BACSA starts the new decade in good health, both financially and in terms of the work with which we are currently engaged. Our finances are in good shape. The value of our reserves has held up well during the recent uncertainties of Brexit and in the past year we have received, or been promised, some very generous donations from individual members towards particular projects. Our new website (about which you can read more in this Spring Mailing) is nearing completion. The chief executive of Indigo Tree, who has been leading the re-design, will be giving a talk at the AGM in March illustrating the features of the new website. This has been a major investment by BACSA but one which I believe will connect us to a wider audience, boost membership and serve as a platform for further innovative advertisement of our work over this coming decade.
We also continue to be active on the projects front. The restoration of the Hyderabad Residency and its adjacent cemetery is well advanced. We continue to make contributions towards the work to restore the Scottish Cemetery in Calcutta. We have recently agreed to support a small restoration project in Pakistan. A major project on which BACSA is taking the lead, is the restoration of the Cemetery of St Mary’s on the Island in Chennai. This is an important cemetery containing some fine memorials dating back to the mid-18th century. We have a team in place to carry out the work, and a specification and funds for the First Phase. I am confident that work will begin in 2020. But the entire project will take some years to complete and will require a major fund-raising effort.
BACSA’s work is show-cased at our two general meetings: the AGM in March and the GM in October. For those who are able to attend these meetings, it will be obvious that BACSA achieves what it does achieve only through the tremendous efforts of members of the Executive Committee, its sub-committees, and our Area Representatives. All make an invaluable contribution, without which BACSA simply would not function. I feel that some particular “mentions in despatches” are due here. Rosie Llewellyn-Jones has worked tirelessly as Editor of “Chowkidar” for more than 40 years. “Chowkidar” reaches all our members and is, I know, eagerly anticipated and much valued. BACSA would be lost without Rosie’s editorial contribution. Next I should mention Richard Bingle and David Blake in organising BACSA’s archives at the British Library. The BL has recently introduced restrictions on the material it will continue to hold, for reasons of space. This requires discrimination in what we can add to our archives and a degree of pruning of what is already there. This would be an impossible task without the expertise of Richard and David and the close relations they have with the BL staff.
There are the two sub-committees of the Executive Committee. One deals with the website and one with Projects. Rosemary Raza chairs the former and Denise Love the latter. BACSA members largely belong to the pre-internet and “technologically-challenged” generation. So we are fortunate in having Valmay Young on the Website sub-committee, whose grasp of the technical issues is masterful. The Projects sub-committee has embarked on two ambitious enterprises. One is the creation of a set of principles by which BACSA can assess whether a cemetery is deserving of preservation and what priority should be given to it. BACSA is indebted to Dr Sarah Rutherford for her input here. The second is the production of a Conservation Manual outlining best practice in the preservation and restoration of cemeteries. This idea is the brainchild of Rosemary Raza, who has enlisted the help of Dr Neeta Das – an internationally known and well-respected architect based in Calcutta, who has been masterminding the restoration of the Scottish Cemetery in that city.
The Manual will be produced in English, Urdu and Hindi and will give guidance to local conservators on the procedures and materials they should use. Valerie Haye holds a number of portfolios, including Events and Second-Hand Books. But she deserves an especial accolade, along with Rosemary Raza, for having promoted and organised the BACSA Lecture Series, now in its third year and at LSE. The Lectures have advertised BACSA to a wider public and have secured a number of new members. Last, but by no means least, there is BACSA’s Hon. Sec., Peter Boon. I have witnessed first-hand not only the huge amount of work he does in preparing Agendas and Minutes for our meetings, but also his input, behind the scenes, on so much of BACSA’s inter-action with other bodies and outside contacts. Two recent examples are his successful efforts in securing for BACSA the money in the Delhi High Commission’s Cemeteries Endowment Fund, and the information he has had to supply to the Deputy High Commission in Chennai in order to get a dormant bank account holding BACSA funds re-activated. The administration of BACSA would founder without the constant attention given to it by Peter.
If I have painted so far a rather rosy picture, there are, nevertheless, some clouds on the horizon. It has been a source of concern to the Executive Committee that for the past year we have been unable to find a candidate amongst the membership who is willing to succeed Charles Greig as Treasurer. We are indebted to Charles for his contribution but he is stepping down in March. His intention to do so was announced in the Spring of 2019 but to date we have been unable to appoint a successor. The Chairman, Paul Dean, offered to take on the role temporarily. But the doubling-up of portfolios amongst Executive Committee members is not a solution. Charles Greig has very selflessly agreed to continue in the role for another six months while the search for his successor continues.
BACSA also needs money because the cost of the work we do in South Asia is increasing year-by-year. I remind members that legacies are an efficient way of donating to a charity like ours. Funds are also raised by the recruitment of new members, and by recruitment we may be able to kill two birds with one stone because enlarging the membership may one day help us to fill executive positions when they become vacant. Members who join BACSA in their 30s, 40s and 50s may feel they have time to contribute to our work when they retire or become semi-retired in their 60s and 70s. So, as in previous years, I leave you with an exhortation: if you cannot give your time to BACSA (we are still looking for a Treasurer), please recruit new and younger members!
With all good wishes for 2020.