In my Master’s Letter last year, I wrote: “We are living through some difficult and unpredictable times”. Although written in the context of a divided Britain following the Brexit vote, how much truer are these remarks now than they were then.
Looking back, I am focusing not on the premature and somewhat abrupt end to my year but on the many joys and pleasures of my first nine and a half months in office.
Whatever advice and guidance I received before taking the Chair, nothing could fully prepare me for the year ahead and for the sheer variety of the activities and opportunities I was presented with. It has been a huge privilege and honour to represent and serve the Company in this way.
With Ascension Day, and hence the Election Court, falling on 31 May 2019, it was only a week later that Liz and I were travelling to Ironbridge for the annual gathering of Masters and Consorts.
As well as being a marvellous weekend to establish friendships and enjoy the museums, Lord Mayor Peter Estlin encouraged us all to consider how the Livery movement should adapt to remain relevant to the 21st century.
Some valuable ideas emerged which have since been taken up by the Court.
The summer months were busy ones, reflecting the range of the Company’s activities. These included visits to the exhibition ‘Art from the Tree’ in Twigworth which included the Ray Key Collaboration pieces, and CamJam, the Scout Jamboree at Huntingdon, where many young scouts had their first experience of woodturning.
Also to Deptford to meet the Company’s Cockpit Arts Award winners, and to Swinnerton, Staffordshire, to award prizes to the winning REME reserve team at Exercise Army Craftsman.
Over the course of a weekend in September, we attended services, enjoyed tours of the cathedral, the Palace and its gardens, and dined in the medieval Vicars’ Hall and the Palace. Bishop Peter and my sister, Jane, were able to join us for much of the weekend, their insights into the buildings and their history greatly enhancing our enjoyment of the visit.
I was delighted when another brother in law, the Very Reverend Jerry Lepine, Dean of Bradford, accepted my invitation to speak at the Patronal Service in November. During the service the Turners’ Consort of medieval recorders was formally dedicated by the Company’s Chaplain, Rev Canon Dr Alison Joyce, making it a most special occasion.
The formal functions in the calendar show just how diverse the Livery Companies are, in their origins, their membership and their traditions, and it was wonderful to be invited to attend so many and to get to know other Masters.
As one who has always loved the City’s rich history, visiting 28 Livery Halls and fifteen City Churches during the course of the year has been a real joy.
It has been a particular pleasure to share in the events of several Livery Companies as they celebrated special anniversaries.
The Insurers celebrated their first 40 years with a splendid lunch at Guildhall, the Wheelwrights and Tobacco Pipe Makers marking their respective 350th and 400th anniversaries with services at St Paul’s Cathedral and Temple Church.
During the year the Company awarded eight bursaries to enable talented woodturners to develop their skills and move to higher levels of achievement.
Over 50 bursaries have now been awarded since the scheme was first launched in 2001 and I am delighted that plans to foster closer links with our past bursary winners are currently being developed.
Introducing new members to the Company is not only vital for its future health but also a pleasure and in 2019/20 we welcomed thirteen new Freemen and seven new Liverymen. Short biographies of all of them are contained on pages 29 to 35.
I was pleased to host a new members’ evening in September and delighted that most attended the Gardner Williams Banquet in February, all of whom appeared very much at home.
The Max Carey Woodturning Trust occupies a special place in the Company’s life, and the year contained two visits there.
Following a weekend of turning with thirteen other members of the Company and their partners in November, I was honoured to be invited back to Portishead in February to a dinner to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the Trust. The meal, cooked by Max’s stepson, Jonathan, a Michelin Recommended chef, and served by members of his family in the canteen, was a truly memorable occasion.
At the end of February we joined the Lord Mayor and other Masters for an emotional visit to Treloar School which does such wonderful work providing education for disabled children and young people.
A week later Liz hosted a turning demonstration by Liveryman Les Thorne at the Hurlingham Club for the Consorts of other Companies.
Within days, however, it became clear that life was on the brink of changing radically and that due to social distancing, all formal events would be cancelled including, sadly, the Masters’ and Clerks’ Lunch and the Spring Dinner.
So, with the end of my year being overshadowed by the Covid-19 pandemic, it was natural that the Company should focus on the effect the crisis would be having on our members and the wider turning community.
In keeping with the principles of benevolence and charity that have been embedded in the Livery movement for centuries, work began on a number of initiatives.
These included making contact with all our members to ensure their wellbeing, and creating a Resource Hub on the Company’s website for the turning community. Working to ensure our members and the craft are fully supported will form an important part of the year ahead.
On 8 April, I chaired the Court meeting via video link, a first in the Company’s history. There was something slightly surreal about dressing in a suit and tie for the first time in several weeks and putting on my chain of office to conduct the meeting from my study in Sevenoaks!
It would be impossible to complete a year like this without the support of an active and effective team and I am indebted to my two Wardens and fellow Court members who have supported me in every aspect of the role. In addition, Alex and Becca have been highly efficient and hardworking in the office which has ensured the smooth-running of my year.
Liz has provided unstinting support as the Mistress Turner, and as I hand over to Melissa Scott, I wish her every success in the year ahead.