The Master’s Voice – June 2013

Peter Rilett, Master of the Society of Merchant Venturers

Education has been close to the hearts of Merchant Venturers for at least 400 years — archival records show that they were running a school for the children of mariners as early as 1595.

In the 21st century, nothing is more important to the Society than seeing Bristol’s education system become one associated with high levels of achievement. This is reflected in our increasing involvement with local schools – and the huge personal contributions made by many individual Merchants.

Five years ago the Merchants supported schools with a total of 1,100 pupils. This figure has now risen to 3,500 with the creation of Merchants’ Academy and the expansion of Colston’s Girls’ School. One important development has been the addition of primary schools to the Society’s educational community.

In April, St Anne’s Park Primary School in Bristol reopened as an academy and was renamed The Kingfisher School. The school is run by Colston’s Girls’ School Trust, which is sponsored by the Merchant Venturers. I wish the children and staff at The Kingfisher School every success. We look forward to working together to drive attainment and further enable children to flourish academically and individually.

We are heavily involved in all aspects of the five academies that we sponsor, with strong representation on their governing bodies. We work closely with the Department of Education, Bristol City Council and the local community.

This spring I very much enjoyed leading a visit by our Standing Committee (the Society’s governing body) to our schools across greater Bristol. We were all impressed by the commitment being made by teachers, pupils and their parents to continue to improve academic standards – and the progress that is being achieved.

We saw the Merchants’ Academy Army Cadet Force detachment  being trained and enjoyed chatting with the young people and hearing their aspirations and achievements. We met members of Merchants’ Academy’s triumphant Sixth Form football team, who last season won the coveted South West region football tournament – many congratulations.

The Merchant Venturers supports charities and good causes across the Greater Bristol area. In recent months we have donated over £55,000 to a number of organisations for a range of innovative projects – from acting workshops to homeless charities. Arnos Vale Cemetery Trust received a £10,000 grant, which will be matched by the Heritage Lottery Catalyst Endowment Challenge.

Arnos Vale is a place that is close to the hearts of many people in Bristol and its pleasant architecture, variety of wildlife and tranquil atmosphere are something that must be cherished and protected. The Merchant Venturers have offered support both as a Society and through individual members to Arnos Vale for many years. We sincerely hope that Arnos Vale can secure the funds it needs to ensure its long-term future.

With Sir Michael Rake as our guest speaker, the Merchant Venturers’ Spring Banquet was a fascinating evening. Sir Michael exemplifies the values of hard work and enterprise, as chairman of the BT Group,  deputy chairman of Barclays PLC and the next President of the CBI. It was both an honour and pleasure to welcome him to the Merchants’ Hall.

Peter Rilett

Master of the Society of Merchant Venturers