Bideford Branch report: 2021

By mid 2020 and without live meetings, it was absolutely imperative that urgent efforts to continue activities for Branch members should be made. After getting the ‘nuts and bolts together,’ the Autumn-Winter season kicked off in October 2020 with a series of diverse ‘Zoom’ meetings, some arranged at short notice. Quite a bit of ‘behind the scenes’ work was needed to brief presenters who were not familiar with Zoom. Efforts were also made to encourage members to crowd around their computer screens and join in. Indeed, with some 87% of branch members who could access the internet, the estimated audience at some of the virtual meetings may have been greater than many of the live meetings of the past. The season kicked off with an informal talk by Todd Gray on “Devon’s past Woollen Cloth Industry”. Genealogist and author, David Carter, described what really happened in the history of “Appledore’s Smuggling and Shipwrecks” in November. In December, the use of Zoom enabled Peter Reid, Secretary of the Plymouth Ghana Link between the ports of Plymouth and Sekondi-Takoradi in Ghana, to link up his talk to his members at Cape Coast, Ghana. His talk on “Black lives matter – Racism and the legacy of Slavery” also featured recent work on developing links between the Universities of Plymouth and Cape Coast, Ghana.

2021 opened up with a talk by Andrew Butler, National Farmers Union – Devon County Adviser. He gave an update to an earlier talk held by the Branch on the farming sector in Devon. This time, he focussed his talk on the impact of COVID-19. In February, a double bill talk on the bright future of rail travel in Devon featured the campaign to reconnect Bude and Holsworthy to the National Railway Network by Richard Wolfenden-Brown and Dr Michael Ireland talking about the work in progress to reconnect Okehampton which is expected to be in operation later this year.

It was with regret that the long-planned special Donn Map meeting at Torrington had to be called off again as restrictions continued. By spring, the impact of COVID on visitors to Devon was causing much concern locally and Michael Williams, General Manager of the Lundy Island Company, described the impacts and future prospects for Lundy Island and hopefully, a brighter future ahead. Continuing with this brighter note, in May, John Wood, CEO of InfraStrata described the revival of shipbuilding at Harland & Wolff (Appledore) and the welcome prospects of economic growth in the South West, The meeting included the Bideford Branch AGM which led to an enthusiastic seven strong branch Committee chaired by Michael Kelly.

By the end of May, it was clear that the normal program of summer visits was not possible and some events were postponed to 2022. It was also sad to report the death of the Branch’s vice chair Dr. Hugh Reed on 12th June. He had done much to help keep the Branch events going during these difficult times.

With the abandonment of the normal visits a further Zoom meeting was arranged with Imam Kawsar Ahmed and Yousuf Hindess warmly welcomed members with a well illustrated talk introducing Islam, the imposing Mosque in York Road, Exeter, and the successful efforts to reach out to the wider community; and together with churches, bringing people together.

Despite the decision to postpone the Annual Conference, the planned Rolle Canal walk scheduled for Sunday 5 September 2021 will still take place as planned as a Branch event.

A full season of at least six talks is being finalised for the 2021-22 season which will start in October. Members are urged to keep their eye on the DA website for latest updates (here). Whilst it is hoped that it may be possible to gradually bring back live meetings at the Burton Gallery, nothing is certain with this pandemic and we must remain cautious. As it stands the Branch hopes to run these meetings live with ‘Zoom’ facilities to cater for all who choose to visit or participate on line. We can look forward to a talk by Michael Teare, trustee of The Way of the Wharves, a Bideford Arts project, in October. In November, David Thompson, curator of Horology at the British Museum will be talking about Devon Clockmakers. In December, we can look forward to Archaeological Consultant and Buildings Historian, Emily Wapshott describing the history of Torrington.

Michael Wright