I don’t think any of us would have anticipated, when we held our online AGM this time last year, that twelve months later we would still be awaiting the return of face-to-face events.  I’d like to start by thanking all our members for sticking with us, for renewing your membership and supporting our online events through this difficult period – it’s much appreciated.

Our once-a-month programme of Zoom-based events provided a wide variety of talks and workshops, including David Allinson’s session in March which attracted over 100 people from as far away as Italy, Philippa Waite’s session in June which encouraged us to try out dance steps in the privacy of our own homes, and interesting talks by our own members Bruce Saunders, Jacqui Robertson-Wade and Michael Williamson, as well as talented local viol-maker Agnieska Nalazek.  And I enjoyed leading our practical sessions of Christmas music (in January!) and Bach Passion chorales at Easter.

We also continued our sponsorship of the Bristol Early Music Festival, providing the Zoom support for the very successful weekend of online activities in May.  I think one of the positive aspects of having to operate like this is that members from across our large region have been able to come together in a way that geography might make difficult for face-to-face events.  And we have been joined by colleagues from other Fora, just as we have joined in their events.

However, hopefully this period is now coming to an end.  We have plans for a number of workshops already underway – you will have seen on the website that Peter Syrus’s Glastonbury day, the postponed baroque orchestra day and the ever-popular Tim Bayley renaissance wind workshop are all going ahead (I cross my fingers when I say that!).  There are also a couple of singing days in the pipeline – dates still being fixed, so look out for more information on the website.

We will have to make some adjustments to the way we operate, in view of the ongoing covid risk – for example, you will be asked, when you apply for a workshop, to sign a form with the kind of conditions such as ‘don’t come if you’ve got a persistent cough’ which have become very familiar.  We’re also making arrangements to accept online payments for workshops – our treasurer may have more to say about that.

Of course, events don’t organise themselves, and while we’re greatly indebted to members who regularly arrange workshops (you know who you are!), it would be good to have more offers, particularly if you know of a good venue in your area.

We also need to recruit new members.  As of a few weeks ago our total membership was 156 individuals plus 10 organisations.  In a move towards attracting some younger people, your committee agreed at a recent meeting that those between 18 and 25 – whether or not they are students – should pay only half of both the membership fee and workshop fees.  So if you know anyone in that bracket who might like to join us, do let them know.  You might also like to mention SWEMF to colleagues in your choirs, orchestras and other groups.  A good way to get people involved is to invite them to come along to a workshop – then hopefully they will be hooked!

Now I come to the enjoyable part of my report where it’s my pleasure to thank all our committee members for their unfailing and invaluable support during the past year.  We’ve welcomed a new representative for Devon, Marilyn Pocock, who has been a great addition to the committee; Marilyn was co-opted during the year, but we’ll now be asking you to confirm her appointment.  We still have a vacancy for a Wiltshire rep, which we’d very much like to fill.  And we are saying goodbye, with many sincere thanks, to Fenella Spiers who has been our membership secretary since 2013 by my reckoning.  Membership secretary is a key role, and we’re grateful to Fenella for all the work she has put in.  Those who know her will be aware that Fenella is a very talented craftsperson, so we have expressed our gratitude to her in the form of a voucher for Hobbycraft – she assures me she will make good use of it!

We’re delighted that Jenny Tribe has volunteered to become our new membership secretary – Jenny was co-opted as assistant mem sec during the year, so she is already well up to speed. 

While all members of the committee are a joy to work with, I feel I must single out a number of people who make a huge contribution to the running of SWEMF: our wonderful web editor Sara, whom I am told other EMFs would like to clone; Rick our Diary editor who seems to have produced the Diary alongside singlehandedly rebuilding his local village hall; our secretary Althea whom I have never yet managed to flummox, no matter how daft my questions; and our treasurer Jonathan who has kept our finances on an even keel through this difficult time.  A very big thank you on behalf of all our members.

Finally, by the time of next year’s AGM I will have been chair of SWEMF for ten years, so – I expect you can see where this is going – I think it will be time for a change.  I would therefore like to step down from the role at that point.  I hope that by giving you this notice I’ve allowed you plenty of time to find the right person to lead SWEMF forward into a successful future.