AGM 2020 – Convener’s Report

[The following Convener’s Report is the text of the submission to OSCR – the Scottish Charity Regulator – and highlights the activities and news from the Friends of John Muir’s Birthplace presented at the AGM that followed the What Next for Friends of John Muir’s Birthplace? event on March 24th, 2021.]

It is customary to begin the Convener’s report by stating the aims of Friends of John Muir’s Birthplace (FoJMB) as given in our constitution. These aims are:

  1. to advance the education of the public concerning John Muir, as the Dunbar-born pioneer of world nature conservation, and his belief in the unique and irreplaceable value of wild places and wild creatures;
  2. to implement John Muir’s philosophy practically by conserving, restoring and enhancing landscape and wildlife in East Lothian and Scotland;
  3. to support the ongoing work of the John Muir Birthplace Charitable Trust and the staff of John Muir’s Birthplace.

Over the past year the COVID-19 pandemic and the restrictions it imposed have had a major, detrimental, impact on our ability to further the above objectives. For instance, the following, normal, face-to-face activities have been curtailed:

  • Delivering a programme of talks and other events on John Muir and environmental topics, both within and outwith John Muir’s Birthplace.
  • Providing volunteers on a regular and ad hoc basis to support JMB staff and to promote JMB both locally and further afield.
  • Welcoming fellow Muir groups/enthusiasts to Dunbar.

However, the Friends online presence through its website[1] and social media channels – Facebook[2] and Twitter[3] – and platforms like Zoom became the norm for much of its activities. These included:

  • Delivering a programme of talks and other events on John Muir and environmental topics.
  • Publishing regular news items and blog posts containing items regarding John Muir, environmental issues and the work of JMB; published and promoted o its website and through social media.
  • Liaising (virtually) with people and organisations of influence both locally and nationally. Including: John Muir Birthplace Charitable Trust; John Muir Trust; VisitScotland; US National Parks Service; Sierra Club.

Another major activity undertaken during the year was to research, curate and produce the John Muir, Earth-Planet, Universe (JMEPU) exhibition[4]. Normally our exhibitions are produced in a format suitable for installation in the temporary exhibition room of John Muir’s Birthplace. Such exhibitions are normally scheduled for opening at the start of the summer season – usually on or around #JohnMuirDay, April 21st. The first COVID-19 lockdown disrupted these plans but later in the year – and with the cooperation/permission of the Dunbar Harbour Trust – an outside version of the JMEPU exhibition[5] was installed at Dunbar Harbour Battery. Sustaining Dunbar[6] – a local community development trust – also worked closely with us and have been instrumental in the organisation, and support, of the ‘What If’ network of local groups that are tackling many of the challenges identified in the exhibition.

Since online virtual meetings became quite commonplace during the year it has been possible to engage with like-minded people and organisations to help influence, curate and then promote the content and aspirations of JMEPU. These online events have resulted in the following digital resources being produced:

  • Online Exhibition: John Muir, Earth-Planet, Universe | Friends of John Muir’s Birthplace[7]
  • Virtual Launch of JMEPU[8]
  • Infinite Imagination Podcast[9] – A Scottish Communities Climate Action Network Podcast
  • John Muir – Earth Planet Universe – Sustaining Dunbar[10]

The success of the Birthplace is due, of course, to the hard work and dedication of the museum staff and, also, the Friends that help out on a voluntary basis. Despite lockdown restrictions and the limited capacity when the Birthplace was open during the past year, staff have been busy in updating and augmenting the digital resources and promoting these on a regular basis[11].

I’d like to thank all my fellow Council members – past and present – for their tireless efforts in promoting Friends and the Birthplace. The challenges posed by COVID-19 have been substantial and have severely limited our ability to engage with the membership through face-to-face meetings and activities. It is too early to know what impact the pandemic will have had in the long term and what the ‘new’ normal will be like. I sincerely hope that in the year(s) ahead we will be reinvigorated and will rise to the challenges that have been identified in our JMEPU exhibition.

Best wishes.


Duncan Smeed

Date: 24th March 2021

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