In the beginning ....
Rosliston Astronomy Group (RAG) was founded by Peter Bolas in October 1999. It has always had as its main base Rosliston Forestry Centre (RFC) - a 154 acre site managed by a tripartite partnership between South Derbyshire District Council (SDDC), Forestry England, and the National Forest.
Peter was passionate about introducing people of all ages to the excitement of science, and the wonders of the night sky in particular. Since its inception RAG has had 'lifelong learning' as its central focus - for both its Members and as many of the general public as possible.
From the start RAG has maintained an active 'Outreach' programme, bringing the many aspects of Astronomy to various Community Groups - involving adults and/or children and young people, those with disabilities, the elderly, scouts, guides, schools and colleges.
RAG's 'Outreach' focus was further recognised in 2017 when the Charity Commission granted us Charity status as a CIO (Charitable Incorporated Organisation).
Following Peter's death in 2013 RAG had become a fully constituted organisation, managed by a Committee drawn from the membership. The recognition as a Charity in 2017, made a major change to the management of RAG with the introduction of the overarching body of six Charity Trustees.
|Peter's wife, Ann, donated his telescope to the Society, and this triggered six years of action - gaining agreement, fundraising and building, culminating in the Grand Opening of The Peter Bolas Observatory on 14th March 2020.
|We had the keys to the Observatory 'shell' handed to us by the Contractor on 12th April 2018. There followed hundreds of hours of work carried out voluntarily by a number of the members to bring the building to completion.
The year 2020 ....
The year 2020 will be remembered globally for the pandemic. For RAG, 2020 will be remembered, too, for a number of other significant events that marked major milestones in our history.
The year began with RAG being honoured to attend a Presentation Ceremony on 13th January at Woolsthorpe Manor, Lincolnshire, home of Isaac Newton.
Our 'partnership bid' with the Environmental Education Team at Rosliston had been selected for us to become the custodians of one of only eight Space Saplings germinated and grown on by Kew following the pips surviving a six month period in Space on the International Space Station, as part of Major Tim Peake's 'Principiae' Mission in 2015/16.
The era of 'the Rosliston Space Sapling' had begun !
March 2020 proved to be a pivotal month.
Initially, the Observatory was visited by Cllr David Muller, Chairman, South Derbyshire District Council, and Heather Wheeler, MP (South Derbyshire).
They were also introduced to the Rosliston Space Sapling !
|The Grand Opening of The Peter Bolas Observatory was performed by Prof. Chris Lee, FRAS, Chief Scientist, UK Space Agency, on 14th March 2020, with a hundred invited guests including Dignitaries from South Derbyshire District Council and Burton-upon-Trent, RAG Members, and representatives of everyone who had made some form of contribution to the build.
This was a major 'day' for RAG, and although we were unaware at that point - we were extremely fortunate with the timimg of the event, as only a few days later the Government placed restrictions on the whole country, to control the pandemic, thus preventing such events taking place.
The day involved two other important ceremonies.
Following the Opening Ceremony of the Observatory, the Space Sapling was formally planted by Chris Lee.
Prof. Chris Lee, FRAS (with spade) and Frank McArdle, CEO, South Derbyshire District Council.
In addition, RAG was honoured by South Derbyshire District Council in recognition of our Partnership Working. We were extremely proud to be presented with a plaque containing the SDDC Coat of Arms.
|Cllr Neil Atkin, Vice Chairman, South Derbyshire District Council presenting the Coat of Arms plaque to Dr Andrew Thornett, Chair of RAG, with Frank McArdle, CEO, SDDC and Prof Chris Lee (far left)
The restrictions in place for the COVID-19 pandemic caused RAG to put the majority of its 'outreach' work, and many of its activities for Members, 'on hold' from the middle of March 2020. During the period of restriction, however, we had two 'online' Outreach sessions for Cub-Scouts, to help the groups to achieve their Astronomy Badge.
Throughout the pandemic RAG continued to hold our programme of two general Meetings each month, 'online' via Microsoft Teams, and continued to welcome non-members into these meetings. We took advantage of the 'online' possibilities to engage national and international Speakers from much farther afield, including Seattle, USA.
In addition, in April 2020, RAG also introduced Special Interest Groups (SIGs) for Members wishing to study specific aspects of Astronomy. It had been planned to develop these groups once the Observatory had been officially opened, but with this not being possible because of the pandemic, 'online' links enabled the Astrophotography SIG to develop apace. Many of their images can be found in our Gallery.
Although Covid restrictions were in place throughout 2021, when they were ‘eased’ in the Autumn RAG was able to hold our annual Peter Bolas Memorial celebration. This year, however, as meetings needed to be ‘outdoor’ events, instead of our flagship ‘Memorial Lecture’ in October, RAG held our first ‘Barbecue’ which was a great success despite the required ‘social’ precautions being in place.
In November RAG was registered by HMRC and became eligible to receive Gift Aid on donations.
The year 2022 - and the future !
In February, following the easing and subsequent removal of Covid-19 restrictions, the Trustees agreed for ‘indoor meetings’ to be re-established. A level of precautionary measures were put in place, and our meetings became ‘hybrid’ i.e. held ‘in person’ and accessible ‘online’.
2022 saw a number of ‘firsts’ for RAG ……
This year RAG has created a ‘Collection’ of images taken by our Members, and we have held our first Exhibition open to members of the public at different venues.
This year, too, we extended our outreach provision, offering a ‘Stargazing Experience’ to specific private groups.
The ‘hybrid’ format for our Meetings, with access being ‘in person’ in the room, or ‘online’ via Microsoft Teams has proved to be very useful, allowing RAG much more flexibility.
It has been useful, enabling our Members who live further away to remain in contact with RAG, and to attend Meetings. It also allows Members who for other personal reasons are unable to join the Meeting in person on the day.
The other added bonus is that being able to have an ‘online’ provision enables RAG to broaden its Speaker list, engaging those who would be unable to come in person due to distance both from within the UK and abroad.