I am delighted to accept Robin's invitation to write a piece commemorating the 200th Issue of the Newsletter. Having started as Editor with the 100th Issue in 1990, I should have liked to get this far myself but I fell two years short. No regrets about that however, because the dear old Newsletter was due for a fresh boost, which Robin has provided admirably.
In my first issue I said that I was the volunteer for the hot seat, as my predecessor Fiona Powell put it, but "I shan't regret my decision if members are willing to write." That proved to be the case. Thanks to scores of members over the years, I was never short of material and hardly anyone failed to meet my deadlines. It helps an editor that our Society has so many interests - we can write about anything which might benefit our town. But we do also have many wonderfully helpful members, not just writers. I'd like to single out Beryl Jary. Having given up as Secretary, Beryl continued to organise distribution of the Newsletters, nearly half of which were hand-delivered by members, before the recent and understandable decision to simplify the process and use our secretarial agency and Royal Mail.
Production methods and design
Long before my time as Editor, the earliest issues of the Newsletter were typed on 'skins' and duplicated on a Roneo machine. That was usual fifty years ago. (I remember from my National Service in the RAF the fear of making typing mistakes because of the time consuming business of painting on the correcting fluid - known in the RAF as 'boob juice'.) Those first issues used foolscap paper (remember the word?) stapled in the top left hand corner, but it's proved only too easy to lose the top page or two, especially if the staples rusted. If that all sounds rather amateurish, well it was. But we should remember the limitations of technology then. Moreover, this work for the Society was done by working people - 'hardworking people' in political terminology - people like Peter Underwood, Adam Gordon, John Brown and Tony Hill. When I first joined the Society's Committee it included only one retired person: now all of us are more or less retired. Discuss!
But in 1990, Newsletter production was already in the computer era, so to continue what had been achieved I bought my Mac Classic largely for that purpose. Even so, I have remained a dinosaur by today's standards, using my Mac and later my laptop as merely a wonderfully versatile typewriter, with every single letter, dot and comma (and my favourite, semi-colon) put in by my two trusty fingers. I even resisted accepting anything on floppy disk, CD or memory stick because of a neurotic fear of 'viruses' (whatever they are). It was all laborious but it did have the advantage of my being able to edit and correct as I went along. Today, of course, Robin receives and uses electronic information as it comes in; but he is fully aware of the further need for checking and proof reading!
The role of the Newsletter
With well over a thousand members for some years now, for many members the only real contact with the Society is through the Newsletter. It is very gratifying that our outings attract so many members and that our Winter Talks, Awards Evenings and AGMs are usually well attended. But that probably involves no more than half of the membership, so the Newsletter is the main source of information across a wide range of Ipswich-centred issues.
I've always insisted on the capital 'T' for The Ipswich Society because I see the Society's multi-faceted interests as being at the heart of the town's concerns, a position from which we often liaise with our sister-societies with their more specialised interests. So, I envisage our Newsletter as being far-removed from a parish magazine. After all, we are writing about a big town - not a city admittedly, but a big town with urban pleasures and urban problems. Consequently it has often seemed to me necessary to look outwards as well, to other big towns and their ideas. A tiny example - some twenty years ago I recall being struck by the local authority's recycling instructions in our son's kitchen in Germany, and I quoted them in the Newsletter before recycling became important here. (A member politely pointed out that I'd made a mistake in copying the German exhortations.) Looking outwards was also the main reason for those fact-finding visits to what our original organiser, Don Chipperfield, called 'the Mainland' - our 21 successive annual visits, 1975-1998, to Holland, Belgium, France, Germany and Luxembourg, often with local planners or civic society members as guides. The Newsletter reported them in full and, I hope, widened members' understanding.
The Newsletter has reflected the changing issues in the town and the Society's changing emphases, but some features have remained the same. It is surely a valuable service to members if topical snippets are included - subjects large or small picked up from the local press or from personal observation or from the 'grapevine'. For my part, I hope I've been "a snapper-up of unconsidered trifles". But the most important continuity comes from our response to planning matters. The Newsletter has made generous space available for the Society's comments on specific and strategic planning matters. Dozens of planning monitors have made vital contributions to our coverage, ably handled now by Mike Cook.
I'm pleased to say that the Newsletter has always been more positive than negative in its tenor. Groucho Marx's satirical song, "Whatever it is, I'm against it" could easily be the slogan of a civic society. (Terry Baxter in his recent talk at our AGM guessed that 90% of the letters to the Ipswich Star would be against anything new in Ipswich. I know what he means!) Towns like ours do have problems and societies like ours do need to keep a watchful eye on developments; this is the point of Bernard Reynolds' logo on our masthead. But persistent negativity and sourness in the long run damages the town we all love.
I wish I'd been more conscientious in commissioning contributions. For example, I started including brief annual reports from sister-organisations because they deserve to be known about beyond their own ranks; and our members are likely to be interested in the Ipswich Building Preservation Trust, the Historic Churches Trust, the Museums, the Archaeological Trust and the Maritime Trust. I only did justice to the latter, thanks to the late Di Lewis.
I wish I'd made more use of photographs. In 1990 reproduction was poor, but when I changed our printer to John Kemmett's Simplith Printing he scanned our photos with much better results. (And I should add that after he retired he continued to be a great help.) Robin, of course, uses many of the modern possibilities of photography and I salute him for that.
I wish we'd had rather more controversy. Our Awards for the best Regional Community Publication (1992 and 1993) were mainly for its lively debate. That didn't always continue partly because it often proved difficult to get members to send in Letters to the Editor - perhaps understandable as that Editor didn't receive emails!
Finally, I wish I could mention all the names of the people who have helped to make our Newsletter a useful and interesting publication. At least, I hope you have found it so.