Minutes of Annual General Meeting held at
The Crypt Room, St John's Church, Hampstead, on 23rd June 2016.

Present: Doug Daniels (President) and 28 members and 1 guest.

1. Minutes of A.G.M 25th June 2015

These were signed by the President as a correct record.

2. President’s Remarks

The President remarked on how the Society continues to function well with little steering, on the good set of talks the Programme Secretary had arranged in the last session, and on how obliging lecturers were to come and address us. He noted that we have a fairly constant membership.

3. Secretary’s Report

The Secretary reported another year of good lectures and reminded members of the topics. Jim Brightwell gave a taste of the lecture programme for next year. Council had arranged a trip to the Horniman Museum in July. The Society had officially attended the British Science Association Branches Forum at the Science Festival in Bradford in September.

The Secretary reported membership as 111 of which 18 are family, 2 junior, 4 country and 2 honorary.

The Secretary thanked members of Council for their contributions, Doug Daniels and Peter Wallis for the newsletter and its content, all those who help with coffee and chairs at meetings and those who provided food, wine and arrangements for the AGM.

4. Treasurer’s Report

The Treasurer, John Tennant, reported that bookings and expenses were up from last year. The increase in the Observatory costs of 10.6% was due primarily to a raise in insurance from the inclusion of theft cover for the Coronado telescope and portable mount. Administration was up over 9.8% due to the bulk purchase of postage stamps previous to last year before the price increase. Refreshment total increased slightly this year. The annual cost of the website remained unchanged. With no miscellaneous expenditures this year, the resulting total expenditure was £127.56 (5%) up on last year.

On the income side, membership income increased by 4.4% and Gift Aid recovery was not in by the end of this financial year. The donations were down by 25% from last years level. No British Science Association grant was obtained this year. Sales income was down 33% from last year and interest on our savings account remains depressed. Income overall was down by £29.63 (1.5%).

The outcome is we have a shortfall of income over expenditure of £619.28. The capital at the year end 31/5/2016 £23,535.85 is down on last year.

The shortfall appears worse than it is, as the Gift Aid for this year has not been claimed yet as it is earning a better interest rate unclaimed than with our savings account. The overall health of the end of year balance indicates that an increase in the annual subscription should be considered as even with this year's Gift Aid, the deficit would be over £300.

Leo McLaughlin noted that the deficit was sizeable, and agreed that the subscription be increased. How much by would depend on whether it was better to go for a big jump to be stable for several years, or have several small increases over the same period. John Tennant said that the current deficit would be covered by an increase of approximately £3 per member, though £5 may be better if we went for the big jump.

Jim Brightwell felt that other societies had higher membership subscriptions already. Doug Daniels remarked that one was £25/year. Eric Morgan said that membership subscriptions were on average £15/year, and suggested that the Society offer a concession rate at e.g. £15. The President felt that most members would qualify for a concession and so that would not have the desired effect.

David Brandt suggested that the refreshment cost is low and suggested that it be increased. The President felt that members don't always pay up now, and one option might be to make refreshment free and cover it by the subscription. However, John Tennant said that this was not covered by the Constitution, and there may be a problem with our charitable status if we were to use our funds to subsidising refreshments.

The President agreed that a subscription increase was something to consider, but recommended not for this session. Council would look at the matter in detail and make a proposal for the next AGM.

Action AGM2016/1 Council

Julie Atkinson proposed adoption of the report, and Peter Wallis seconded. The meeting agreed.

5. Election of Officers and Council

The Secretary announced that Council had elected Doug Daniels as President at the Council meeting on 7th April 2016.

As there were no further nominations, the following officers proposed by Council were declared as elected:

Hon. Secretary Julie Atkinson Hon. TreasurerJohn Tennant
Hon. Programme Secretary Jim Brightwell Hon. Membership SecretaryJohn Tennant

The constitution requires at least one ordinary Council member needs to resign at the AGM. The Secretary reported that this year, David Brandt had volunteered to step down. She thanked him for his support during the last two years and hoped that he would return to Council in the future.

The following nominations were received for the 5 ordinary members of Council:

NomineeMartin WilliamsKevin DevineDavid MarkhamAlexander Menegas
Nominated byCouncilCouncilCouncilCouncil

The Secretary noted that Alexander Menegas was too young to qualify as a trustee of the Society, but she believed he would be able to make valuable contributions to Council.

As there were no further nominations, these nominees were declared as elected to Council.

6. Election of Auditors

Doug Daniels proposed Leo McLaughlin and Martin Williams as auditors, with Julie Atkinson seconding. Leo McLaughlin was willing to act and Council will confirm with Martin Williams as he was absent. The meeting elected them both.

Action AGM2016/1 Council

7. Astronomy Section Report

The Astronomical Section Secretary, Doug Daniels, presented his report, summarised below.

The new session of open nights began on September 18th but there were no bright planets to show as all the action was in the pre-dawn sky. In early October a brilliant Venus was in conjunction with Jupiter and Mars, and if you had a low clear horizon, you could also see Mercury joining in. At some stage the scene was accentuated by the star Regulus and a thin last crescent moon. With all that going on just before dawn, it was not surprising that the evening sky was positively dull in comparison – we had to show visitors double stars.

Towards the end of October, Doug Daniels was approached by the Daily Telegraph, seeking permission for a photographic session at the Observatory for one of their articles. The subject was to be an interview with Jon Culshaw the TV impressionist who, coincidently is on the Sky at Night team and a frequent visitor to the Observatory.

The group arrived at 3:00 pm and the session went on until 6:00 when due to darkness falling, the action continued at the Holly Bush.

The weather this session was the worst that the Astronomy Secretary could remember. Since opening in mid September, there had only been 4 clear weekend nights until February 16th. Not surprisingly, people were becoming frustrated so Simon Lang & John Tennant decided to open the observatory when a clear night was predicted. As luck would have it we managed two nights in succession on 13th and 14th of Feb. The sky remained clear and we had a good Moon a few days before first quarter. A small contingent of visitors turned up but given the short notice this was to be expected, but it allowed time to look at the moon and some of the other interesting objects in the winter sky in an unhurried manner, which is as it should be.

Because of the poor weather it was decided to extend the open nights the Observatory until May 22nd as Jupiter is now well placed for observation. Opening times changed to 9:00 pm until 11:00 pm as the sky is still light at 8:00pm. Apart from Jupiter we also have Mars in opposition on May 22nd and Saturn on June 3rd, but both planets will be very low in the south.

The last transit of Mercury took place on May 7th 2003. On that date the weather was fine and the whole transit was observed. Having endured the cloudiest session of open nights in memory, we didn’t hold out many hopes of getting a good view this time. The day before – Sunday 8th – was the warmest day this year (so far) with cloudless skies but the Met. Office was predicting total cloud cover for the 9th with rain by mid afternoon. In the event, the Met. Office got it wrong again and Monday 9th dawned fairly clear with patchy cloud. As the transit lasted from 11:12:23 until 18:40:33 – fully a little over 7 hours, we expected to see at least some of it. We opened the Observatory to visitors and during the course of the day about 80 or so availed themselves with the opportunity to observe this uncommon event. By late afternoon, the Met. Predictions were realised and by 5pm it was raining. But we did see most of the transit.

Quite a few Members, Demonstrators and Assistants turned up during the course of the day and all who attended were rewarded with the sight of the diminutive disk of Mercury slowly progressing across the solar disk, reinforcing the comparison between the vast size of the Sun and the tiny planet orbiting it.

Many visitors came equipped with digital cameras and smart phones and they all went away with images of the event; how things have changed in the last few years!

The current session of open nights/days ended on Sunday May 22nd with a last look at the Sun. Without doubt this session had experienced the fewest clear nights (at weekends) that the Astronomy Section Secretary could remember and consequently low visitor numbers. Was it the fault of ‘el-nino’? All being well the Observatory would re-open to visitors in mid September. Doug Daniels' attendance had also been poor this session since he managed to crack his left humorous in two places when he slipped on wet leaves on December 10th following an HSS lecture meeting. Coincidently, the Section's solar expert Brian Bond suffered a similar fate falling and hitting his face on the pavement. These accidents meant that other demonstrators had their workload increased as Brian and Doug were effectively out of action for much of the session. The Astronomy Section Secretary offered his sincere thanks to Simon and all our team for stepping in to provide cover. As usual he thanked all Demonstrators and Assistants for their continued help and Julia Daniels for looking after the roster and the section’s finances.

Unfortunately the Astronomy Section Treasurer, Julia Daniels, had recently been taken ill with shingles, and had been unable to prepare the Astronomy Section accounts. The President stated that he expected her to be able to prepare the accounts in time for them to be published in the forthcoming newsletter.

Action AGM2016/2 Astronomy Section Treasurer

The Astronomy Section Secretary announced that the Society had been contacted by Thames Water, who own the Observatory site, because they intend to lay a membrane over the reservoir beneath to prevent foreign material contaminating the water. This work would have an effect on both the Observatory and the meteorological station, and so would affect the Met. Office and the Dept. of the Environment as well. The work had been expected earlier in the year, but nothing had transpired. Now, a meeting has been arranged between the Astronomy Section and Thames Water, and we hope to learn the extent and timing of their works.

He said that the last time something similar happened was in the 1960's, and required the removal of the observatory and annex. However, to remove them this time would be harder and more costly, because of the age and state of the buildings.

The General Secretary recommended emphasising to Thames Water the charitable status of the Society, and the work we do for the public, to suggest that they may help with any removal costs. Simon Lang suggested that we might take up an offer from Jon Culshaw to give a benefit performance if it were to be very expensive. The Astronomy Section Secretary promised to circulate the outcome of the meeting in the next newsletter.

Action AGM2016/3 Astronomy Section Secretary

8. Meteorological Section Report

The Meteorological Section Secretary, Philip Eden, was unable to attend due to illness and had not prepared a meteorological section report. Council will enquire about his health and obtaining a report.

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9. AOB

David Markham remarked that he was in Southern Italy just after the conjunction of Mars and after a thunderstorm the Jupiter and Mars close together were quite a sight!

Clive Shortell announced that the new extension to the Tate gave fantastic views from the 10th Floor, and free.

The Secretary announced that

Jim Brightwell asked if there was to be a British Science Association Branches Forum again at the British Science Festival. The Secretary said she had not yet had a notice, but expected one. She explained that Council usually asked the Programme Secretary to represent the Society, so that he had the opportunity to network with other Branches and pick up news and ideas. Jim suggested that Ting Yashu should accompany him this year, as she was a family member of the Society with him.

The President announced the conclusion of the AGM, and it was followed by a resumption of the cheese and wine, as there was plenty left from earlier on.

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