As I considered how I would start my annual report, I looked back on what I said last year, much of which was included in the August 2016 edition of the Journal. And it struck me that, to paraphrase CS Lewis, nothing changes, but everything is different.
Last year, we had recently decided to leave the EU, with all the turbulence that this decision brought. Terrorism was stalking the world, the refugee crisis was deepening. This year, the threat and actuality of terrorism walks with us in this country every day. We still don’t know how we are going to leave the EU and what our country will look like afterwards, and we have faced our inability to care for our own, with the tragic death of 80 people in Grenfell Tower. We live in unhappy times.
Our Society has a very important part to play in this uncertain world, standing as we do for the English way of life, for courage and stoicism, for tradition and values, for Queen and country. I said much of this this last year, I reminded our members of our duty to stand up for and stand by our country, not just for ourselves and for our members, but for our fellow countrymen. Nothing has changed.
We have everything to play for, but we still need to be much clearer about who we are and how we go into the future. I and your Society’s Council face this question every day – how do we show our country that the Society has real relevance, that we have something to say, that we are worthy of attention?
I have continued to visit as many branches as possible during the year, and have been made so very welcome. Our cadet parade at the Cenotaph was a lovely occasion, as always, and attracted a bigger crowd than I have seen before. The care the police took of us was heart-warming and it was lovely to have the Headmistress, head boy and head girl from Camelsdale School, our first affiliated school, with us again. We continue to work on this project and are now looking forward to welcoming a second school in Haslemere and one in Leeds to the affiliation soon.
I talked last year of the need to cut costs, and this has been one of the main focuses of the year. We sadly had to say goodbye to a member of the office staff as we discontinued the full Shop Window range. At the same time, we decided not to reduce the Journal from three copies to two each year, as we recognised that it is the window of the Society, and keeps our members informed and entertained, particularly those who do not also belong to a branch and so have less avenues for finding out what is going on.
The office in Loughton is our biggest expense and we have therefore taken the decision to close it, and to run the administration of the Society from a home office. Plans for this are well underway, and the office as it is now will close at Christmas, and the new administration will be up and running at the beginning of January. As far as our members are concerned, nothing will change. The telephone will still be answered by – we very much hope – our current staff, as will emails and letters. The day to day running of the Society will be exactly as it is now, except with less expense. We will continue to send you information and support through newsletters and the Journal, and will continue to make every endeavour to take the Society forward into the future with renewed hope and a firmer financial base.
With many thanks to John Oakley and the office, we are currently working on a new national database. Not only is an inclusive database a requirement, as new legislation comes into force in 2018, but it will make our record keeping and our support of our members and branches much easier and more efficient. We plan to launch this by the end of this year.
We continue to work on our website, with grateful thanks to Chris Houghton and Nick Dutt, and it is taking very good shape. I would implore all branches to get involved and to send us information to update their branch page. Not only would this be useful to you, it would also give our website so much more relevance and local colour.
I thoroughly enjoyed my walk for charity from HMS Victory to Trafalgar square on lovely early April days, meeting the Mayors of Portsmouth, Haslemere and Guildford on my way, and conducting interviews with various local papers and radio stations. Not only did I raise nearly £3,000 for charity, but I was successful in raising the profile of the Society and our charitable work. Thank you to everyone and every branch who supported me, not only financially but also by coming out and keeping me company. I was overwhelmed by your kindness and support.
In 2019 we will celebrate the 125th anniversary of the founding of the Society in 1894. We have lots of plans to ensure that we make this a year to remember, so please keep your eye on the Journal to find out what is happening and where, and how you can be involved.
Thank you for your support over the last year, and I look forward to seeing you and working with you during the next twelve months.
St George for England!