Amateur Radio and the RSGB

I am a licensed Radio Ham. I’ve been into radio for years, and a few years ago manage to pass the Foundation License test, and then the Intermediate. I love radio communications; the ability to contact someone several hundred, or even THOUSANDS of miles away using just radio waves can bring about a great feeling (one which you won’t get on the Internet or telephone). Then you find out that the organisation that is supposed to look out for and represent the interests of Radio Hams have done something VERY nasty to a long established Radio club. There now follows an open letter to the RSGB from a disgruntled Intermediate license holder about the treatment of Milton Keynes Amateur Radio Club at their long established site in Bletchley Park. 


Dear Fellow Radio Amateur,
My apologies for emailing you in this way.
Practical Wireless have, today published a letter on the background to the impending departure of Milton Keynes Amateur Radio Society from Bletchley Park .
On the 19th October 2012 I submitted a similar letter to RadCom, the magazine of the RSGB. After an email exchange with the Editor, they offered to publish a short summary of the letter only (600 instead of 1500 words) and to publish the letter in full on the RadCom page of their website.
After careful thought, I declined to give them my support in so doing. The letter is as long as I believed was necessary to tell the whole story. My view is that the wider amateur radio community should be be given the full picture, so that people can come to their own view based on all of the facts.
The RSGB may go ahead and publish a summary in RadCom. Or they may, after all, decide to publish in full. That is a matter for them. But, on the assumption that they will not, I am forwarding it to known amateur radio clubs and contacts.
I consider it an “open” letter – so please distribute or publish as you wish.
Here, is the full letter:
“The Editor
3 Abbey Court
Fraser Road
Priory Business Park
Bedford MK44 3WH
19th October 2012
I should firstly clarify that I am writing in a personal capacity and not on behalf of MKARS.
Graham Coomber’s comments in November’s Radcom, that the RSGB has “considerable sympathy” for Milton Keynes Amateur Radio Society (MKARS) following the decision to evict the Club from Bletchley Park in January 2013, might be more welcome had the RSGB’s played no part. But the real story behind the Club’s eviction, after almost twenty years, make his comments disingenuous, to say the least.
MKARS was formed in 1958. Its members had long campaigned to save Bletchley Park from the bulldozer and, to support its public opening, the Club took up residence at the Park in 1994. Since then the Club has worked tirelessly to support Bletchley Park , to explain the part radio amateurs played in the War and to raise the public profile of amateur radio in the context of the Bletchley Park story. Our efforts at Bletchley Park will best be known to many Radcom readers through GB2BP which is, today, one of Britain ‘s best known resident museum amateur radio stations and through which the Club has made many friends all over the world.
>From the outset it was clear that the RSGB’s decision to come to Bletchley Park represented a threat to the position of MKARS as the resident radio society at the Park, not least because the site occupied by the MKARS hut was identified by the RSGB as their preferred location for the NRC. Despite the concerns, MKARS worked closely with the then RSGB General Manager who, to his credit, recognised the RSGB’s responsibilities towards the Club and prioritised the Club, both in negotiations with BP management and in the planning of the NRC. On the back of assurances given to the Club, MKARS fully and publicly supported development of the NRC.
To make way for the NRC, MKARS vacated their hut (which was subsequently demolished), handed over their antenna site on top of B-block and dismantled their GB2BP station in B-block, the museum’s main building. In return, the RSGB’s then GM supported MKARS in first securing and then renovating alternative accommodation (at Generator House 2). To set the record straight: – the RSGB paid for a new wooden floor in the main hall and side door to the premises, MKARS fitted the floor in the smaller room, redecorated, installed new electrics, heating and installed the MKARS shack.
At this time MKARS and the RSGB had a close working relationship born out of mutual respect for the requirements of both organisations. The RSGB needed to complete the much delayed NRC and to make it operational for which it required volunteers – MKARS needed a strong advocate in its negotiations with Bletchley Park management to bolster its position at the Park.
One of the agreements reached between the Club and the RSGB at this time was to integrate the Club’s station (GB2BP) into the NRC, with MKARS/GB2BP on the air from the new NRC shack most weekends, and the RSGB/GB3RS operational during the week (along with the RSGB’s planned education, outreach and archives etc).
However, following the unexpected departure of the General Manager in 2011, the RSGB’s approach to the NRC and its attitude towards MKARS and Bletchley Park changed. The RSGB imposed a strict house style on all operations at the NRC and limited operations to GB3RS, excluding the use of GB2BP from the NRC. This forced MKARS operators, who wished to keep GB2BP on the air, into running the station at Generator House 2, undermining the Club’s visibility and profile at the Park.
Since the Club’s priorities were, out of necessity, to support Bletchley Park events (which it continues to do – at least for now) and to keep GB2BP on the air, fewer volunteers were available to assist the RSGB with GB3RS and the NRC. This situation wasn’t helped by the attitude of certain RSGB personnel -comments about the ability of MKARS members to run a `professional’demonstration amateur radio station (odd, given that it had been doing so for almost twenty years) and the need to avoid the NRC becoming a “club shack”,among others, served to alienate an already troubled MKARS membership.
>From a position of working in partnership with the RSGB, MKARS found itself excluded, as a club, from the NRC and having lost its position at the centre of the museum, increasingly marginalised at the Park. From Bletchley Park ‘s perspective, they now had a bigger resident radio society and a better radio exhibit in the NRC, notwithstanding the fact that the part amateur radio played in the Bletchley Park story was omitted from the NRC exhibit.
For its part the RSGB gave every impression of having one concern and one concern only: – to get the NRC finished and open, at all costs. MKARS had been of value to the RSGB in so far as it provided a source of volunteers to help run the NRC. When the volunteers didn’t materialise in the expected number (for the reasons discussed), the Club had presumably outlived its usefulness so far as the RSGB was concerned.
It would, of course, be unreasonable to lay the blame for the eviction of MKARS from Bletchley Park at the door of the RSGB. And it is only fair to acknowledge that after the decision to evict the Club was announced there were, apparently, some discussions between the RSGB and Bletchley Park about the Club’s position. It is also fair to acknowledge that an interim RSGB board member, who is also an MKARS member, did what he could to support the Club in making detailed and lengthy submissions to the Bletchley Park Trust.
But from the moment they decided to locate the NRC at the Park, where MKARS had been the resident radio society for almost twenty years, the RSGB had a moral responsibility, as a our national radio society (and, by the way, one to which MKARS has been affiliated for many years) to act in the best interests of MKARS, as well as their own. Your readers will have their own view about whether they think the RSGB met those responsibilities. But readers might also like to know that at no time, since the eviction was announced, has there been any acknowledgement from the RSGB that they are in any way responsible for the Club’s present plight nor indeed, any direct assistance.
The eviction of MKARS from Bletchley will be a tragedy, not least because of the impact it will inevitably have on the Club. But Bletchley Park isn’t some featureless business park in downtown Bedford . It is one of few major museums in Britain with a direct relevance to the history of amateur radio. Much of the intelligence decoded there was obtained through radio and, in particular, through the efforts of radio amateurs who joined the Radio Security Service and who worked for the “Y”Service during the War. The RSGB has no interest in telling these stories -certainly, no attempt has been made to do so at the NRC. Neither will it support the many Bletchley Park events – month in month out – supported by MKARS over the years (even if Bletchley Park is under the impression that it will). What the RSGB doesn’t seem to understand is that the decision to come to Bletchley Park carried with it responsibilities not just to MKARS but to the heritage of amateur radio at Bletchley Park .
Because of the inability of the RSGB to staff the NRC, it has already become a mainly static exhibit, although due to the efforts of a small number of volunteers who have persevered regardless (some of whom are, believe it or not, MKARS members), GB3RS is occasionally on the air from Bletchley Park . Sadly, after 17 years of regular operation, GB2BP will, from December 2012, only appear as an occasional special event station, if indeed MKARS is invited on to the Park to operate it.
Instead of standing idly by and expressing his sympathy while MKARS is evicted, Graham Coomber could explain why the RSGB came to Bletchley Park in the first place? The RSGB may have their 25 year lease, but there are 120 members of MKARS wondering how the RSGB has acted to support their local club in this sorry affair. Perhaps Graham could explain that too.
Some of us are also wondering whether, in the years to come, there will be anyone at the Park to explain the part that radio amateurs played in the Bletchley story. It would be the ultimate irony if it was the arrival of Britain ‘s national amateur radio society that signalled the decline of an active amateur radio presence at Bletchley Park .
Andy Brown 2E0VPX


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