The Master’s Voice – January 2015

My overwhelming sense in my first two months as the overall leader of the Merchant Venturers as Master has been of the dazzling energy and activity levels of this diverse group of 75 individuals who comprise the Society of Merchant Venturers, as we pursue the wide range of projects and programmes in which the Society is engaged for the benefit of the community of Greater Bristol.

There are different impressions of the Merchant Venturers in Bristol, but I would be pretty confident that even the most informed would be surprised at just how much energy, effort and time this relatively small group puts in, working in cooperation with others, of course: in education, care of the elderly, social enterprise, the custodianship, with Bristol City Council, of the Downs, the management of some significant trust funds, and considering grant applications for our (relatively small) charitable trust.

In the past six months we have started a programme to focus our Merchant schools on employment skills – to ensure that as our students go out into the world of work they have the attitudes, behaviours and characters which make them fit for employment and attractive to potential employers. We have co-sponsored the “Bristol and the First World War” book published in the autumn as part of the World War One centenary celebrations. We are supporting the Bristol Green Capital programme and the Sustrans 20th anniversary celebration of the National Cycle Network.

We have in the last three months given a total of £20,000 from the Society’s charitable fund to 11 different voluntary sector organisations of all shapes and sizes around the Bristol area.

And to give some feel for the vast range of areas in which I personally have been involved, I have given a 45 minute interview on Bristol Community Radio’s politics show; I have met with the exceptional entrepreneur who has developed Bristol Sweetmart into the remarkable business which it is today; I have discussed the truly awesome and awful problem of modern slavery with the leader of the Bristol-based charity Unseen, which is nationally and globally at the cutting edge in tackling this appalling issue. I have met with Andrew Kelly, the extremely dedicated and effective Head of Bristol Cultural Development Partnership, who has done so much for Bristol’s cultural life in the past 20 years, to talk about the Merchant Venturers’ support for some of the cultural events taking place in Bristol in 2015 and 2016; and I have been in contact with the South West regional representatives of Teach First about how the Merchant Venturers can continue to work to support them.

On my travels I have become aware of some outstanding achievements in our Merchant schools: Liam, a 9-year old in the Autism Resource base at Merchants’ Academy Primary, in Withywood, recently won a silver medal at the British Junior judo championships; two former female pupils of Colston’s Collegiate School, who were members of the English rugby team in the Women’s Rugby Union World Cup went back to the school to talk about their experiences; and eleven Year 10 students at Merchants’ Academy have set up a trading company and in the period before Christmas took part in their first trade fayre at St. Nicholas market in central Bristol, making £70 profit.

Phew! This is a seriously dynamic and progressive organisation, which it is hugely exhilarating and of course a great privilege to lead for a year!

Chris Curling
Master, Society of Merchant Venturers