This is my fourth and last year as Chairman and it is my pleasure to tell you, the members, what we think we have achieved and in some cases where we have failed.
The Executive Committee
Your Executive Committee has met on six occasions during the year. An initiative started by our previous secretary Robert Houseman and continued by John Gurnett was to introduce a system of written reporting as a way of reducing the amount of time spent by the Committee in meetings.
I think that we have been only partly successful since we have had some trouble meeting deadlines.
I think that your new Chairman will need to think about this problem. As the Society gets larger and busier each year we need to put in place an improved management structure. For example, the Executive Committee spends much of its time discussing projects and publications. Perhaps
a 'Projects and Publications Committee' would be a good idea thus releasing the Executive Committee to concentrate on bigger issues. Perhaps we also need something like a planning group that can look ahead two, three or even four years to forecast where the Society might be at that time and to set out goals for the Society. Such a group would also help the Treasurer in producing budgets for the years ahead.
At the present time, there is only one formal sub-committee of the Executive Committee and that is the Research Centre Committee. That group has been meeting monthly since about January, 2000, to plan and establish the new Research Centre.
The total membership at the time of writing this report was exactly
1,800. The total at the end of last year was 1,685 so we have seen an increase Of 115 or about 7%. Each year some 150-200 members do not renew their membership. This means that we have enrolled between
250 and 300 new members. We must be doing something right. It is the case that an increasing number of new members are introduced to the Society via the website and the Research Centre.
The Executive Committee has carefully reviewed the financial position of the Society and, as forecast in the March journal,
I regret to say that subscriptions will increase for the membership year
1st July, 2001 to 30th June, 2002. The increase for all classes of membership is £2.
I am aware that members will greet this news with some dismay. However, we do need to ensure the Society is on a sound financial footing. The main areas of additional costs arise from printing and posting the journal and the costs of running the Research Centre. We have also been faced with a
50% increase in the subscriptions we pay to the Federation of Family History Societies.
I understand that this is the first increase in subscriptions since 1996. Perhaps we should have looked at subscription rates earlier and proposed smaller but more frequent increases.
As you will be aware the government's Gift Aid Scheme allows us to reclaim the Income Tax you pay on your subscriptions. For every £1 you pay in subscription we receive 28 pence from the Inland Revenue. This helps us to pay for the many services we offer to members as well as financing projects and publications. So if you are a UK taxpayer don't forget to fill in the Gift Aid Declaration attached to the membership renewal form.
Payments from overseas members
The Society has previously stated that payments of subscriptions and bookstall orders could only be paid in sterling and we know that this causes many problems for overseas members. I am pleased to say that with immediate effect members will be able to pay for subscriptions and bookstall orders with dollar cheques drawn from their own bank account from Australia, New Zealand, the United States and Canada.
During the year we have produced several new publications. We are now publishing the full transcripts of the 1851 Census of Berkshire and we have so far produced six volumes. An increased number of memorial inscriptions has been published together with two or three parishes in our ongoing parish register transcript project. We have released the first few sections of indexes and transcripts of the Berkshire Overseers Papers. All the
War Memorials in Berkshire have been surveyed and a name and location index has been published.
None of these publications would have seen the light of day were it not for the sterling work of members who carry out the actual research and we must thank them all for the work they have done and, hopefully, will continue to do. Jocie
McBride is our Publications Manager and we must thank her for so ably managing the conversions from data to publications.
All these publications are on microfiche. It is the medium liked by a large number of members. However, we are aware that some members think that this is a somewhat old fashioned system for publications. For this reason, we are looking out for a publication that would be suitable for release on CD-ROM. However, we need to be sure that we correctly resolve the issues of format and security.
The Society Bookstall is a very important part of the Society's work since it contributes significant sums to Society funds. The Bookstall is located in the Research Centre and the Postal Bookstall Sales Service is run from there.
We have taken the Bookstall to several Open Days at other Societies and to family history fairs. The sales made at such events are of course useful fundraisers, but they also raise the profile of the Society among other societies and the public. We thank all those who gave up their Saturdays-and some Sundays-to staff the Bookstall at these events.
Jocie McBride is presently acting as Bookstall Manager and we thank her for that. However, we do need to recruit a Bookstall Manager if we are to expand our activities in this area.
There are a number of on-going projects. I have already mentioned some of them. A group based at the Vale of White Horse Branch in Abingdon is working towards a new Berkshire Marriage Index. A group led by David Wright has produced about
75,700 entries for insertion in the recently published first edition of the Federation's National Burial Index on CD-ROM. Work continues on this project and the results are expected to appear in the Federation's second edition, although if the rapid progress we have already seen in abstracting burials in Berkshire continues we may produce a separate CD-ROM
covering the whole county. We hope to complete publication of our 1851 Census project this year. Work on the Overseer's Papers continues but this will take a further two years or so to complete. We must thank all the members involved with projects for all their hard work. Daphne Spurling has recently taken on the task of Projects Manager. If you would like to help with projects already under way, or new ones, then contact her at the Research Centre.
Berkshire Family Historian
This is produced four times a year by our Editor John Gurnett. I think that this is an excellent journal and a tremendous advertisement for the Society and we thank John for all his skill and effort. Any society journal is only as good as the contributions received, so do continue to submit articles to the Editor.
The Society has met in five centres each month during the last year. The lecture programmes put together by the various branch committees are a credit to the Society and we thank them all.
The new Research Centre in Yeomanry House opened for business on
l0th May, 2000 so that brings all its operations into the year under review. There was a very slow start in the visitor numbers at first. However,
I am pleased to report that we are finding the visitor numbers so far in the year 2001 are comparable with those recorded when we were at Prospect College.
The total number of visitors from the opening on l0th May, 2000 until 31st March, 2001 was 1,340, or, put another way, about three-quarters of the membership have visited the centre once.
I am pleased to say that about 50 of the new members I have previously referred to were recruited through the Research Centre.
The Research Centre has become the base for many society activities including the meetings of the Executive Committee, the Computer Steering Group and, lately, the Reading Branch Committee. The Computer Steering Group has held a series of very successful weekend courses at the centre and during the coming summer they are holding
computer 'surgeries'. We are intending to hold short weekend 'Summer
Schools' for absolute beginners to family history. These examples are given to show that we are gradually increasing the use of the Centre for educational purposes.
We hold regular monthly library tours at which members and the general public are shown around the centre and all the various family history sources briefly explained to them. Typically, there are eight to ten visitors to these events and this is a further source of new members.
At present, the centre is open on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays during the day, Tuesday and Thursday evenings and on the second Sunday of the month. The opening hours are limited solely by the number of volunteer Library Assistants we are able to recruit.
During the year the Society's website has been completely revamped by Eddie Spackman.
I think that the web site is now a very attractive advertisement for the Society and all its activities. It is the case that many of the new members
I have previously mentioned have applied for membership on forms downloaded from the website.
Before closing I feel I should thank all those who administer the Society's affairs. Barbara Swiatek is our current Treasurer. We thank her for keeping a close eye on our funds and for ensuring that we get the best returns on our investments.
The person who answers all the Society's interesting mail is of course our Secretary John Gurnett. He cheerfully deals with so much correspondence from many parts of the world either by post or increasingly by email.
A number of stalwarts of the Society have resigned or retired from their posts or are about to. Barbara Swiatek has now served five years on the Executive Committee and cannot now be re-elected to the Executive Committee under the Society's Constitution. Barbara was the Slough/Windsor Branch representative until she took on the onerous task of Treasurer at last years AGM. Catherine Harrington was our Editor for a number of years and has served recently on the Executive Committee. Catherine has already resigned from the Executive Committee for domestic reasons. Margaret Pyle has been one of the Membership Secretaries for eight or nine years and she has decided it is now time to hang up her typewriter. Sally Pellow was our Bookstall Manager for a couple of years and has already resigned for business reasons. Liz Longhurst who has also served on the Executive for five years will also be retiring
although she will continue to act as a Membership Secretary. I would like to thank all of them for their service to the Society.
I am very conscious of the fact that I have not thanked many others who do so much for the smooth running of this Society. Without them, we just would not function.
Finally, I must express my concern that members are reluctant to come forward to stand for places on the Executive Committee or to become involved in work that would lead to them taking over as an officer of the Society. Some of us have been officers for a number of years and it is worrying that we have no progression of members to take over when we
wishto - or must - retire. Will each of you please consider this and think about volunteering to ensure the progress and growth of the Society continues unhindered.
I J Dickason, Chairman