Present: Doug Daniels (President) and 22 members.
These were signed by the President as a correct record.
The President reminded members that at last year's AGM our Hon. Treasurer warned about the Society's financial health. Just about everything is costing more – insurance, postage, venue hire charges, printing, lecturers' expenses and the web site. The Society is very grateful to Martin Williams who initiated the web site and donated its running costs for some years. The Society is now taking over but we may have a sponsor lined up. The only thing that has not increased in recent times is the annual subscription. This would be discussed when we came to the Hon. Treasurer's report.
Apart from financial considerations, the Society has continued to flourish. Membership has remained stable at about 120 members and lecture meeting have been very well attended throughout the session. This was due in no small measure to the interesting and varied programme of lectures arranged by the Programme Secretary – Jim Brightwell.
The President felt very fortunate to be supported by an enthusiastic Council and particularly by our Hon. Secretary Julie Atkinson who keeps him up to speed and edits the main part of the Society's web-site. Our Hon. Treasurer and membership Secretary, John Tennant strives to maintain the Society's financial health and members can assist him greatly by paying subscriptions on time.
The President thanked all those members who assist at meetings, putting out and putting back chairs and making and dispensing coffee. And Martin Williams for hosting post meeting gatherings at the Flask. He also thanked those members who had supplied food for this event, Peter Wallis for the acquisition and dispensation of the wine and Simon Lang for hosting council meetings. And he thanked Peter Wallis for the regular supply of interesting articles for inclusion in the Newsletter and reminded members that he was always pleased to receive such material.
The Secretary reported another year of good lectures, and reminded members of the topics. She gave a taste of the lecture programme for next year. Although we were again not able to produce a science week programme, the schools we usually collaborate with both produced their own programmes, most of which were open to the public.
The Secretary reported that membership is 130, of which 19 are family, 2 junior, 1 country and 4 honorary.
The Society had officially attended the British Science Association Branches Forum at the Science Festival in Bradford, in September. And we had received a grant from them to help with the printing costs of the programme cards.
The Secretary added her thanks to the President's to Members of Council for their contributions running the Society, to Doug Daniels and Peter Wallis for the newsletter and its content, to Martin Williams for being a long standing – around 15 years - sponsor of the web site – which he has now surrendered to the Society, to all those who help with coffee and chairs and to those supplying the food and wine for the evening.
The Treasurer, John Tennant, distributed copies of the accounts and gave his report.
Bookings and expenses were up less than 1% from last year's level. The increase in the Observatory costs of over £200 (28%) were due to rises in insurance, and an increase in our public liability cover. Administration was up 11% due to an increase in postage, with an increase in refreshment costs of 46% and the first quarterly payment of website subscription of £38.88. The resulting total expenditure was up 3.3% on last year.
On the income side, membership and gift aid recovery rose 3%. The donations were up from last year's level largely due to the generous donation of £200 by a member. Sales income had increased 180% and interest on our savings account remained depressed. Income overall was up by about 16%.
The outcome is we have an excess on the year of £99.37. But for the donation of £200 we would have made a loss of about £100. Next year with a full year's subscription for our website, the increase in the cost of post, a 3.5% rise in the hire of the Crypt Room and a similar estimated value for general inflation would result in expenditure rising by about £200 on this year's figures. The decline in our tax recovery rate for the next claim period from 27to 25 pence in the pound and without sizeable donations, with our current revenue stream we would make a loss of the order of £300.
In the light of this situation the Treasurer had reluctantly proposed to Council a rise in the Society's subscription rates and recommended them to this meeting. Peter Stern commented that he could not read the signature at the bottom of the accounts and he recommended printing out the name too. There were no questions. Peter Wallis proposed that the Treasurer's report be accepted, Elisabeth Fischer seconded and the meeting agreed.
The Treasurer's recommended increase in subscription was discussed:
|Junior (Country and Student)||£5.00||£5.00|
Country membershiphad been omitted from the April newsletter notification, but all agreed that it was consistent with current practice to make it equal to the Junior subscription.
Peter Wallis, the predecessor as Treasurer, said the recommendation sounded reasonable. Tim Bierman asked if there had been any estimate of the impact in terms of member drop out? John Tennant had considered, and recognised it would occur. Leo McLaughlin asked what should happen for standing order payments? John Tennant said that members would have to cancel their standing orders and redo them, either by going to the bank or sending details to the Treasurer. He would include a form for renewal with the August newsetter. Doug Daniels commented that it means making a positive change. Martin Williams warned of the consequence of natural inertia. Doug Daniels agreed it was a problem, and there would be a lag this year, but we had to hope members would respond quickly.
Peter Stern asked if the Society had a record of the bank from which standing orders came? John Tennant said no, we didn't keep a copy, though we could in future. Julie Atkinson asked if there would be a benefit? The Treasurer thought not necessarily, and it would be better if subscriber made the change.
When asked how long the subscription had been unchanged the Treasurer replied it had last gone up in 1996, with a reduction in cash rates two years later, and that was last change, so it had not gone up in 16 years. John Tennant praised his predecessor, Peter Wallis, for that achievement. Jim Brightwell asked what happened if members overpaid? John Tennant said the Society treated the extra as an added donation. Jim Brightwell suggested adding a prompt to donate to the newsletter.
When asked what the renewal date was, John Tennant replied 1st October. Peter Stern asked if all subscriptions come in at same time? John Tennant replied not always. The first year may be different, e.g. for new joiners. They have to be careful not to keep that date for subsequent years, but if they do, then after 2nd year, they and the Society do know.
Martin Williams asked if the Membership Secretary/Treasurer held members' email addresses? John Tennant said not at the moment, but he will add a field onto the new form, so that it could be used for communication. Martin Williams suggested adding Skype and Facebook but Tim Bierman queried whether the Society wanted to be another Social Network.
Council's proposal was put to the vote and was carried.
As there were no further nominations, the following officers proposed by Council were declared as elected:
|Hon. Secretary||Julie Atkinson||Hon. Treasurer||John Tennant|
|Hon. Programme Secretary||Jim Brightwell||Hon. Membership Secretary||John Tennant|
There were no ineligible Council members under the four year rule this year. The following nominations were received for the 5 ordinary members of Council:
|Nominee||Julia Daniels||Martin Williams||Roger O'Brien||Peter Stern||Kevin Devine|
As there were no further nominations, these nominees were declared as elected to Council.
The President proposed Leo McLaughlin and Martin Williams as auditors, with the Secretary seconding. Both were willing to act. The meeting elected them both.
The Astronomical Section Secretary, Doug Daniels, presented his report, summarised below. (An expanded account is on the web site.)There was a total lunar eclipse on the night of June 15th at moonrise. Despite cloud and rain Simon and Ennio were rewarded with a brief view from Parliament Hill. Jim Brightwell made a flying visit to Rhodes (Greece) to view the eclipse at a greater altitude and in perfect weather.
Eighteen members of the 'Friends of the R.A.S.' visited the Observatory on June 18th, for a viewing and a short talk.
Thirteen members attended a weekend astrocamp near Lewes Sussex. The site has a good dark sky for observing fainter deep sky objects but the weather restricted the viewing to the brighter objects.
On Saturday Sept. 3rd. Doug Daniels and Terry Pearce travelled to the Annual Festival of Astronomy held at Herstmonceux Castle. But by nightfall the cloud cover was total and they returned on Sunday without having had a look through the telescopes or the old Greenwich instruments that still function, to a limited extent.
Seven members helped prepare the Observatory prior to the start of the new session, Before the work began, 30 visitors from the Hampstead Walks came for visit and a short talk by Doug Daniels on the history of the HSS and Observatory.
The new session of public open nights began on September 16th 2011. About 20 visitors turned up and a couple of hours were spent discussing things astronomical, a pleasant evening despite the poor weather preventing any observations. On the evenings of 31st Sept & 1st of October, the Observatory open nights were both well attended. Over 50 visitors on Oct. 1st were able to see Jupiter's Great Red Spot and considerable detail in the cloud belts.
Ten students from the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts visited the Observatory of the evening of October 4th. No observations were possible through overcast skies. However, the President entertained them with a talk.
Unseasonable fine weather meant that the Observatory was in great demand on the weekend of 14th, 15th and 16th of October, with Jupiter, the Moon close to full, a shadow transit on Jupiter of Io and a crop of sunspots being viewed.
On the 19th of October, the BBC Sky at Night team visited the Observatory to film for a programme on November 6th featuring Mars, which came to opposition in March 2012. The presenters interviewed Doug Daniels who showed them the Society's archive of Mars observations which span a century. They interviewed John Culshaw (the impressionist) about his experiences visiting the Observatory. Fortunately we had a clear night and later were able to observe Jupiter.
The BBC arranged another series of Stargazing Live and we agreed to participate. It provided excellent publicity and the Camden New Journal featured an interview with Doug Daniels. Our involvement consisted of opening the Observatory from Jan 13th through to Jan 22nd and sending several representatives to the BBC's event at Charlton House Greenwich on Jan 17th. The first weekend was blessed with crystal clear skies and very low temperatures which did not deter visitors from the Observatory – 50 plus on Friday, over 100 on Saturday and a similar number on Sunday.
We had to close the Observatory at the weekend of Feb. 10th – 12th as the dome and shutter were frozen solid and it was judged that ice on the steps rendered them hazardous. The cold weather did not last and we had some very clear nights during the month. Visitor attendance remained high – too high at times, thanks to the publicity in January. Jupiter, Venus and Mars were well placed for observation with Mars soon to be in opposition in early March.
On March 8th, a BBC2 film crew came to the Observatory to film for 'The Culture Show', aired on 16th March. The programme discussed the Voyager Space Mission as Voyager 1 is about to leave the Solar System. It was a fine night so we were able to show the visitors Venus, Jupiter approaching conjunction on 13th, Mars and a Full Moon.
During March 2012, Venus and Jupiter dominated the western sky after sunset, coming to conjunction on March 15th. An alert of enhanced solar activity raised expectations of possible Auroral activity, but none was seen from our latitude. Towards the end of March a spell of settled fine weather with record temperatures for the time of year, together with the proximity of Venus to Jupiter in the western sky and the publicity we had received, resulted in large crowds. On Saturday 24th March, over 100 people turned up to observe Venus, Jupiter and Mars. Towards the end of the current session, the number of visitors began to fall towards 'normal' levels. The last open weekend was on the 20th, 21st and 22nd of April. Without doubt, this session has seen a dramatic rise in visitor numbers and to cope with this, demonstrators and assistants have had to cover more duties.
Last year the Astronomy Secretary reported that the section experienced its busiest session ever recorded, but this year exceeded that with over 1000 visitors. However, there were times when we were almost overwhelmed and it is fortunate that we have so many enthusiastic amateur astronomers willing to share their knowledge and experience, for which we thank them. We also thank Julia for keeping the Section's accounts in order and Leo for auditing them. We also thank Julia for organizing the Observatory roster this year when circumstances prevented Simon from doing it. Sadly, at the end of the session, we said farewell to Ennio Tabone who is moving to Dorchester. We thank Ennio for his good work.
On June 6th 2012 Venus again transited the Sun. This was the second of the pair of transits separated by eight years. In 2004 we had ideal conditions but this event was not observable from the Observatory. Simon Lang decided to try to observe it from Alexandra Palace, but due to cloud he had only a brief view of Venus at the last stage of the transit.
There were no questions. Julie Atkinson proposed that the report be accepted, and the meeting agreed.
Julia Daniels then presented the Astronomy Section accounts.
The Astronomy Committee is responsible for maintenance of the Observatory building and astronomical instruments and for raising the necessary funds, and has its own separate bank account for the Astronomy Section. The Society also has a Meteorological Station on the site and HSS general funds pay for shared expenses such as rent and insurance.
The largest single source of income was the observatory fund box, bringing in £400 more than last year, due to Stargazing Live. Although we are keen to encourage more visitors to the Observatory, our Demonstrators and Assistants were overwhelmed by the large crowds, visitors had to queue for a long time while waiting for their turn to look briefly through the telescope, and Assistants had their work cut out collecting donations and trying to entertain people while queuing. To avoid repeating these problems, we may decide not to take part in Stargazing Live next year.
We also received a number of special donations from organisations wanting private visits to the Observatory There was no Ham & High Festival this year, whereas last year the Festival enabled us to raise £218 for our Night Skies events. Our total income for the year was £1,749.78, higher than anything in the last seven years and probably a record.
Our expenditure however was only £58.10, deliberately kept to a minimum because we are planning to do some expensive work this summer. There are an increasing number of holes in the dome which we cannot ignore while we are getting so much rain, so we plan to recover the dome with roofing felt during the summer break. Maintenance work on the Observatory didn't happen last summer because Simon Lang was not available. Ennio Tabone returned his Observatory key, so we returned his £10 key deposit, although he immediately gave it back to us as a donation. Our main expense was for circulating the duty rosters and Observatory newsletters. The expenses totalled only £58.10, leaving us with an excess of income over expenditure of £1,691.68.
Peter Wallis gave his congratulations to Julia Daniels. Jim Garrod said if Stargazing Live contributes so well, couldn't we keep involved? Julia Daniels replied that the Observatory was small compared to the numbers coming – we couldn't really handle them. Doug Daniels felt it was taking too much time to circulate people through the Observatory, though there were willing demonstrators with binoculars and other telescopes to keep people occupied in the meantime. Peter Stern suggested the Observatory should expand but Julia Daniels replied that would mean the site owner, Thames Water, would review our rent. David Markham felt it was useful to have demonstrators point things out while waiting. He suggested imaging what is on the telescope and displaying it outside. Doug Daniels said we could use an Astrovid camera but the quality is not wonderful and nothing beats the eye – see the Sky at Night clip – a quick peek is not enough really. Tim Bierman suggested approaching the Baker Street Irregulars to share load, but Doug Daniels believes they have a relationship with The Widescreen Centre, a commercial organisation.
Doug Daniels had reported to BBC and asked why Stargazing Live was held in January, when the weather is generally bad. March would be much better, more things to see, higher ecliptic.
Martin Williams commented that although the Hampstead Observatory was well known, the main Society events were not so well known, and he suggested there be some means of publicising the website and telling people about these meetings. Doug Daniels said we do have programme cards which include the web site address . Martin Williams felt we need to restructure the web site. Tim Bierman recommended we don't fill it up with flash things – the current site is quick to load. Julie Atkinson and Simon Lang capture visitors volunteered email addresses.
Peter Wallis proposed that the accounts be accepted, Julie Atkinson seconded and the meeting agreed.
The Meteorological Section Secretary, Philip Eden, was unable to attend and so Trevor Law presented his report, summarised below. (An expanded report is on the web site.)
The Met Office's automatic weather station (AWS) has functioned continuously throughout the year with no gaps in the record. The overlap continues between the old and the new AWS, so our own automatic station continues to function. The ideal time scale for the overlap is ideally five years for us – of which we had now completed 2 years and 3 months. Monthly reviews of Hampstead's weather had been posted on the Secretary's website, and linked to from the Society's website, usually by the 5th of the following month, though this has slipped a little recently. The summaries extend back to the mid-1950s. The intention remains to extend the data online further and further back as and when time permits.
The report summarised the weather we'd experienced during the last year.
SUMMER 2011 was not a good one with temperature and sunshine duration both below the long-term average, and rainfall well above it. There were short warm spells early and late in June and in early-August, but overall this was the coolest summer since 1993. Sunshine hours were the lowest since 2008, and rainfall the highest since 2007.
AUTUMN 2011 was exceptionally warm with a record-breaking heatwave during the closing days of September and the first few days of October. It was also drier and sunnier than average. Overall, this was the warmest autumn, by just 0.2degC, in the entire 102-year long Hampstead record.
WINTER 2011-12 was mostly mild and dry, though there was one very wintry spell during the first half of February, bringing our lowest February temperature since 1991 and a couple of notable snowfalls, one on the 4th, and the 10th.
SPRING 2012 was a season of contrasts. March was exceptionally dry and sunny with an extended heatwave during the last ten days. April was Hampstead's wettest on record, as well as being rather cold and cloudy. The mean temperature for April was lower than that for March – a rare event. The cold and dull weather continued for three weeks in May, then we enjoyed a further 10-day spell of warmth and sunshine from the 22nd onwards.
Julie Atkinson proposed the report be accepted, and the meeting agreed.
The Secretary announced that the British Science Association Festival of Science would be held in Aberdeen from 4th to 9th September. Royal Society Summer Exhibition would be held on 3-8th July.
The President announced the conclusion of the AGM, but due to the discussion arising, there was unfortunately no time for a Scientific Entertainment.
Julie Atkinson, Hon. Secretary, 0118 977 2192
Last updated 24-Jun-2014