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The Master’s blog – A busy start!

As the latest Master of the Society of Merchant Venturers, in our fascinating 460-year history, I officially assumed my post on November 10th 2015, a position I will hold for the next 12 months. On the same day Caroline Duckworth DL, joined this historic organisation as Treasurer (de facto CEO), the first female Treasurer ever appointed. Reflecting the successful career that she had already carved out before joining us, Caroline has now been named a finalist in the Bristol Post and Bath Chronical Women in Business Awards.

I’m thrilled that Caroline’s commitment to improving the lives of others is being recognised and that her career as Treasurer for the Society of Merchant Venturers will continue apace, as she guides the contribution made to the local community by the Society’s members.

In the past few months alone Caroline and I have been extremely busy attending events, committees and meetings to further the philanthropic interests of the Society which include education, care of the elderly, social enterprise and charitable giving. As well as our traditional Christmas visit to the Almshouses, Christmas carols concerts, Standing Committee meetings and Quarterly Hall, we have hosted Lord Adonis for breakfast, the Information Technologists for lunch, and we have attended a variety of fascinating Livery Dinners at Vintners, Weavers, Tobacco Pipemakers & Blenders, Armourers & Brasiers, Ironmongers, and Skinners.

Each event is unusual and unfamiliar for a new starter. Caroline has however, carried each one off with efficiency and charm, alongside meticulously organising numerous internal committees and attending important associated events, most notably the Council of St Monica Trust. The Trust is a national leader in care for the elderly, with four care villages and another planned. I can safely speak for both of us when I say that our feet haven’t touched the ground since mid-November!

Working very closely with Merchants’ Academy, one of the inspiring and wonderful schools that we sponsor, we have been given the go-ahead by the Department for Education to build a brand new school for children with autism. Venturers’ Academy will welcome its first intake of students in September 2016, by which time we hope that construction of the brand new school building will be well underway.

A further new building being sponsored by the Society of Merchant Venturers is Griffiths House – a new, eight-bed, purpose built residential home for people living with dementia. Adjacent to the well-established and highly regarded Katherine House, a care home for 48 residents and situated close to the Downs, Griffiths House will open in June 2016.

We are also the Endowment Trustees for the St Monica Trust, and last week I attended a wonderful ceremony with Charles Griffiths, President of the St Monica Trust and Junior Warden of the Society of Merchant Venturers, to honour Second World War veteran John Horlick as he received France’s highest honour for his role in the liberation.

John is a resident of the Trust’s Cote Lane retirement community in Bristol, and on February 24th he was presented with the Ordre National De La Légion D’Honneur by the Consule Honaire de France. Serving in the 582nd Field Company of the Royal Engineers, John played a vital role in keeping the invasion force supplied as it advanced through occupied France. I am delighted that John’s heroism was acknowledged by the Legion of Honour, a decoration that was established by Napoleon Bonaparte in 1802.

Elsewhere in Bristol, Windmill Hill City Farm is preparing to celebrate the opening in April of a beautiful new community garden. The Society of Merchant Venturers made a charitable donation of £5,000 to enable this community attraction to transform an old carpark into a landscaped garden for the community to enjoy, and I am planning a visit soon.

As I look back over the last few months I can confidently remark that the role of Master of the Society of Merchant Venturers is as fascinating as it is both challenging and rewarding. I wonder what the next nine months will bring!

Tim Ross, Master