History of SWIDN
The idea of starting up a network for international development professionals in the South West had probably popped up independently in several quarters as the sector has been growing here for many years - many of the professionals in the area were having informal gatherings of their own before the official network got off the ground. However, a catalyst for the start of the official SWIDN was in 2013, when one of the founding organisations, Development Initiatives, hosted a drinks gathering at their offices for sector professionals and academics, to celebrate their move to new Bristol offices. At that party were several people who became founding members of the network, including the volunteers who formed the first planning committee. The gathering was so clearly beneficial - with valuable connections being made, ideas being sparked and knowledge being shared - that it seemed worthwhile bringing the group together again, and perhaps form a regular networking event. A few people got together to keep making it happen.
The original planning committee consisted of Adrian Flint of Bristol University; Annabelle Hunt; Ed Howarth; Fiona Remnant; Frances Hill; Ryerson Christie; Susan Johnson; Taylor Brown; Vincent Smith; and Roger James, and was chaired by Cordelia Lonsdale. Through their efforts, the South West network was formed and named (originally the South West and South Wales International Development Network), a mailing list was developed, the first website was created and the network began to be established with regular meetups at Bocabar in the Paintworks.
The early gatherings were hugely successful, with the support of the kind folks at the Bocabar, who let us have their backroom space for free. In these first gatherings, we also began the tradition of inviting people to share stories and insights from their work, as international development is such a diverse sector. Some of the first speakers included Victoria Room from Development Initiatives and Jo Hook from Temwa. It was great in the early days how many South West development professionals seemed to pop out of the woodwork - particularly individual experts or consultants who had been working in Bristol for years without realising that they had so many people to talk to who were also doing work in Ethiopia, Haiti or Bangladesh! University students also began coming regularly, welcoming the chance to network with professionals.
When Cordelia moved to New York in 2014, she handed over chairship of the planning committee to Ed Howarth, who dedicated his time to building up and formalising the structures of the network.
It was during this time that SWIDN began to promote the idea of an informal membership structure. Ed Howarth, Sarika Seshadri, Kate Hartley and Sarah Galvin worked hard to reach out to the wider sector to really test whether a membership approach could work and sustain a thriving regional network. This volunteer team started to deliver series of more formal events, including careers events with support from Fiona Remnant (University of Bath), training and speaker events.
In the summer of 2015, Ed Howarth hosted a Your Network, Your Voice event to understand what the members wanted the network to be and how could it become sustainable. This event, combined with massive support from Frances Hill (current chair), started the ball rolling towards SWIDN accessing some seed funding from the Joffe Charitable Trust and becoming the network that exists today.