Chairman's Annual Report 2015 / 2016
The success of the Society can be measured in many ways and by all accounts your current Executive Team are succeeding. Membership sits at a steady 1350; each month we lose a few for a whole variety of reasons but we usually gain a couple more than we lose. The Newsletter lists the new arrivals and over the past year we have welcomed:
January 15......14 New Members
April 15..........33 New Members
July 15............20 New Members
October 15......12 New Members
January 16.......31 New Members
Most surprisingly the Newsletter is posted to countries across the world, to Europe, Canada and New Zealand. I am told that, for those who have a connection, it's an ideal way of receiving news of what's going on in Ipswich.
Another key measure of success is the number of activities (outings) that the Society organises, and their popularity. One frequently received complaint is the late arrival of the Newsletter and with it the opportunity to book a coach trip before it is full. This unfortunate situation has been eliminated by posting the Newsletter (either electronically or by Royal Mail). They all go out at the same time; late arrivals are now down to the postman and not the distribution team.
Our usual programme of monthly coach outings throughout the summer has been supplemented by a couple of additional evening activities. The coach journeys are ever popular and I owe a debt of gratitude to the volunteer organisers, not only for enduring the stress of organising members when trying to get everybody back on the coach on time but also for their inspiration when selecting destinations (and guides).
The additional activities included an ‘evening walk' around Ipswich town centre focused on the proposals to ‘turn the town around', to ‘repave the Cornhill' and to move the market to Queen Street. By all accounts this proposal is not popular with Ipswich Society members.
Back in June we entertained Sarah Holloway, who leads the co-ordination of Heritage Open Days across the country on behalf of the National Trust. Using friends and contacts we took Sarah on a whistle-stop bus tour of Curson Lodge, St Nicholas Street, the Unitarian Meeting House and Willis, then on to the Sailing Barge Victor for Coffee and finally to the Gatehouse for a re-enactment with the Archbishop holding court. Needless to say the bus was provided by the Transport Museum and the whole event organised by Margaret Hancock of the Ipswich Building Preservation Trust.
I'd like to think this visit and the ensuing publicity helped us increase numbers who came to see the buildings we had open in mid-September. It was all made possible by the help and time freely given by Ipswich Society volunteers over the weekend. Thank you.
The Society is also indebted to those volunteers who provide a real person contact within St Peter's Church on their ‘open days' and to those who volunteer to be in the Gatehouse in the first Saturday of each summer month.
The programme of Winter Illustrated Talks fills the months between September and April. Finding inspirational speakers that haven't already delivered their slide show to the Ipswich Institute or the Arts Association is a challenge but again the team responsible have uncovered a steady stream of interesting speakers, authors and historians to explain their particular specialism.
Of note amongst some particularly good orators was James Bettley who extracted from the new Pevsner (Suffolk) a few Ipswich buildings that tickled the interest of an attentive audience. I found James' rhetoric particularly interesting on two counts: one he gave particular credit to the late Dr John Blatchly who had escorted the author into the medieval churches to ensure their particular treasures were noted. One of the photographs had John on his knees in St Nicholas' trying to find the medieval font, today hidden under a counter. Secondly, the last photograph was of the author sitting in Pickwick's tea shop whilst a member of staff holds the Spectacled Gate in the closed position. Could this be the first time a photograph of the author has appeared in an edition of Pevsner?
Self-congratulations are also in order on the printing of the 200th edition of our excellent Newsletter (July 2015) and I am grateful to all of the previous editors who have kept up the standard that is well in excess of similar publications from other learned societies. In particular I must thank Neil Salmon who produced some 92 issues up to and including Number 191 and Robin Gaylard who has maintained Neil's excellent standard over the past three years. It is through the Newsletter that the vast majority of those 1500 members and decision makers stay informed about the Society and the town.
A further measure of success is the careful management of the Society's finances and our Treasurer is an excellent disciplinarian, always insisting on official claim forms and that requests for expenditure are fully considered by the Executive before he signs the cheque. The result is that not only do we enjoy a full programme of activities but we also maintain a healthy financial bank balance.
Of some concern is the number who attend our diverse programme of activities; we typically have between 70 and 120 members turning out for the winter talks, most notably for the Annual Awards and the AGM. This is a healthy percentage for any organisation but it does highlight to me that we have a large number of members who are happy to receive their Newsletter and participate in little else.
The Executive Committee strive to think of a new and different activity to add interest and value to the membership. In 2015 we held the Fore Street Revisited exhibition which was both popular in terms of attendance and a superb vehicle for wider publicity (this event was only made possible by Ipswich Society volunteers who ‘sat' the exhibition, thank you). In 2016 we are intent on holding a Garden Party, hopefully in and around the Orangery in Holywells Park. Incidentally we have just nominated the regeneration of Holywells for a Civic Voice Award; it seems to tick all of the boxes and, without knowing the opposition, should stand a chance.
John Norman, Chairman, March 2016
Firstly the sharp eyed amongst you will have noticed that one of the Executive Committee members has tendered his resignation. Ken Wilson has been a loyal and hard-working member of the committee for longer than I, and for a considerable number of years was Treasurer. One of the reasons that the Society is in the healthy position it enjoys today is because of the prudent eye Ken kept on the books. But Ken was more than simply Treasurer; he was always keen that we followed the rules, that committee meetings followed the agenda and decisions were made at the end of a debate so we could move on. I'm sure you will join me in thanking Ken for his valued service.
Also stepping down this year is Liz Brain who has held the post of Membership Secretary for five years. During that period Liz has computerised the membership records and worked hard with our Hon. Secretary, Treasurer and other Committee members to change the way in which the Society's Newsletter is created, produced and distributed. She has also steered through a change in subscription rates and the ongoing requests to members to change their Standing Orders. I am most grateful for all her ‘behind the scenes' work for the Society.
This means there is at least one vacancy for a new person on the committee; I say at least one as we can also have a couple of co-opted members to ensure we can undertake the range of activities we do without the duty falling to the same old few. I know you won't want to stand up at the AGM and shout ‘ME' but you can phone (or email) any of the committee beforehand and have a chat. Our telephone numbers are on page 23 of every Newsletter.
The numerous activities that take place throughout the year are covered in my Annual Report but there are some ongoing interesting asides. We have been persuaded by Ipswich Women's History Group that we should redress the balance and erect Blue Plaques to notable women. It is likely that Nina Layard, archaeologist and writer who carried out excavation work at a Saxon cemetery in Hadleigh Road, at Blackfriars Monastery and Valley brickworks Foxhall Road, will be the first of six nominated to have a plaque unveiled. We just need planning consent and listed building permission.
I suspect that by the time you read this (at the AGM) the changes proposed to the Cornhill will be the topic of hot debate. I know there is substantial opposition to the changes proposed and a planning application will be challenged by the Society. We are currently looking for professional help (from amongst our membership) to help construct a case against Ipswich Central's proposals. The scheme started with a chance remark by Sir Stuart Rose and the suggestion it could be achieved for a quarter of a million pounds (£250,000). The joint submission by IBC and SCC is likely to cost £3.2 million and destroy the Cornhill as we know it.
The speaker at this year's AGM is John Lyall, an architect who works in the Lyall, Bills and Young practice in Farringdon. John has a fair number of important projects in his portfolio including the £50 million Cranfield's Mill and Dance East project and Cobbold's Brewery regeneration, both in Ipswich. John designed a number of infrastructure projects on the Olympic Park, Thomas Neal's Shopping Centre in Covent Garden and One World Square, Liverpool (a residential tower block on the same scale as The Mill).
John Norman, Chairman, March 2015