Whilst local communities are important, and all of us can identify with one or more to differing degrees, they are not necessarily the only way people identify themselves. Increasingly, people are more likely to relate to their communities of interest. A community of wild swimmers, or online gamers, or cyclists or climbers or people who shop in Aldi or whatever. 

We are multi-faceted creatures, so it is unsurprising that we can be members of several communities at once, but often we derive a sense of ourselves from the interests we share, the hobbies we pursue, the institutions we have attended, the choices we make, or the jobs that we do. Charity membership is a common form of a community of interest– in RSGS’s case, a community of geography. Our members comprise people who are interested in geography, in the world around them, in education, in travel, in maps and books, in sustainability, etc. 

I think what we actually sense as our primary community is where we feel we belong: our tribe; our sense of place and pride; of participation or ownership; our passion; our sense of self and identity; our sense of purpose. 

So how can we build on our role at the heart of Scotland’s geographical community? 

I would like to think that, over the last 15 years, we have championed the relevance of geography to everyday lives, even just by referring to the topics of the 64 magazines that we’ve produced since 2009. Geography is a science with an understanding of the realism of living daily life, and almost every major issue of our day has a strong geographical component and can be solved better through geography. I firmly believe it has a huge role in helping guide the future. But how do we do more to capture the sense of community that wraps around our subject? 

I often joke that, because the weather is the most common topic of conversation in this country, and weather is a geographical issue, everybody is therefore automatically a geographer. With a history spanning the last 140 years, and as a repository of some of the best stories of that period, it is hard not to get sentimental sometimes. But there is also an ever-present weight of responsibility in running an organisation like RSGS with such heritage. How do we continue that legacy without slipping into becoming a historical society? Our job is, after all, to remain relevant and remind people of the importance of geography in the everyday. 

This has been brought into sharper focus with the loss of several longstanding members recently. We do not wish to record only the outrageous and extreme. We also want to pay respect to the many and varied experiences and knowledge of our members, Fellows, academics, teachers, travellers, writers, speakers, volunteers. 

I was reminded recently of a talk in Perth in which the speaker paused during his talk, suddenly feeling the need to better understand the RSGS audience. He asked how many of them had been on a camel. Nearly two-thirds of the audience raised their hand. He was visibly shocked. Or the time when I hosted a Yanomami tribal elder and one of the audience asked if they could speak to our guest in Yanomami. 

Our members and supporters are a well-travelled lot. Well-informed too, and quite intimidating for some speakers. As a collective group you have studied or taught most things, travelled to most places, worked most jobs and at many levels, read a lot of books, discovered a huge amount about the places where you live, learned to speak many languages, and achieved some outstanding things in your own right– climbing high mountains, kayaking big rivers, walking across deserts, sailing the oceans, writing books, film-making, or just understanding locales, taking pictures and holidays in remote parts of the world. People with a passion and curiosity about the world around them at every micro and macro level. 

In just the last few weeks we have seen the deaths of a number of our dedicated members, and it has really brought home to me that we are losing these stories. It reinforced our sense of responsibility to our community, for RSGS to be that repository of your stories too. We are determined to work harder to collect your memories and adventures and achievements. We want our archive to be yours too. A place of permanent record of the true impact of geography on the Society, on the subject, and on the wider world. 

I would therefore like to challenge you, each and every one of our readers, to write to us and share your stories with us, however short or specific, so we can build this legacy, and expand our archive to truly reflect our community of geography.