Lord Lieutenant, High Sheriff, Ladies and Gentlemen,
Unhappily our Warden Emeritus, Sir Henry, is unable to be with us this evening – having spent the past week in Oban and intending to be here his gearbox disintegrated on the M6 this afternoon on his way home so he is now more than a little delayed.
Nevertheless, a very warm welcome to you all to our Summer Reception, a celebration of the Honourable Company of Gloucestershire to mark our tenth anniversary year. While the weather may not be at its English Summer best, or maybe it is, I am certain that the warmth of your company will make up for it. I am particularly pleased to be able to welcome our Lord-Lieutenant, Dame Janet Trotter, and the High Sherriff, Andrew Tabor and Mrs Lou Tabor, who are here in their official capacity as well as being members of the Company. Bishop Rachel has asked me to pass on her apologies for being unable to be with us this evening.
We are joined by several of the foundation members of the Company, as well as a good number of the 9 former Wardens, together with the Company’s original Clerk, Tony Crook. Sincerely, thank you all for your vision and for your efforts over the past 10 years – it has at times been a bit of an uphill struggle, but there are already a lot of people in the County who will readily endorse my view that your efforts have made a difference to many lives, so it has all been very worthwhile.
We are also joined by a small number of our award winners who I shall mention separately when I come to the Interest Groups, and I encourage you to engage and speak with them freely this evening – they have a far more interesting story to tell than I.
I should start by thanking Lady Ashcombe for her kindness in allowing us to use the magnificent grounds of Sudeley Castle to hold our reception, and to her staff, in particular Astrid Martin, for their immense helpfulness in putting the event together. Lady Ashcombe has kindly offered to lead a tour of the gardens once I have finished speaking for any of you who wish to do so – please assemble outside once this part of the evening is completed.
As I mentioned just a few moments ago, this is a celebration, and I am extremely proud of what the Company has achieved in its first ten years. As I work through a few examples of our achievements, please keep in mind that many of the great livery companies have been in existence for several centuries, building steadily from quite humble beginnings and over a long period of time, so the fact that we are not yet the ‘big hitters’ we might aspire to be should not distract us from the very good start we have made and, most importantly, are determined to better in the months and years ahead. And of course, even though we often overlook our individual good fortune, we should also take this opportunity to celebrate living in the glorious County of Gloucestershire.
So, just what have we, the Honourable Company, achieved?
First, before talking about the Interest Groups, I should like to start with the Honourable Company Charitable Trust.
Bearing in mind that the Trust only started to operate in 2009, and for the first 3 years was only able to make relative few quite small grants, it has subsequently dispersed over £108k to over 100 different very worthy causes across the breadth of the County, in every case touching the lives and raising the realistic expectations of very many small groups, or individuals. Working ever more closely with the Gloucestershire Community Foundation will bring greater focus and effect to our efforts in the future, without jeopardising our independence.
As you know, we have 5 energetic, imaginative and hard-working Interest Groups covering a wide range of activities in the County, and I just want to touch lightly on some of their achievements over the past 10 years.
First, the Sports Action Group, chaired by Mr Nick Broady, a man of very many hats.
The Group’s list of achievements is long and very worthy, so I shall touch on just a few.
At an early stage they supported the building of a brand new Rowing Club in Gloucester, which has subsequently become a centre of excellence and a hub for water sports in the County.
In 2013 they purchased golf equipment to promote the sport across the County; the project brought together golf professionals and golf enthusiasts, and enabled children to try a sport they might not otherwise have had access to, which has subsequently developed through a local initiative to include disabled children and has proved to be extremely popular.
With this growing success, Nick worked closely with Sofab Sports, (social fabric sports) a Community Interest Company that builds the skills, confidence and self-esteem of young adults with physical and learning difficulties, and in early 2016 they invited 25 participants to learn how to play golf. The ambitious initiative culminated in a 9-hole tournament at Brickhampton which saw 28 business representatives fund and team up with disabled players in the very first event of its kind in Gloucestershire, and the third largest disabled golf event ever in the UK.
They also provided a much needed minibus for the Heart of the Forest community special school in the Forest of Dean. The pupils, aged between 3 and 19, have multiple and severe learning difficulties with complex needs, and the minibus enables them to travel to facilities far and wide in the County improving, without doubt, their quality of life.
Sports wheelchairs have always been highly-placed on the sports group agenda. With the help of the RAFA and the GCF, they funded 2 wheelchairs for two seriously injured veterans from the conflict in Afghanistan, initially to enable them to represent their local team, the Gloucester Blazers. One of the recipients went on to be selected to represent Great Britain in the 2016 Rio Olympics.
The Wheelchair theme continued with support to the Cheltenham Powerchair football club. The players are young people who are very severely disabled and require bespoke chairs, and they literally live to be able to play football in their powered chairs – the Company, together with the GCF, recently supplied two powered chairs for the club. The South West Powerchair football league has now been established to enable them to play competitively in a regional league, and they have already won 2 awards this season. They travel significant distances with their Carers, in specially-adapted vehicles, for their games, and we hope to be able to help them with the costs of such travel in the future.
Finally, if that were not enough, the Sports Group also sponsor the Gloucestershire Playing Fields Association annual awards, and by doing so promote and recognise excellence in sport amongst the youngsters of our community. Mr & Mrs Ron Harrison, Ron being the Chairman of the GPFA, are with us tonight and I would like to take this opportunity to thank him and the Association for their willingness to work with us in this important area. Regrettably none of last year’s award winners are able to be with us this evening, but they represent a wide range of sports at Regional, National and International levels including rugby, discus, table tennis and single, double and quadruple sculls – so you can see, we are supporting a very wide range of sporting talent in the young people of our County.
Moving to the Arts & Heritage Group, which is chaired by Sir Michael McWilliam.
Gloucestershire’s rich cultural heritage and routine vibrant activity presents something of a challenge on how best the Honourable Company can make a meaningful contribution, but that is not to reckon with Sir Michael. His key approach has been to find ways to collaborate with leading institutions, in order to advance the Company’s commitment to skills development, and to provide opportunities for members to enjoy and develop a taste for some of the cultural offerings.
Following a visit by members to the Stonemasons’ Yard at Gloucester Cathedral, a scheme to support its apprentice training programme was set up and is running successfully, and at Quenington Sculpture Trust, a travel bursary was given to a glass sculptor apprentice to travel to the Czech Republic to visit glassworks and museums.
The Gloucestershire County History Trust is responsible for continuing the great Victorian project, to which we have made a support grant and arranged a lecture at the Cheltenham Literature Festival to give profile to its work.
The Company has found ways to support several of the county’s museums: The Wilson, the Soldiers Museum, and the Corinium Museum, and this has led to an ambitious project that will involve all the county’s museums in a major exhibition in two years’ time. I personally admire the timing of this exhibition as it will fall beyond the Great War commemorations of 2018 and will fill an otherwise potentially empty void in the cultural programme in 2019.
Working with other donors, there has been a project to support the exhibition gallery at the New Brewery Arts Centre in Cirencester, and another to establish the David Vaisey Prize for initiatives to promote use of the county’s libraries. The David Vaisey Prize is perhaps my favourite example of what the Company can do, and is good at doing. Shouldering much of the initial burden himself, Sir Michael secured ‘seed’ funding from the Company with which to attract other sponsors, many of them big names in the world of literature. At a time when our libraries have been under severe funding pressure, the prize recognises the immense value of the volunteer librarians who, through their service, enrich the lives of very many library users in our community.
Turning to the Armed Forces Group, chaired by Colonel Tony Singer, but represented tonight by Colonel Andy Hodson who is accompanied by a selection of the 2016 prize winners.
Either individually or as units, cadets do an immense amount of excellent work in and on behalf of our community. They are a substantial force for good and it is reassuring to think that many will soon form a significant part of the group of young adults whose endeavours will shape the future of our county. It is therefore entirely appropriate to recognise their efforts in helping to make Gloucestershire an even better place in which to live. While our awards recognise cadets, the Honourable Company also salutes the adult volunteers, both civilians and uniformed, without whose efforts these tremendous individual and collective achievements would not be possible.
Excellence at military skills is not our interest as that aspect properly belongs to the parent Services of the Army, Sea and Air Cadets. Our primary focus has been on the promotion, encouragement and recognition of exemplary service in the community, for which there are 4 annual awards, one each to the top unit within each of the three Cadet forces, as well as an award to the top Cadet within Gloucestershire. The interest shown by Company members towards the Cadet forces has raised moral within the Cadets and demonstrated the value that we place on their contribution to society, now and into the future.
One of our members has, in the past 18 months, made an invaluable contribution of his time and skills in assisting the Gloucester Sea Cadets redesign their Headquarters building, at no cost to the Unit.
Last year’s award winners are with us this evening and you will easily spot them as they are wearing the uniforms of their chosen cadet force – please do engage with them, and you will find that they are not at all shy in coming forward.
The Business Group, chaired by Professor Chris Gaskell.
Chris has only recently taken over the chair of the Business Group from Marcus Steele, and has inherited a wonderful item of work with the Gloucestershire Bike Project.
The Bike Project runs different youth programmes throughout the year, including workshops for disadvantaged young people. Young people can be referred to the project by social workers, schools or parents who feel that their child needs a positive activity to be involved in. This may be because they suffer with low self-esteem and are easily led and get into trouble, or because they are facing difficulties at home, or for any number of reasons. By teaching young people the skills to repair old bicycles that otherwise might have been discarded as scrap, it takes the youngsters off the street, teaches them skills, and in doing so generates a sense of self-worth that is almost tangible, and is invaluable in terms of the individual’s development. Maureen Parker, who dreamt-up the idea and runs the project, has seen it grow over the 4 years it has been in existence and has just moved to bigger and better premises in Gloucester. We are proud to have been able to offer support to Maureen over this period.
The Business Group are also our lead in taking forward our increasing interest in education in the broadest sense, and Chris is presently involved with the Gloucestershire STEM Network, that is Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths, as it sets out to underpin STEM excellence throughout the region. Bringing together experts from across the sector, the network will address themes around workforce engagement and skills, building a shared platform for STEM professionals at every stage of their career, our greatest interest being to make it an attractive career path for the youngsters in our County.
Chris is also leading on how the Company can best use a recent very generous pledge by a member to donate a sum of money for us to use to stimulate apprentices in the County to develop their skills beyond the immediate demands of their apprenticeship. The offer is very recent and we need to be certain that we use the money wisely to encourage and reward, rather than consume it with burdensome administration, but there are many examples of good practice for us to follow.
I will add mention here of a particular individual effort, but it fits well with the work of the Business Group. One of our past Wardens, Patrick Brooke, has single-handedly, year after year, raised the sponsorship to stage, with the help of Cheltenham Festivals, the annual Schools Christmas Science Lectures held in the Bacon Theatre at Dean Close School. These lectures make science exciting, attractive and very relevant to our youngsters.
And finally, the Community Support Group, chaired by Helen Lovatt.
Helen has just taken over as the Company lead for the Aston Project from Hugh Tollemache. The Aston Project was set up in Cheltenham in 2011 in memory of Neighbourhood Officer PC Lynn Aston, and is now also active in Gloucester and Newent. The project aims to work with young people (aged 9-17) by identifying their interests and engaging them in constructive activity through which they build credits towards a reward activity through timebanking. The credit scoring activities fall broadly into four categories; community based, discipline based, character/team building, or vocational. All these activities and experiences have a cost in time credits, so participants can choose one or several different activities to work towards – and then have an amazing time enjoying themselves. At its heart the Project offers the opportunity for positive experiences to replace the more readily available negative variety, and thus steers youngsters away from a downward path which would inevitably end in them becoming ‘known’ to the police in an official sense. We became involved with the Project some 4 years ago and now routinely provide active support and encouragement.
The Community Group also actively supports Young Carers, and is presently opening a line of enquiry with the Princes Trust as to how we might be able to provide opportunities for our members to become involved as individuals in the programme of guidance and mentoring for young adults as they move into their careers.
We have also recently enjoyed visits to organisations as diverse as Ruskin Mill, who offer a range of course subjects to learners with complex needs, providing both residential and day placements, and the Girl Guides, to understand their contribution to the fabric of our society, and to discover where and how the Company might be able to lend some weight to support their work in the future.
In Closing, I should like to return to the generous pledge made recently by one of our members. Money is not everything, and as I have outlined a lot of what we do, we do through the power of promotion and encouragement, and connecting a potential provider with an identified need. However, money does have a quality all of its own, and it does better enable encouragement to be coupled with reward, and in so many cases a few pennies here or there can and does make a significant difference to the lives of those who genuinely need help and support.
Over the course of my Wardenship I am determined to increase the membership of the Honourable Company; we will build upon the solid foundations of our first ten years and drive forwards on our main, but not exclusive, theme of education; we will become better known and better connected across the County; and I also want to encourage philanthropy in a manner we have only just started to get our minds around.
So in summary, the Honourable Company, or rather you, have done and achieved a lot in the past ten years, and you have touched for the better the lives of very many people in the County. You richly deserve this opportunity to celebrate.
It leaves me just to say: For Gloucestershire – nothing more, and certainly nothing less.