After the political whirlwinds in the UK in the second half of 2022, we may all be forgiven for approaching 2023 in a more sober and reflective mood. For BACSA, I believe the time has come to re-focus how we go about achieving our core purpose of helping to conserve cemeteries and monuments in South Asia. This re-appraisal, with which the Executive Committee is in broad agreement, has been prompted by three considerations.
The first is that the number of deserving sites in the Indian sub-continent is far beyond the capacity of BACSA to help on any continuing basis. Although one-off grants will always be considered if they will prevent irrevocable decline of a cemetery or monument, BACSA’s preference is to provide solutions which will last in the medium or longer term. This means coupling major works with a maintenance plan undertaken by interested parties in the locality. BACSA’s financial resources, now and in the future, will only ever be able to provide ongoing support for a limited number of locations. So, we need to identify a manageable number of “flagship cemeteries” for which we can expect to be able to provide help on a continuing basis. And in the future, we should concentrate our major conservation efforts on these cemeteries.
The second consideration, inextricably linked to the first, is cost. The countries of South Asia are not immune to the resurgence of the inflation we are experiencing in Western economies. But even before inflation reared its head again in the UK, it had taken hold in India. Projects that would have cost BACSA a few hundred pounds sterling 10 years ago are now being priced in the thousands of pounds. We are being quoted six figure sums in sterling for major conservations such as in the cemetery of St Mary’s on the Island in Chennai. The GST (Goods & Services Tax) in India does not help. It adds 12% or 18% to every invoice we receive. The rising cost of projects is forcing BACSA to limit those sites where we can give long-term support and it means we must choose those sites with greater care.
The third consideration is political. It has always been difficult to persuade government and local authorities in South Asia, of the worth of restoring cemeteries and monuments which may be seen as relics of a colonial past and are Christian in origin. Our projects need to bring added value to local communities if they are to be embraced by them with any enthusiasm and viewed with favour by government agencies. Moreover, a restored cemetery that provides an attractive green space in a crowded urban environment or which can be used for recreational purposes is also one that is more likely to be maintained and cared for by the community than left to deteriorate once again. In short there is a compelling case for giving priority to major projects that do public good. An example of such a project is the conservation of the Scottish Cemetery in Kolkata by the Kolkata Scottish Heritage Trust (see www.bacsa.org.uk/lord-bruce). We can learn a great deal from how the Trust engaged the neighbourhood in this project and raised funds on the strength of its benefit to the community. It is an inspiring story.
Engendering local support for projects is not easy, and it adds to the expense of projects if we have to employ professionals not only to supervise the conservation work but to work with the local community and bring them on board. So, if this re-fresh of BACSA’s objectives is to be a success, we are going to need more money.
There are three things I should like to share with you about that. The first is that the Executive Committee is actively considering new ways in which to raise funds from corporate and other sponsors. A number of individuals and private trusts have been, and continue to be, very generous in their financial support of our work but we feel that we must cast the net wider.
You may recall that we have asked the membership for Additional Voluntary Contributions on a number of past occasions. We believe a somewhat similar scheme should be introduced to boost the projects fund; we aim to report further later in the year. Meanwhile included in this mailing is a Gift Aid form which we should be grateful if you would all complete and return in the enclosed envelope, as it will boost funds at no cost to members. Full details can be found on the reverse of the form. Projects such as the Hyderabad Residency and St Mary’s would not have been possible without the support of donors who were not members. I believe the first call should be on the membership. If you can afford to give BACSA a little more than your annual subscription or the amount of the Life Membership subscription you may have paid many years ago, I ask you to do so.
Second, the Executive Committee has discussed the possible benefits of creating a fundraising post to be filled by someone with fundraising experience. If you think you might be such person, or know someone who is, please get in touch with me or the Chairman or the Honorary Secretary.
Third and importantly, I should like to remind you that a bequest to BACSA in your Will is also tax-efficient and it will make a real difference to the work we can do in the future. As we look forward to what the new year holds in store, I have one sad piece of news. Marion Tijsseling, who took over the post of Treasurer last spring, has tendered her resignation for reasons of ill-health. We wish Marion a speedy and complete recovery. In the meantime, our Chairman, Paul Dean, who was managing BACSA’s finances before Marion took over, has volunteered to continue in that role. I am most grateful to him since it means that, for once, I do not have to include head-hunting in this Letter!
I close by wishing all members and supporters of BACSA a safe, healthy and prosperous 2023.