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The Master’s Voice – August 2012

Our members have always been out and about in Bristol, helping to make things happen.

Over 25 years ago, Merchants took a leading role in setting up what is now the Quartet Community Foundation operating throughout what used to be Avon.  We provided seedcorn money, energy and enthusiasm to get it going. The Foundation now has over £16million and growing capital funds and makes grants of more than £2.5million each year out of its own income, and income entrusted to it for giving to charities.  Its reputation for identifying and monitoring the right local charities is secure, and it is a significant force for good in our sub-region.

Back in the spring, its current chairman, Merchant Stephen Parsons, organised a most enjoyable dinner at the Hall to celebrate the 25 years and to thank or pay tribute to many of those who had contributed to its success.

The power of seedcorn money, or pump-priming as it is sometimes called, can be enormous. Some years ago, Past Master Trevor Smallwood, with others, recognised that among the myriad of problems facing education in our city, and nationally, is the hiccup which children suffer on the move from primary to secondary school.  Experience suggested that the more disadvantaged the home background, the bigger the hiccup.  He enabled a substantial sum to be provided, through the Society, for  the Graduate Department of Education in the University of Bristol to undertake an extensive research project on the issues surrounding transition from primary to secondary education.  In turn this led to a programme, supported by the Quartet Community Foundation and the Society, to actively address these issues and its successful outcome has now generated a £300k Big Lottery grant for further work on what is now called the Stepping Up Project.

Our own close connection with the University of Bristol has been marked this year by the first of what we hope will be annual lectures, sponsored by us, in the Merchant Venturers’ School of Engineering – part of the Faculty of Engineering. The lecture, by a past graduate of the school Ben Morris, was on the subject on which he has made a huge name for himself – visual effects – and filled the Wills Memorial Hall with film enthusiasts. We were shown excerpts from films such as ‘Babe’, ‘Gladiator’, ‘Harry Potter’ on which he has worked.

Four Merchants are on the Council of the University and the Vice Chancellor, Professor Eric Thomas is himself a Merchant. He is currently half way through two hectic years as President of Universities UK, representing the interests of universities generally during what must be a turbulent period for them all.

And there’s more – we also have a close connection with Bristol’s University of the West of England. Vice Chancellor Steve West has recently spoken to our Quarterly Hall. Active links between UWE and our schools are being pursued and we are very keen to develop the connection further. Four Merchants are Governors of UWE, including Gillian Camm, the Chair.

Past Master Colin Skellett is chairman of the West of England Local Enterprise Partnership. The Partnership has had a quite remarkable success in getting our four unitary authorities to pull together, and consequently, in securing a ‘City Deal’ for Bristol City Region. Its headline talks of £1bn coming to the region from central government to develop infrastructure, new jobs, training, and to ensure that our strengths in media, electronics and digital, and engineering are exploited further. Provided the LEP continues its excellent work, and especially if the to-be-elected mayor can provide the leadership and influence in Whitehall, which we hope for, the news for Bristol will get even better.

As Master, I get around a great deal, particularly during the spring and early summer months, and it is great fun; among the events a farewell party for Goery Delacote in At-Bristol – another landmark which profited from early sponsorship by Merchants, a farewell church service in the Lord Mayor’s chapel, and tea-party with the outgoing Lord Mayor, Geoff Gallop, the Bath and West, and North Somerset Agricultural Shows both of which survived the weather, Merchants’ tours of our schools, and of the St Monica endowment’s agricultural estates and even a trip to Highgrove organised for spouses (there was one other bloke – Ollie Noel) by the Mistress. I regret I missed some Jubilee events, but it was good to watch the Olympic torch going past the Hall, with the Treasurer busy with his camera.

A break for August, and then I look forward to Bristol Doors Open Day at the beginning of September, and the autumn round, this year more than punctuated by a planned reception to welcome HRH the Princess Royal as an Honorary Member of the Society.

David Marsh, Master of the Society of Merchant Venturers