When I put pen to paper to write the President’s letter for the Spring Mailing in 2020 little did I imagine what the year ahead had in store. The Covid-19 pandemic has turned the world upside down and caused unprecedented disruption to daily life in almost every country in the globe. Whatever the published statistics may say, there is every reason to believe that the countries in South Asia have suffered every bit as much as the UK. And the logistical challenges they face in implementing mass vaccination programmes may mean that they take longer to emerge from this crisis than we do in Western Europe. No one is now predicting a return to normality before 2022.
Against this backdrop it is encouraging to report that BACSA has weathered the storm remarkably well. Although many of our members are of an age at which catching the virus could be dangerous, we are fortunate in having no reports of members who have lost their lives to it. There has been a slight net decline in membership but for reasons seemingly unconnected with the pandemic. Most of our conservation projects have been put on hold: but none has had to be cancelled. Our most recent Lecture Series has been interrupted but postponed rather than abandoned. On the flip side, the sale of second-hand books has thrived, no doubt because members have had more time for reading and for thinking about their libraries. The reduced activity on the ground has meant financial savings. After a sharp fall last Spring, the stock market has recovered, so that BACSA’s reserves now stand at their highest value ever. All this means that BACSA is very well placed for the return to work that is sure to come within the next 12 months.
Two projects that have progressed in spite of the lockdowns are the new website and the Conservation Manual. The new website is due to go live imminently and BACSA’s public face will be much enhanced by it. The Conservation Manual was the brainchild of Rosie Llewellyn-Jones. She is to be congratulated on bringing it to fruition. With a great deal of input from the distinguished architect and BACSA member, Dr Neeta Das, an illustrated booklet has been produced in English, Bengali, Urdu and Hindi. It will be available on the new website and the English version in hard copy. It is a tremendous achievement. It will, I am sure, prove to be a valuable and lasting contribution to the preservation and restoration of cemeteries, graves and monuments in South Asia.
The fact that BACSA has weathered the storm of the pandemic in good shape is not, however, a cause for complacency about the future. We are beginning to face very real administrative difficulties in keeping the show on the road. It is a source of great concern to me and to the members of the Executive that, after nearly two years of searching, we have been unable to find a single member who is willing to take over from Charles Greig as Treasurer. A charity that is dependent on a shrinking band of enthusiasts for its executive functions is doomed. Doubling-up of portfolios within the existing Executive only compounds the problem. Employing outside professionals diminishes our assets and restricts the work we can do. We need someone to be the new Treasurer. Please ask yourselves whether this is not a modest commitment you could make.
Valerie Haye has also said that she would like to retire from responsibility for second hand book sales. Her tremendous work in promoting them has meant that they are a significant contributor to BACSA’s funds. We have also greatly benefitted from members’ bequests of some very valuable books and libraries in recent years. Handling the disposal of these is an important role that needs to be filled by a member who is a bibliophile. I earnestly hope that someone will step forward.
Pandemic restrictions meant that the combined AGM and General Meeting last October was a virtual event. It is for similar reasons that the AGM this year will be a virtual event conducted by Zoom. Details of how to link into the event are elsewhere in this Mailing. There is a silver lining to the cloud of not being able to meet up together. Members who live out of London and abroad can now attend the AGM, when previously they would have been unable to do so. I encourage as many of you as possible to join us on line. The more of you who do so, the more likely it is that BACSA will continue to facilitate on-line attendance at the AGM and GM when the pandemic is over.
Until we can meet again, I wish you good fortune and, more importantly, good health in 2021.
4 February 2021