easily and it gets into port usually with the help of small ‘pilot’ speed boats.

I have seen it so many times whereby the study group ‘proposes’ something to the club, say a visit to a show, invite a particular speaker or have a trip away, they are considered ‘elitist’ however if that group is in the driving seat by being on the Club committee as they are at The Wirral, see the results and level of membership they achieve.

I really enjoy my visits to clubs, at some the atmosphere and excitement is tangible, at others it is a case of “have you bought your raffle tickets?” I love the social side, meeting folk, chatting, sharing and often lots of laughter. For some it’s a welcome night out, a time to meet friends and catch up, for others they want more, they should not be held back but encouraged to grow and if nurtured will stay within the club.

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‎"Study me as much as you like, you will never know me, for I differ a hundred ways from what you see me to be. Put yourself behind my eyes, and see me as I see myself, for I have chosen to dwell in a place you cannot see." — Rumi

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Re: Why most Bonsai clubs in the UK are struggling for members?

Post  JimLewis on Tue Nov 20, 2012 1:14 pm

Would it be an idea to set up a thread specifically aimed at sharing ways to get local clubs more in the picture & interesting to new members?

I think this thread is doing that job quite well. Just keep it up, folks.

A question: What is the proportion of gray (or bald) heads to younger people in your clubs? Is anything being done to encourage younger folks into bonsai?

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Re: Why most Bonsai clubs in the UK are struggling for members?

Post  leatherback on Tue Nov 20, 2012 1:51 pm

probably 8 persons over 60+ for every 40- member. Bonsai is not a hobby that many young people are attracted to, as it requires patience...

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Re: Why most Bonsai clubs in the UK are struggling for members?

Post  Tony on Tue Nov 20, 2012 2:53 pm

JimLewis wrote:A question: What is the proportion of gray (or bald) heads to younger people in your clubs? Is anything being done to encourage younger folks into bonsai?

In know that when we have visitors from your side of the pond Jim they are surprised at the high level of youth involved and the fair sex too! in particularly in Italy Bonsai is 'cool' or just for you Jim 'groovy' Cool and the mix of not so young and young is well balanced. Look at this shot from last year in Italy with our group PF.



At Burrs this year at least 30% of participants were under 35 there was a fair number of crinklies too... me included Rolling Eyes

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‎"Study me as much as you like, you will never know me, for I differ a hundred ways from what you see me to be. Put yourself behind my eyes, and see me as I see myself, for I have chosen to dwell in a place you cannot see." — Rumi

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Re: Why most Bonsai clubs in the UK are struggling for members?

Post  Khaimraj Seepersad on Wed Nov 21, 2012 12:04 am

The real problem with Bonsai and younger folk is not patience. It is raising a family and not having the time or money to invest in the hobby.

Most folk on our side are also paying for land/house/car and at times education.
Today, I spent the day teaching an Art class, and a few of the students asked about Bonsai, I gave the same advice Wu Yee Sun gave, education first, hobby after.

So the folk with the most free time would be over 65 or retired, settled young folk [ rare ] and folk with the drive to want to practice the hobby [ also rare ].
With a population of about 1.5 million, on our side you are lucky to get 10 folk that fit the above.

I am however not convinced that Bonsai should have clubs/societies, as those who practice Bonsai as an Art form, are really not that interested in being sociable or into sales, just a great love for beauty=truth unhidden.
Anyhow, it takes many to spin the world.
Khaimraj

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Re: Why most Bonsai clubs in the UK are struggling for members?

Post  Billy M. Rhodes on Wed Nov 21, 2012 1:25 am

The Bonsai Society of Brevard based in Melbourne, FL, USA has over 60 paid members and a youth group. This past weekend we had a show at the local Zoo, where we have a permanent exhibit. During the show we sponsored a session for kids where each child received a Willow Leaf Fig, and inexpensive glazed Chinese Pot. Jim Vanlandingham and other club members provided instruction for the kids. We also enrolled all the kids in out youth group. Each child went home with a started, wired tree. We charged $25 I think which about broke even. Also during the show we had four demos by club members and visiting artists which we stationed just opposite the Zoo entrance.
In October we had a booth at the local art festival on downtown streets. At this show we displayed fewer trees but still had demos, a raffle and sold starter bonsai that members had made up again using the glazed Chinese pots but a variety of tree species. How did we pay for it. Our club sponsored a number of state conferences where we made a little money, we have a raffle table at every meeting where members donate items. We also raffle the demo from each meeting and programs like the Zoo so those mostly pay for themselves and members can get some really good material.

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Re: Why most Bonsai clubs in the UK are struggling for members?

Post  fiona on Wed Nov 21, 2012 7:51 am

It's always nice to hear of clubs that actually work, Billy. Well done - yours sounds as is if it positive and dynamic. I wish I'd had a similar experience.

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Re: Why most Bonsai clubs in the UK are struggling for members?

Post  Khaimraj Seepersad on Wed Nov 21, 2012 10:56 am

You know when the 7 friends started discussing forming a Bonsai Society on our side, I simply said no, and stated that it made more sense to just leave it as friends who did Bonsai.

Well, I went off to London and got voted in by the founders of the Society, without even being asked and was given the position for research, as I was the one who got into learning about new plants.
I returned and removed myself.

The society started off with 200 paying members, and within a year were down to 50 or so. The two who wanted to rule, ended up bullying the others. The friendships ended and the society has since dwindled down to just 10 folk who every year try to recruit more folk.

My point with all of this has been it is a hobby, and most folk get so tied up in life that they can't have hobbies or where they came from, no one could practice a hobby.
Bonsai is enjoyable, and needs no other eyes, other than the person doing it, it is always fun to share, but very few will have the time to do more than look.

Billy as much as I admire efforts with young children, I would be very surprised if just a few of those poor plants chanced to be be alive sometime late next year. I can always hope.
We had a young chap down here 10 years old, made newpapers and all that as our youngest Bonsai practioner.
Very good blend of races, handsome and that was the end of that, he became popular with the girls by 11 and goodbye Bonsai.

Now we have the twig specialists, took one class of Bonsai wiring and lo, behold, twiglets for sale at 3" heights =150.00 US $.

I do Bonsai, notice me, hear me roar.

Lets hear it for those who love trees quietly.
Later.
Khaimraj

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Re: Why most Bonsai clubs in the UK are struggling for members?

Post  Billy M. Rhodes on Wed Nov 21, 2012 11:36 am

fiona wrote:It's always nice to hear of clubs that actually work, Billy. Well done - yours sounds as is if it positive and dynamic. I wish I'd had a similar experience.

We have a saying in The Church, "preaching to the choir." Which, of course, means, talking to people about bonsai who are already doing it will not convert anyone. That is why our club does so much evangelism. I think we realize that many of the youth and their trees will fall by the way side and even most of the trees purchased at our art show booth will also not survive. But, we do get new members from almost every out reach program and a few stay and become active.
Shows and conferences that cater to those already doing bonsai are important, but for growth and the future we have to go to the public.
As to club politics, yes it happens, and people get offended sometimes, but I did bonsai alone for 20 years and have been a member of a club for 10. I have learned much more in the 10 then I ever did in the 20.
The club also provides resources for networking supplies and material that does not happen alone. In a smaller country/island tthe networking might not matter as much.

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Re: Why most Bonsai clubs in the UK are struggling for members?

Post  Billy M. Rhodes on Wed Nov 21, 2012 1:22 pm

The Zoo helped get a newspaper article published a week before our show. (Not many people take the newspaper anymore but it still helped.)

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Re: Why most Bonsai clubs in the UK are struggling for members?

Post  Khaimraj Seepersad on Wed Nov 21, 2012 1:27 pm

Thanks for the reply, Billy,

good to see that you have so much positive energy.
Later.
Khaimraj

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Re: Why most Bonsai clubs in the UK are struggling for members?

Post  BigDave on Wed Nov 21, 2012 2:03 pm

Billy M. Rhodes wrote:

The club also provides resources for networking supplies and material that does not happen alone. In a smaller country/island tthe networking might not matter as much.

Agree Billy M,

You got a good thing going down there... good job

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Re: Why most Bonsai clubs in the UK are struggling for members?

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