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What is the point of Regional Groups?

John Black ponders the role of regional groups from the perspective of a Chairman looking for a successor

oihkjhI used to be Chairman of the East Midlands Regional Group of the Geological Society of London.  A role I attempted to lose at more than one AGM.  As I strove to convince a fellow committee member (or a Fellow attending an evening talk) of the joys of office, I am rebuffed with: ‘What’s the point of a regional group?’ 

This question has occurred to me regularly as I enjoy hearing a good lecturer addressing our small band of (usually) about 20 regulars.  Sometimes, with help from students (most of whom are not members), we might get 80; but it’s a poor turn-out from the c. 650 Fellows who abide in our region.  I am pretty sure these figures are fairly typical, so I wondered what structural or historical reasons might underlie such apparent apathy. 


Regional groups formed in the late 70s (East Midlands being the first!) under the ‘Association for the Promotion of an Institution of Professional Geologists’.  In due course, regional groups were incorporated into GSL when it merged with the Institution of Geologists in 1990. 

There are now 15 regional groups in the UK, all attempting to coexist with a growing number of ‘specialist’ groups.  Have they eroded some of our raison d’etre?  It’s pretty unreasonable to pitch a highly technical talk at our mixed audience. And then, what is the effect of ‘streaming’ lectures from Burlington House?  Why travel perhaps 30 miles to your local regional group meeting when you can enjoy a ‘celebrity’ from Burlington House on your desktop?

Council has declared an ambition to grow membership by 25% in five years and foresees ‘national and regional welcome events for new fellows’.  Furthermore, a Society webpage cites ‘Free membership of regional … groups to enable networking’ as a benefit of membership.  I can confidently claim that we very seldom attract enough professional geologists to enable worthwhile networking. 

Accentuate the positive

Let us rather recognise ourselves for what we are and enhance our positive attributes.  Our meetings are attended by a group of enthusiastic professionals.  We are more informal than Burlington House and therefore should be less intimidating to younger Fellows.  I believe we should focus on engaging local talent by:

  • Using mainly local speakers, particularly younger professionals, possibly with multiple short talks
  • Putting on ‘debate style’ evenings to encourage audience participation, based on current local and national geologically related controversies
  • Marketing our meetings through social media with better access to our younger members
  • Making our meetings more ‘social’ occasions

If we do this, I foresee perhaps 50 -100 joining in a stimulating, even rowdy event.   If we can’t manage that (and I’m not sure we can) then perhaps we should call it a day and join one of the many alternative local groups of ‘enthusiasts’.