Merchant Venturers’ Blog : July 2015

Two visits during the past couple of months have highlighted the quality and diversity of the work in which the Merchant Venturers are engaged.

First, the Standing Committee – in effect the Society’s management board – makes a formal visit each year to some of the Merchant schools. This year we started at Colston’s School: a successful independent 4-18 co-educational school in Stapleton, with a dynamic new Headmaster and very encouraging admissions’ numbers at age 11. The music performance which we heard was outstanding.

We then went to Kingfisher Primary School in St Anne’s. Kingfisher was a failing school when it joined Colston’s Girls’ School Trust some three years ago. Under its new Head Teacher the School is on a rapid improvement trajectory, and the children impressed us greatly for being articulate, self-confident and polite.

Finally, we went to Merchants’ Academy in Withywood, which under the governance of the Merchant Venturers in the past eight years has transformed out of all recognition the education and life prospects of the children in that part of south Bristol.

So three very different schools in three very different parts of Bristol, all hugely impressive in their different ways.

The second visit was over two days to meet the tenants of one of several estates in the south and middle of England which are owned by the St Monica’s endowment. This endowment was created in the 1920s as a gift of £1 million from the Wills family, to be used in supporting the many elderly residents of the St Monica’s Care Home near the Downs in Henleaze. The fund, which is, and always has been, managed by the Merchant Venturers, is now worth some £220 million and it generates £5-6 million income each year, much of which provides financial subsidy to the majority of the 1500 elderly people – a massive number – who either live in the range of St Monica Care Homes or receive outreach support in their own homes.

Headlines from other activities in the past three months include:

• We have launched the website for The Venturers’ Trust, the vehicle through which the Merchant Venturers’ education activity is carried on. Schools joining The Venturers’ Trust will have the benefits of being part of a group of schools but will be able to retain a high level of individuality in their ethos and values. Our mantra of “sharing strengths, valuing differences” distinguishes the grouping in The Venturers’ Trust from other more prescriptive groupings of academy schools.
• Planning permission has now been granted for a new £1.4 million dementia unit at Katherine House on the Downs, another elderly people’s home for which the Merchant Venturers have responsibility. This will enable people in Katherine House who develop dementia to be able to stay in that location rather than having to move elsewhere.
• Approval has been given for an additional primary school to join the Merchants’ stable of academy schools. Bannerman Road Primary School, based in east Bristol and rated an outstanding school by Ofsted, will become part of CGS Trust later this year. This will bring to nine the number of primary and secondary schools in the Bristol area for which we have responsibility within The Venturers’ Trust.
• The joint bid by Colston’s Girls’ School and Bristol Cathedral Choir School to establish a new Sixth Form College in central Bristol for 600 students, has proceeded to the next stage. We were called for interview last week by a Department for Education panel, and the final outcome is expected to be announced in the autumn.
• St Monica’s Trust has completed the purchase of the three red-brick buildings comprising the old Fry’s chocolate factory in Keynsham. Two of these buildings will be converted into accommodation for some 120 elderly people, and the third building will be developed for office use. When finished this will represent a further major expansion of capacity at St Monica’s.

In summary, this has been another very active three months in all the Society’s areas of activity.

Chris Curling
Society of Merchant Venturers