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BGA chairman’s blog: Where we are now and what are the next steps?

The British Geotechnical Association (BGA) is a charity dedicated to “the advancement of public education in the subject of soil and rock mechanics and engineering geology and in their application”.

Formed in 1949, if one includes its previous guise as the British Geotechnical Society, the BGA is now a mature and influential organisation in a changing world.

Membership numbers continue to grow steadily from a low point during the UK double dip recession of 2008 to 2012, to 1350 currently. At the BGA Annual General Meeting on 17 June 2015, I reflected on what we had achieved in the past year and what the next steps for the organisation could be.

The British Geotechnical Association (BGA) is a charity dedicated to “the advancement of public education in the subject of soil and rock mechanics and engineering geology and in their application”. Formed in 1949, if one includes its previous guise as the British Geotechnical Society, the BGA is now a mature and influential organisation in a changing world.

Membership numbers continue to grow steadily from a low point during the UK double dip recession of 2008 to 2012, to 1350 currently. At the BGA Annual General Meeting on 17 June 2015, I reflected on what we had achieved in the past year and what the next steps for the organisation could be.

The year started well with the BGA Annual Conference in June 2014, a free one-day event to showcase the best of British research and practice. The theme this time was based on Sir Alec Skempton’s areas of interest as part of centenary celebrations of his birth in 1914. 

A key vehicle that the BGA uses to disseminate knowledge is its technical evening meeting. In the last 12 months we have had a diverse range of simulating, topical and informative talks, with vibrant follow-on discussions. A prominent example was the debate; “The geotechnical and geo-environmental challenges of fracking in the UK are surmountable – yes or no?” The evening meetings are well received with satisfaction ratings consistently above 85%. Lectures are recorded and will be made available a reference resource.

The BGA Early Career Group goes from strength to strength, doing great work that is focused on the needs and interests of younger members of our profession. They hold three to four evening meetings a year and one notable example was on the ICE professional reviews for geotechnical engineers. In this interactive event, attendees could get up close and personal with ICE examiners, discuss mock questions and engage with recently successful candidates.

The BGA continues to interact closely with the UK regional groups, liaising, sharing ideas, and hosting joint events, competitions and prize awards. The highlight of our interaction with the regions this year was the Touring Lecture, which brings high profile speakers to different parts of the UK on a rotating basis.  The 2014 Touring Lecture was by Prof Eduardo Alonso of Spain on “Rapid Landslides”, held in Sheffield, Manchester and Newcastle in November.

Two Skempton Medals were awarded to Martyn Stroud and to Duncan Nicholson in June 2015. The Skempton Medal is the BGA’s highest Medal Honour, awarded to a BGA member who has made an outstanding contribution to the practice of geotechnical engineering over a sustained period of time. The last Skempton Medal award was in 2009 to Hugh St John.

Special honour lectures are also organised by the BGA, including this year the Geotechnical Engineering Lecture by Fleur Loveridge and the John Mitchell Lecture by Collin Eddie. Without doubt, however, the highlight of the 2014-15 honour lecture series was the 55th Rankine Lecture by Suzanne Lacasse of NGI, entitled “Hazard, Risk and Reliability in Geotechnical Practice”. With more than 1000 attendees from all over the world and typically more than 100 computers linking to the live webcast, the Rankine Lecture has a developed a huge and sustained world-wide following. The lecture this year was more memorable than normal as Lacasse is the first female Rankine Lecturer.

Looking forward, arrangements to hold the XVI European Conference on Soil mechanics and Geotechnical Engineering in Edinburgh, on 13 to 17 September 2015, continue to progress well. The last European conference of this type held in the UK was in Brighton in 1979. That event underlined the influence of UK geotechnics and inspired a stand out generation of practitioners and academics. We aim, again, for such lofty heights with the Edinburgh conference. About 700 technical papers have been accepted and are now in the process of being published. Registration and sponsorship are also going well.

To summarise where we are towards the end of my term as BGA chair, which ends this September after Edinburgh, the association is in a strong position; we continue to progress in tune with our strategy document 2020 Vision; our membership is growing well, the finances are on a firm footing, evening meetings are vibrant and varied, the Edinburgh Conference, our show piece for the decade, is on track to be successful and hopefully to generate a surplus for the charity. All these should leave the BGA in a good position to make a step-change in delivery and to undertake some new and ambitious projects in the coming years.

Chris Menkiti is chairman of the BGA and senior partner at GCG

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