Wyboston is a small village in Bedfordshire in eastern England.
For most people, it's probably never even registered on the radar. But for a number of years now, for Lib Dems at least, it's become synonomous with training and socialising.
I've just returned from a packed weekend at Wyboston and looking at it, it's really a rather amusing get together.
The 'Wyboston' weekends are the large get togethers that the party has to bring together MPs, candidates and campaigners to train them and bring them up to speed on modern innovations in preparation for forthcoming elections. They used to be the 'Peterborough' weekends but the party grew and bigger training facilities were required.
My only previous visit to a 'Wyboston' weekend was back in the autumn of 2004. I think it may have been the first year the party had used the Robinsons Executive Conference facilities there, I'm not sure.
It's an incredibly long journey to get there and back from west Wales but at least when you do, everything is under one roof. The training and conference rooms, our accommodation, and the eating facilities are all enclosed in the one location. So, as it turned out, I found myself inside the building from about 3pm on Friday until 10am this morning and I didn't step outside of it in the meantime.
The training is intense but was very productive I felt this year. There was a good smattering of members from across the entire country present and I was particularly impressed to see such a good turnout from the west country and from Scotland (again, a fair distance away from Wyboston). I can count at least 17 of our MP's being there this weekend which is over a quarter of our whole Parliamentary party which was pretty impressive (most of the remainder would have been at one of the two other 'Wyboston' weekends during the previous 2 weeks). So there was a real sense that the MPs were present and it's a good opportunity for newer members and campaigners to meet our Parliamentarians in the flesh in a relaxed environment.
That, as with any real get together of the Lib Dems such as conference, is the beauty of these 'Wyboston' style weekends. When we get together, it's like a family reunion. You get to see friends you haven't seen for months and there's the opportunity to catch up on news and gossip. There's also the chance to meet new names and faces. The dinners we had this weekend, certainly gave a good opportunity for everyone to relax and unwind after a full-on training schedule.
I've been involved with the party since 2001. I began going to conferences proper and getting involved in the wider party from around mid-2002 onwards. When I first started working for the party in 2004 and attended that first 'Wybsoton' weekend, the characters were very different to those I saw this weekend. Some of course are still there. The irrepressible Lord Rennard, our Chief Executive, was present with the same level of bonhomie with which we have become accustomed. Many of the Campaigning Directors and Deputy Directors are still in post, whilst many others inevitably, have moved on.
So it was slightly odd in a way, seeing so many new faces. It reminded me that I've been involved in the party for some time now. There were certainly more 'new' faces there this weekend than 'old' ones. This gave me an opportunity to get to know new people who will probably become a part of that extended Lib Dem 'family' that has continued to grow over the years. This weekend was no exception, but as with many such events, it's odd how I often find myself getting to know someone new and spending much of the weekend in their company. This time round it was Alex who works with David Heath MP who was usually sitting next to me during the long training sessions. It's always nice to be able to get to know someone new during the course of these weekends and she proved good and amusing company.
Over the years, I've met or spoken at some level with most of our MPs, but certainly not all of them. These weekends often give an amusing opportunity to digress at the bar with one of these MPs I've never really spoken to before and this weekend was no different. Listening to Nick Harvey MP in good form at our dinner table on the Friday night was entertaining, as was, for the first time, having a good chat with Malcolm Bruce, an MP since 1983, at the bar last night. From thrashing out peace in Northern Ireland and in the Middle East, to drinking a whiskey in celebration of Burns night today, he was in particularly good form.
It's these little snippets which I enjoy most from these get togethers. Despite all the hype and all the stress that goes into political life, you are at the end of the day, just dealing with human beings and breaking down that barrier to talk to them about every day issues, is always great fun.
So, as well as learning much this weekend, my 'Lib Dem family' has grown that little bit more during the past few days. As it the way of things, I'll no doubt meet up with many of them again when our spring conference in Harrogate come around in early March.