The BAA at Burlington House: end of an era

For the past 79 years the Association has maintained its Office, and held many of its meetings, in the rooms of the Royal Astronomical Society (RAS) at Burlington House, Piccadilly, London (see the excellent article on the history of this by Richard McKim in the 2018 February Journal).

Burlington House

All of the learned societies accommodated in Burlington House, including the RAS, rent their premises from the government, and we have paid the RAS a proportion of their rent based on the space that we have used within the building. We originally occupied a large part of the top floor, when we had a library as well as an office there, but since 2007 we have occupied one room, the Herschel Room, on the first floor. Over the past 20 years there has been a gradual increase in the cost, but this has escalated in recent years, and, with the government stating it will eventually levy a ‘market rent’ on the learned societies, there has been the prospect of it rising very significantly in the future.

The Association has for many years been operating with a deficit, and a significant factor has been the cost of our accommodation in Burlington House, recently amounting to approximately a third of our income from members’ subscriptions. The shortfall has been covered from the returns on investments, and generous legacies have also ensured that our reserves have stayed strong. However, the Board of Trustees and the Council now believe these funds could be better spent on promoting our astronomical objectives and serving our members directly.

The advent of the covid pandemic and the need to implement our contingency plan to vacate the Herschel Room has demonstrated that the Association’s staff are quite able to carry out their tasks remotely. With all our correspondence and telephone services diverted, the Herschel Room has been essentially unused, except as a storage place for our archives and residual library. But for this purpose it is not ideal: the maintenance of Burlington House has been poor (it is out of the control of the RAS), and water has damaged the interior on two occasions recently, though, luckily, no BAA property had been damaged.

Our excellent relationship with the Institute of Physics has meant that, although they have no spare office or storage space, they have been able to accommodate our last few members’ meetings and Council meetings in their modern headquarters near Kings Cross Station, and these arrangements are likely to continue into the future. It is probable that we will not need to use Burlington House for meetings again. Our occupation there has provided us with a prestigious address in Central London, but since 2020 April it has been providing little other benefit to you, our members. In addition, there remains the concern that the RAS itself will be forced to leave the building in the long term, if the government’s policy on the rent of the building remains unchanged.

As a result of all these considerations, the Board of Trustees took the decision to send a letter to the RAS terminating our agreement over Burlington House, with effect from 2021 October 31. While the arguments above have dictated that we need to leave, we have stressed that this in no way should be taken as a desire to sever our connection with the RAS, and we hope that we will retain a close bond between the societies, with their shared purpose of promoting astronomy within the UK.

On this basis our use of Burlington House will cease at the end of 2022 January, though, in the immediate term, we anticipate the building will continue to be the postal address of the Association. We are currently drawing up plans for the relocation of our archives to a suitable, well-protected facility. Following the move, it is planned that a significant amount of material will be professionally scanned and made available to members online.

Please follow this link to read a copy of the letter.

David Arditti, President
Alan Lorrain, Vice-President

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