Friday, 23 September 2016

A September day in Oxford

Our Annual General Meeting has come and gone, and I was thrilled that so many members made a real effort to get to Oxford for a half-day meeting rather than our usual full day conference. I hope those who did so felt that it was worth while. I have had so many thank yous and so much positive feedback that I am fairly sure they did. Thus we were able to pass the constitutional amendment to amend the quorum for a general meeting to fifteen members, including at least two officers - a more realistic number than the vague "10% of membership" previously specified.

All societies evolve, and the Siegfried Sassoon Fellowship has grown from around 15 members at the first meeting in Malvern to over 200. Our Journal is the envy of many other societies, but it is expensive to produce, the major component of the cost being the postage. Lots of ideas have been put forward about how it could be made cheaper, and the move to our present printer is one of many ways we have reduced the costs, but we still have to give this matter our attention if we are going to continue to cover it from subscriptions. I believe the time has come when a large proportion of members - possibly a majority - believe that the subscription rates need to be raised. 

This topic was discussed at length during this year's AGM and we have not yet come to a final decision, partly because SSF subscriptions are tied in with those of the Wilfred Owen Association through the joint membership agreement, so we need to be in accord with the WOA if we are to continue with this arrangement. Personally I am very proud that we have survived for so long with one of the lowest subscription rates of any literary society in the country. For example, the Dickens Fellowship charges £17 adult rate; the Barbara Pym Society charges £18, and the Anthony Powell Society £22. All these societies offer varying benefits and it is difficult, if not impossible, to make a straight comparison, but I'm convinced we are offering extremely good value at the moment.

Lecture over - which leaves me a bit of time for praise of our two speakers. There is not much left to say about Vivien Whelpton. Time and again she has - I was going to say "surprised" us, but there are more appropriate words. Let's just say that she once again delighted us, this time with a perceptive and eloquent analysis of the many and varied influences on the war poets that assisted them in finding a "voice".

Sharing the platform with Viv was Alistair Lees-Smith, grandson of the MP "Bertie" Lees-Smith, who in 1917 read out the Soldier's Declaration in the House of Commons. Alistair gave us a potted biography of his grandfather and discussed the reasons for his action. There is clearly a lot more to Bertie Lees-Smith than meets the eye. Look out for an article on the subject in a future edition of the Journal.

In the evening, a small group of us joined the Barbara Pym Society for its annual dinner at St Hilda's; it was pure coincidence that our annual events were in the same place on the same weekend. I think that the other Sassoonites were pleased with the welcome they received (only to be expected when you consider that Michael Wilson, Chair of the Pym Society, is also one of our members). We had a lovely meal, followed by a talk, and joined the Pymites for drinks afterwards. More of these get-togethers with other literary societies could be arranged, and I know that members would enjoy them. Next year we will be mixing with other societies in no small way, since we will be co-hosting the Alliance of Literary Societies annual conference at Edinburgh. More news on that will follow in other blog posts. In the meantime, please feel free to share any ideas you may have for joint events.
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