The Master’s Voice – August 2013

Peter Rilett
Master of the Society of Merchant Venturers

Merchant Venturers are involved in so many different aspects of life in Bristol, helping to make a difference.

In 1997, our Junior Warden, Chris Curling, was instrumental in establishing the Underfall Yard Trust to take over and restore derelict parts of this boatyard in Bristol’s historic harbour. It raised over £1m to restore the buildings and slipway and now runs a thriving boat yard.

In August, the Society will announce a significant grant to Underfall Yard, which has developed a strategy to conserve this remarkable site, which comprises a complete set of Victorian buildings and historic machinery that is still operational. It will sustain the gritty, vibrant working environment of the site, whilst creating a unique visitor and learning attraction.

The Merchant Venturers are making a range of further grant awards – to highlight just a few: We are making a £6,000 contribution to the Hartcliffe Club for Young People; £2,000 to Serenity House, which is a recovery programme for service veterans suffering from addiction. We are giving £2,000 to the excellent Teenage Cancer Trust project and £1,500 to St George’s Bristol, towards the cost of Britten’s Little Sweep Children’s Opera production in June.

I have just completed attendance at prize giving events and end of year celebrations for the schools supported by the Merchant Venturers. It is great to hear and see the enthusiasm and progress that is achieved by our schools and their hardworking staff and pupils.

It is particularly rewarding to see the growing emergence of team sports at Merchants’ Academy. We hosted celebration events for the Year Nine netball team, which achieved second place in their league. Also the Academy’s senior football team, which won the coveted regional league trophy. Many congratulations to both.

It was with great sadness, but also pride that we bid farewell to Lesley Ann Jones, who leaves Colston’s Girls’ School (CGS) to become the regional head of the Office for Standards in Education, Children’s Services and Skills (OFSTED). I am sure that the huge experience that Lesley gained at CGS – taking a school with fewer than 400 pupils and creating an Academy for 1500 – will stand her in good stead for this exciting and challenging new role.

I am delighted to welcome the new head of CGS, Erica Draisey, who joins us following great success at Hayesfield Secondary School in Bath. I wish Erica well and assure her that she will have the full support of the Merchants as she takes on this important role.

I continue to enjoy hugely the formal role as Master of the Society of Merchant Venturers, which includes visiting London Livery companies. I remain fascinated by the histories of these ancient societies. Recently I had a very delightful dinner at the Merchant Taylors. Can you imagine what the original craft for the Merchant Taylors was? They produced under armour, a thick cloth, which protected soldiers from their heavy metal armour. 

They have since 1347 been located in the City of London at 30 Threadneedle Street, identified in recent centuries with the Bank of England. It is a charming thought to imagine the original Merchant Taylors in their little shops in a place that is now the surging heart of one of the world’s most vibrant financial centres.

Peter Rilett

Master of the Society of Merchant Venturers