The Royal Photographic Society (RPS) has embarked on a ?root and branch? programme of change, focusing on what it offers and ?how it sees itself?, Amateur Photographer can reveal.

Malcolm Bassett-Smith, an event organiser at the RPS?s Visual Journalism Group, told Amateur Photographer (AP): ?Late last year a call was put out to members of the Visual Journalism Group to rally and inject life into what was a dying special interest group? I among others met [at RPS headquarters] in Bath to examine a way forward.?

He added: ?All aspects of the RPS are under scrutiny right now and, in the case of visual journalism, it has been agreed to involve outside experts in the assessment of work by [RPS] Distinction panels. This is a huge leap forward and members will see their work critically reviewed by those who know.?

Derek Birch, one of the RPS trustees and a member of the society’s council, agreed that attempts to invigorate the society?s specialist groups are intended to help open up the RPS to a wider audience.

Links are being developed with universities offering ?serious? photographic schemes and students are being encouraged to take on professional as well as academic qualifications.

?We want to start going to colleges and universities that offer photo courses and explain how [students] can get involved in learning about Distinctions, for example,? Birch told AP.

?A lot of our members just read the RPS Journal and take photographs. We would like to encourage them to do more,? he added.

There are signs that moves to appeal to a broader market are already paying off. The RPS recruited 200 new members at the Focus on Imaging show in February, many of them students, bringing total membership to 10,000.

‘We want to bring in young people’

?We want to support education, bring in young people and raise awareness of photography? We are not just there to recruit. We want to support photography,? he said.

Birch said that while the Digital Imaging Group is ?very active?, the RPS wants to ?revitalise? interest in areas such as nature and travel photography, as well as specialist fields such as holography and medical imaging.

Bassett-Smith added: ?All too often people come with great enthusiasm, wild ideas, but no legs to see it through. It was my desire to see the [Visual Journalism] Group rebuild and move forward at a sustainable rate.

?We started a new era in February with a meeting held at the prestigious new offices of the Guardian newspaper. This was followed by a meeting with Associated Press.?

To help drum up interest, the Visual Imaging Group is planning an illustrated talk by former Chancellor of the Exchequer Lord Healey, about his passion for photography, on 6 July.

The RPS was set up in 1853 to ?promote the Art and Science of Photography?.