Lord Lieutenant, High Sheriff, Warden Emeritus, Ladies and Gentlemen,
I should like to start by paying tribute to our out-going Warden, Hugh, for his leadership and wise guidance throughout the his year of tenure. His focus and resilience, and that of his wife Rosie, are a fine example to us all, and I would like to pass on my personal thanks to Hugh.
In his speech Hugh has given us a brief summary of the past year, including our achievements over the first 10 years of the Honourable Company, and it is now my turn to provide a glimpse of the 2 years ahead. But, this is assuredly NOT a manifesto – anyway, you already have me for the next 2 years.
First and foremost, since Hugh’s Installation Dinner last year, we have gained 4 new members of Court and 2 new Group Chairs: they are Col Tony Singer who now leads the Armed Forces Group; Col Andrew Tabor whom you know also in his new guise as the High Sheriff; Professor Chris Gaskell who has taken over the lead of the Business Group from Marcus Steele, and the very new members, Mark Hurrell and Ian O’Bryan, who have yet to attend their first Court meeting. Gentlemen, thank you all, and it is good to see you here tonight.
We held the traditional Court ‘away day’ in March discussing and debating the road ahead, deciding how to build on the foundations laid in the first 10 years of the Honourable Company, and it was a long, tough, day from which I emerged brain-dead but buoyed up by the prospect of some clear avenues to follow once I have my feet under the table.
You will have already had the opportunity to read of these in The Clerk’s Spring Newsletter, but I shall now describe them in a little more detail.
Our members are the life-blood of the Company, and last year the Warden wisely determined that we should direct our energy towards the recruitment of more. We held 2 very successful and immensely enjoyable membership events, and managed to draw 15 new members into the Company, yet, during the course of the year, 7 others resigned for a range of perfectly understandable reasons leaving a net gain of just 8. Now, while each and every one of those 8 is a more than welcome addition to our numbers, the modest increase represents a relatively poor exchange for the effort committed throughout the year.
We have decided that we shall continue the work to swell our membership, but with renewed focus. Building on the experience of last year we shall appoint a member of Court as the Membership Champion, to work alongside the Clerk and his PA, and resolved to increase the time and effort available in the administration of new memberships, and in the support and encouragement available for new members during their initial year or so with the Company. We shall also continue to approach, as prospective members, those who are still mid-career, as we have in the recent past. The mid-career high-achievers will, without question, have less time to devote to the Company than those already enjoying the fruits of retirement, but they will also be current and well-connected across the County, but I shall come back to that aspect a little later.
Next Tuesday, at my first meeting of Court as Warden, I shall propose for the approval of the Court, someone as the Membership Champion, and I cannot think of anyone better suited to the role.
Moving on, we also decided to continue with Education, in the broadest sense, as our major theme over the coming 2 years. The majority of the County’s youngsters manage to navigate their sometimes troubled and difficult teenage years to arrive as young adults in the workplace with little more than the support and encouragement of their parents. But there is a sizeable minority who, for a range of reasons, do not. In some parts of the County, children grow up in families that have not worked for more than a generation, so lack any motivation to do so themselves. Also, for far too many others, the school system is insufficiently nimble to be able to provide for their needs, and they end up being consigned to the fringes of the mainstream, ultimately having to rely on luck, or benefits, for their future, just at the time when they should be recognising then fulfilling their own potential. And even the most troubled child has considerable potential. I could go on.
The Business Group will continue to lead in this area, but all 5 Interest Groups will have a key part to play.
Finally, the Honourable Company is undoubtedly one of Gloucestershire’s best kept secrets. Not enough people have ever heard of us, and few of those who have understand quite how much good the Company has already done in its first 10 years, and continues to do today. Quite apart from the ongoing work of the Interest Groups, which in itself is impressive, the Company, now mostly through its Charitable Trust, has donated over £106k to local areas of need, and in recognition of the excellence we promote, and that includes a little over £18k in the past year alone.
For those Monty Python fans, and I recognise they may number but a few here tonight, this is all too reminiscent of the ‘People’s Front of Judea’ sketch in the film, The Life Of Brian – ‘Alright bruvvers, but apart from the sanitation, the medicine, education, wine, public order, irrigation, roads, and the freshwater system, what have the Romans ever done for us?’…..and so it is with the Honourable Company.
I am determined that we should do better, and subsequently become better known for doing so. I do not want, neither does Gloucestershire need, us to fix the sanitation, but we must understand better the areas of need in the County, and connect with those who are likely to be able to provide a solution to those needs. I intend to meet, on a regular basis, the Lord Lieutenant, the High Sheriff (and past High Sheriffs), the Police & Crime Commissioner, and quite probably many others. I am also determined to answer the question of just what the Company is, and does, more coherently than ever in the past. ‘Doings things right’ is important, but remains secondary to ‘doing the right things’. Hugh has already mentioned Twitter and our tweeter-in-chief, Julie Kent, and we will continue to provide her with the material she needs to expand the group of people following, and in many cases re-tweeting, our exploits. I would like to add mention of the excellent example Julie sets as a new member – she really gets involved and is just the sort of individual we need.
I also want to provide you as members with greater opportunity to use your skills and experience to the good of others in the County. By way of an example, a little over a year ago I was approached by the Gloucester Sea Cadets who were having problems with their aging building and needed to work up a plan for either wholesale renovation, rebuilding, or moving elsewhere, yet they lacked the skills even to make a plan let alone decide on the best way forward. Scanning the members skills and interests, the Clerk provided me with a list of 6 members who might be able to help. I emailed each, individually, and 5 had very good reasons why they were unable to make a commitment at that time, yet one stepped forward and has provided free of charge the professional help and support the Cadets desperately needed. Graham Howell has done some fabulous work with and on behalf of the Gloucester Sea Cadets, using his professional experience and skills, and I would like to extend opportunities like this to as many of our members as are willing. My initial focus is likely to be on providing mentoring support to selected youngsters in the business environment, and I shall keep you in touch with developments as these ideas coalesce.
As a closing observation, I personally dislike profitless effort, and we agreed we should find a regular meeting place for the Court and thus save a lot of fruitless time and effort by the Clerk. I should like publicly to thank Roger Head for making Highnam Court available to us for the coming series of Court meetings.
In recognition of the vision of our founders, our Warden Emeritus in particular, and the achievements of the first 10 years of the Honourable Company, I ask that you rise and drink with me a toast to: ‘The next 10 years’.