AGM 2021 – 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 on 28th April, 2022]

It is customary to begin the Convener’s report by stating the aims of Friends of John Muir 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, continued to 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 severely 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 remained the norm for much of its activities. These included:

  • Delivering a limited 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 and related organisations; published and promoted on its website and through social media.
  • Liaising (mostly virtually) with people and organisations of influence both locally and nationally. Including: John Muir Birthplace Charitable Trust; Sustaining Dunbar; North Light Arts; John Muir Trust; Scottish Communities Climate Action Network; VisitScotland; US National Parks Service.

Another major activity undertaken during the year was the production of the John Muir, Earth-Planet, Universe (JMEPU) exhibition[4] panels for installation in the John Muir Birthplace temporary exhibition space in time for the May 5th re-opening of the Birthplace after some COVID-19 restrictions had been lifted. These panels were for the indoor version[5] of the JMEPU outdoor exhibition[6] that was on display at Dunbar Harbour Battery from October 25th, 2020 until the day that Storm Arwen wreaked havoc on the exhibition panels on November 26th, 2021. Sustaining Dunbar[7] – a local community development trust – continues to collaborate closely with us and have been instrumental in the organisation, and support, of the ‘What If’ network[8] of local groups that are tackling many of the challenges identified in the exhibition.

In collaboration with Sustaining Dunbar (SD), we also organised a What Next for John Muir’s Birthplace? online ‘conference’ on March 24th, 2021 as part of SD’s What If? series. During the event five speakers shared their presentations and discussed the following themes:

  • What role does John Muir’s Birthplace play in the life of the town and the High Street?
  • What can we learn from John Muir’s life and legacy to support and inspire us?
  • What role for the Birthplace in supporting the transition to a better future for all of us?

Following the presentations there was a Q&A discussion. This session was recorded and a link to this video was included in our website article about this event[9].

Since such online virtual meetings remained quite commonplace during the past 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. One other major initiative was our support of the aims and objectives of the Pilgrimage for COP26[10] and persuading the organisers to augment the original route of Edinburgh to Glasgow with a Dunbar to Edinburgh stage and to have the launch of the Pilgrimage to COP26 in Dunbar on October 17th, 2021. This pilgrimage was a resounding success with over 100 people joining the walk from Dunbar to Glasgow (and with many more participating in the events programme[11] for the launch).

The success of the Birthplace is due, of course, to the hard work and dedication of the museum staff and, also, the Friends who 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[12].

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. 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: 28th April 2022

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