In March 2009, on a whim, I contacted a local proofreader I’d come across when nosing around on Yell.com. We met for coffee and chatted about the possibility of starting a local SfEP group, and a couple of months later the first meeting of the West/North Yorkshire SfEP local group took place. Around 20 people came along – an amazing number for an initial gathering!
Having met every three months over the intervening years, in June 2019 we held our 41st local group meeting. Our theme for the meeting was onscreen mark-up (Google Docs, PDFs and Word Track Changes) – not a particularly celebratory topic, perhaps. But a couple of weeks later we got together for an unofficial tenth anniversary social event, enjoying a traditional Yorkshire curry and some more relaxed conversation.
1. There’s always something to talk about
I don’t particularly enjoy face-to-face networking, and I’m no fan of small talk, but when you’re among editors and proofreaders that doesn’t seem to be a problem. Whether you’re a complete newbie or an old hand, you can always chat about training, different types of editing and proofreading work, business issues (particularly if you’re a freelancer), previous work experience, etc. And most people are also happy to answer your questions about such topics, which can add another dimension to your own research in books or on websites.
2. I *can* organise an event
Several years ago I helped to organise a couple of major local events for a client, and I vowed never to do it again (too stressful!). Our local group meetings are kept deliberately low-key, but still require me to book a room at a suitable venue (see below), send out invitations, make sure we have a theme, keep a check on the numbers attending, liaise with the venue and ‘chair’ the meeting. There’s also a little bit of background admin: adding people to my email list and removing them as appropriate (in line with GDPR), notifying the SfEP community director of the date/time of our meetings and so on. This is all well within my comfort zone – and it seems to have worked so far.
3. The venue can be the biggest headache
I’m not talking about the helpfulness of the staff, the quality of the coffee or the hardness of the chairs – although they are significant factors. More importantly, the venue needs to be reasonably accessible (in terms of both transport links and individual mobility), cheap or free to use and of a suitable size for the number of people attending. The acoustics of the place can also be an issue if you’re hoping to have any sort of group discussion.
Our first meeting was in the lovely diner at Salts Mill (very noisy). We’ve since met at a nearby local café (we stopped meeting there when they suddenly wanted a booking deposit), upstairs at a couple of other cafés (one closed down, one could no longer accommodate a large group) and now in a smaller café in Salts Mill that’s reserved for our meeting. I’m not sure there’s such a thing as a perfect venue – the trick is to find one that ticks as many boxes as possible.
4. There isn’t a time/day that will suit everyone
I have to hold my hand up and say that when I started the group, I chose a time (and, indeed, a location) that suited me, but I recognise that our meeting times won’t suit everyone. We’ve always met during the day, and of course some people who’d like to attend simply aren’t available then. Holding evening meetings would be an option, but that wouldn’t suit everyone either (and would mean finding a new venue – see above!). We do at least vary the days of our meetings, as some members of the group have firm commitments (work or otherwise) that mean they can’t come on particular days. But the search for that elusive ‘perfect time’ continues…
5. Something with a theme works best
For the first couple of years our meetings were simply a chance for general (professional/social) chat, and that seemed to work fine. When we moved our meetings to a room upstairs in a local café, we had the opportunity for more focused discussions, and I think that has worked well. New people have a chance to find out about a specific topic, and it gives more experienced editors and proofreaders more of a reason to come to the meeting and share their experience (and, indeed, learn something new). It can be a challenge to find themes that appeal to such a wide range of people. Several group members have led sessions: we’ve had talks on public speaking training, proofreading annual reports, and editing from a fiction author’s point of view, as well as a very successful session on grammar, spelling and punctuation niggles. And we usually end the year with an ‘editorial highs and lows’ session in December: most people have had a high or low of some kind, whatever their level of experience.
The people who come along to our meetings are a constantly changing group. Yes, there are those who’ve been attending regularly for years (and some of these even came to that very first gathering). But we also have people who have been to one or two meetings and then (for whatever reason) didn’t come again, as well as those who’ve attended regularly until they retired, moved away from the area or decided on a different career path. This ever-changing membership helps to keep our meetings fresh, while still allowing participants to get to know a few familiar faces.
7. People will travel great distances for meetings
I chose Saltaire for our meetings because it’s reasonably well served by public transport and road links (as well as being a lovely place that’s right on my doorstep). But I’ve been really surprised over the years at the distances people are willing to travel to come to our group. From the earliest days we had a couple of members who came all the way from the wilds of the Yorkshire Dales, and we regularly have participants from Leeds, Wakefield, Doncaster, Huddersfield, Hull – and even darkest Lancashire! At the other end of the spectrum, and from a personal point of view, it’s also been great for me to get to know editors and proofreaders who live within a mile or two of me.
8. People are very different
Anyone who’s spent any time at all around editors and proofreaders will realise that there’s no such thing as ‘typical’. Our group welcomes those who are just considering a career in editing or proofreading, those who’ve started their training, those who’ve been working in the profession for a while and those who might be termed ‘veterans’. Some of them work on fiction, some specialise in legal, corporate, scientific or academic fields, and some do a little bit of everything! Although it’s sometimes a challenge to cater for all these disparate interests, I definitely think our meetings benefit from this mix.
9. We all learn from each other
Linked to the previous point, I think we all have a lot to learn from each other, whatever our level of experience or area of interest. Someone who’s new to the profession might have a deep knowledge of the different training options available. In-house staff will have different perspectives from those who work as freelancers. And we can definitely all learn from each other when it comes to the technical side of our work, whether that’s software tools to help with the job, social media platforms for marketing our services, different methods of getting paid or tax requirements for sole traders.
10. Local groups are vital for the SfEP
A thriving local group is a great way in to the SfEP. The discussions we have at our meetings aren’t designed to promote the Society explicitly, but I do think being part of a local group gives people a sense of what the SfEP is about: mutual support, learning, sharing ideas and experience and meeting like-minded others. From the Society’s point of view, getting people involved in local groups can be great for member recruitment and retention. For example, two people who’ve been involved in the West/North Yorkshire group now run other local groups, strengthening their personal engagement with the SfEP. Such engagement can feed through to regional mini-conferences and to the main SfEP conference: it’s so much nicer to attend an event if you know there are going to be at least a few familiar faces.
I’ve learned a lot during the SfEP West/North Yorkshire local group’s first ten years. It was lovely to mark the occasion with a relaxed social event, and I’m looking forward to the next ten years (if only because it’ll be an excuse for another curry).
Helen Stevens has been a freelance proofreader, editor and copywriter for over 20 years, and now specialises in academic and non-fiction editing. She enjoys walking, reading, and playing Scrabble and mahjong, though not all at the same time.
There are SfEP local groups all over the UK – as well as in Toronto, Canada. There is also an international Cloud Club for those unable to attend meetings in person.
Proofread by Victoria Hunt, Intermediate Member.
Posted by Abi Saffrey, SfEP blog coordinator.
The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of the SfEP.