We value our strong relationship with the London Livery companies, who include the Merchant Venturers in their fellowship with great warmth. Last week we were delighted and privileged to welcome the Lord Mayor of the City of London, Alderman Fiona Woolf to Merchants’ Hall.

We share with the City of London livery companies a long tradition of commitment and philanthropy. We believe that our role in Bristol is to bring about the kind of change, which will improve and enrich people’s lives.

I am incredibly proud of all that the Society has achieved since the millennium – the year in which I was elected. The past fourteen years must have been amongst the most productive in the Merchant Venturers’ 600-year history.

Education, always a principle concern for the Society, has been one area where we have been at our busiest. In 2000 the Merchants’ contribution to local education focused on the Society’s two schools, Colston’s School and Colston’s Girls’ School, with a total of 1,100 pupils. This has now risen to 3,500 and is set to rise further.

The decision to sponsor one of the first Academies in Bristol through the conversion of Withywood Community School to become Merchants’ Academy was a watershed for the Society, changing the course and ambition for our involvement in local education. We are thrilled that the Academy is now 35th in the country in terms of value-added achievements, one of the most accurate measures of positive progress.

The transformational decision by the Society to make Colston’s Girls’ School an Academy has seen its numbers rise from 380 to 1,400 and it is now 15th in the country of non-selective state schools and the best in the region for academic standards at GCSE.

We have also extended the Merchants’ involvement into Primary education, taking into the fold three Primary schools. We are heavily involved in all aspects of the five Academies that we sponsor, with strong representation on their governing bodies.

Care for older people has been a further focus for the Society in recent years. At the beginning of the millennium we had a wonderful Queen Anne House in the Bristol suburb of Westbury-on-Trym. Because this building and its associated New Cote residential home no longer matched requirements we took the decision to invest £2m in creating a purpose built residential home on this site. We are delighted with the outcome, which provides superb, modern facilities for 40 residents.  We also have plans to extend this home to accommodate the growing need for dementia care

We are poised to achieve a similar step change with our Almshouse Charity. We have carefully reviewed our portfolio of properties and are retaining and investing in our Colston’s Almshouse. Working in partnership we have available up to £10m to invest in a new property, which we believe will give us the scope to care for a further 70 residents.

Many Merchants continue to work with the St Monica Trust. Over the last fourteen years the Cote Lane site has been transformed and we have three new care villages, which offer a home to over 1,500 residents. All this work is underpinned by an endowment, which is administered by the Society and continued to grow through the economic downturn. Its investments now total over £215m

We have also been increasingly active in the charitable sector and made a number of sizeable donations in recent years. The Society has provided grants totalling well over £2m over the past decade.

Since the Millennium there have also been significant changes within the Society itself. We have achieved greater clarity in identifying the objectives, priorities, structure and membership of the Society. Women have been elected to join the Society for the first time in our 600-year history.

Merchant members pay Quarterage, ensuring that the Society remains on a firm financial footing and we are also offering the use of Merchants’ Hall for weddings and private and corporate events to generate further income that we can reinvest into the good causes that we support.

In conclusion, I think that we can rightly take great pride in what has been achieved since the start of the Millennium. There is no doubt in my mind that we will continue to make strong progress. We never forget that membership of this Society is both a privilege and a pleasure but cognisant that membership also brings obligations and duties.

Anthony Brown

Master, Society of Merchant Venturers