The RSFSA during the Covid-19 pandemic

The RSFSA Committee met (on Zoom) on 19 October 2020. The focus of our discussions was to review what the Association had been able – and not able – to do since the restrictions brought about by the Covid-19 pandemic, and to give thought to what might be done in the future. The purpose of this letter is to outline those discussions and to seek your comments and thoughts. Please give the message your time and thought, and let us know how you feel on the issues raised.

Members’ welfare

A core aim of the Association – especially over this period – has been to try to support members. Susan Moss has been in touch with many members and their families.

Members were even more generous than normal in supporting the Welfare Fund with donations at subscription renewal time. So, we are in a good position to offer support both socially and financially. The Welfare Fund cannot substitute for loss of income or major costs, but it is able to assist where members may need smaller amounts of support – for visiting hospitals, or travelling to look after dependants or sick family members. There may also possibly be ways to help members who are isolated without the technology to contact friends and family. We would welcome your thoughts and, of course, if you or a member you know could use the Fund, please contact Susan or me.

We know that many members are keeping in touch by email, phone calls and social media. Isolated members in particular have appreciated the contact these can bring. It is too easy for people to drop out of sight, and we would encourage everyone to think about any former colleagues, particularly those who live alone, who might welcome a quick call or email. Not all members are at ease using electronic communications, or would be comfortable making the first contact. Contact details are in the circulated membership list – contact me if you cannot put your hand on it.

Activities and events

Sadly, there was no choice but to suspend the events programme. But we are aware that for many members the social programme forms a major part of the Association, and Jane Silverleaf and the Committee have given a lot of thought to whether there are alternative ways we could organise events, including holding virtual events or meeting in small local groups.

The Professional Activities Group under Nick von Behr has been able to hold a Zoom-based workshop, which included an amusing and clever quiz put together by Scott Keir. The Group is now planning a semi-regular series of Zoom-based events (see the What's on page).

While Zoom and Skype work well for smaller family or business groups, it was thought that organising a Zoom meeting for a large group of members could be too formal and stilted. One possibility might be for a member to give a Zoom talk with members logging in at an arranged time. This would, however, exclude members who do not have Internet access or do not use Zoom.

Many venues are open but organising a group visit is not easy – the number who can currently meet is limited to six, tightening restrictions in parts of the country mean this can only be outside, and non-essential travel is once again discouraged. The need to give members sufficient warning and time to respond, daily changing Covid alert levels and individuals’ own circumstances, mean that booking an event is likely to be more risky than usual, with a possible high drop-out and/or financial consequence.

The 2021 New Year lunch presents a real problem, and the Committee concluded that it was unrealistic to plan for a meal at the normal January time. Jane will, however, be planning to hold a lunch when restrictions allow, although that looks unlikely to be until Spring at the earliest.

We would welcome your thoughts. Are there other types of event or activity that you would like us to investigate? There may be ideas from what other groups you are associated with have been doing. Would you be willing to give an online talk? (The RSFSA has a Zoom account, which allows more flexibility in what can be done.) Or are you happy that we postpone the Events programme until Covid restrictions are lifted enough to make meeting in a larger group feasible again?

Beyond The Terrace

BTT is another well-appreciated aspect of the Association, and we are grateful to Peter Collins and all contributors for continuing to produce issues with interesting content. Please keep proposals for content coming in – Peter will be very pleased to hear from any member with ideas and offers for inclusion in the next issue (deadline 1 January 2021). He would be especially pleased to receive members’ memories of George Read and Mary Fortnam.

AGM 2021

The Committee spent some time discussing both the experience of the paper-based 2020 AGM and the best way of planning for the AGM on 17 May 2021. A physical AGM is undoubtedly important, both in enabling healthy debate and decisions and for members to be able to meet up. But it is not clear what the situation will be, even by May 2021, in terms of meeting in London, and we know that some members will be more tentative about travelling to London. We noted that enabling remote voting for the 2020 AGM resulted in 60% of members participating (twice the normal attendance at an AGM) and that that improvement in the democratic process was valuable in itself. We therefore concluded that we should try to plan to get the best of both worlds – an AGM that can bring members together physically if possible and also to enable members unable to attend to engage in the issues preferably before a decision was made. The process needs to be flexible enough to cope should a physical meeting not be possible.

We are putting together ideas on how to achieve this, but inevitably it will require a change in the Rules. (The 2020 AGM operated by members, exceptionally, agreeing to waive the Rules on that one occasion, but that cannot continue.) In order for the Rule changes to come into operation in time for the 2021 AGM we are therefore planning to hold a Special General Meeting in the first quarter of 2021. Arrangements will be circulated to all members in due course, complying as far as can be done with the existing Rules of the Association.


Lastly, a word about the Association’s finances. The Association is in good financial health. The restrictions on our activities have had less effect that might be thought – events (except the New Year lunch) have been run on a break-even basis for some time, and BTT costs have continued as usual. We have had lower Committee expenses but higher postage costs, and we have invested in a Zoom licence which both substitutes for physical Committee meetings and opens the opportunity to hold different forms of member activity. The Welfare Fund is separate from our general running costs and is mentioned above.

Mary Nixon is grateful to all the members who paid their subscriptions promptly and by bank transfer or cheque, which were essentially unaffected by the pandemic. There are a few subscriptions outstanding, and Mary will contact those members. The Committee was aware however, that some members will be experiencing financial hardship at this time, the more so for some members whose employment may have been affected. The Committee has agreed, therefore, that the Treasurer may waive the subscriptions in appropriate cases.

I apologise for the length of this message. However, the Committee felt that it was important to lay out our thinking on all these issues and to seek members’ thoughts and ideas. Please let me know, by post or email.

With best wishes from all of us on the Committee.

Peter Cooper, Chairman

31 October 2020

Last updated: 31 October 2020