Zoom in The Room

In a typical Reading Writers move, we organised our first in-the-room meetup since March on the day the government shrunk the numbers of people allowed to gather in one place by a factor of 5. Impeccably done, RW. Yay us.

The meet was a culmination of much gentle negotiation between our usual venue, the RISC, and our esteemed chair, Andy. The RISC wanted people back, of course. Although the bar remains closed until October and will reopen in a very different form (think dry-goods refill store with a little bar to one side) it’s good to have people in the building—and more importantly contributing to the organisation’s survival by paying room hire. All of which we’re happy to do. The RISC has served us very well over the years.

How do we square social distancing guidelines with the needs of the group? There will often be getting on for 20 people at an RW meet, particularly when guests are presenting to us. The solution is to create a hybrid meet—some in the room, some on Zoom.

Zoom has been a lifesaver for the group during the summer months. We’d normally be on break, with a monthly social event in a bar in town. Without that to depend on, we’ve been running virtual events on a regular basis instead, sharing stories and inspiration, keeping each other going during these strange times. We’ve found that Zoom works well for the majority of members. Using emails and our WhatsApp group as backups, the group has been chatting and sharing happily.

Back in the room, there was a certain level of nervousness amongst the RW committee about how well the hybrid approach would work. Andy had wangled a upgrade. We now had access to the Conference hall, which would in ordinary times fit forty people with ease. Under social distancing, we could probably squeeze eight in there. Until the change announced on the morning of the meet, when that number would be cut further.

As it turned out, our fears were baseless. There were four attendees in the big room (Andy, Secretary Meg, Tech Guru Rob and Geek Queen Eloise) with another six joining on Zoom. Rob hooked a laptop and mike to the room’s whiteboard projector, which also usefully had speakers. Everyone could see and hear each other clearly, and the presentation from Social Secretary Gareth on Fantasy went extremely smoothly.

The Room Team even managed to squeeze in a post-session drink at the thankfully re-opened Great Expectations. A pleasingly normal moment to cap off one of our stranger meetings.

And on we go. Our Autumn Competition is now running, we have manuscript nights to organise and guests to invite. It certainly isn’t business as usual, but we’re trying to make it work. We’ll carry on with the hybrid meets for as long as they remain viable, but we believe Zoom is going to be a big part of how we do things from now on.

How we figure out the Christmas party is a whole other question.