Chairman Jimmy Burns Marañon’s address to the Society AGM, Sala Luis Vives, London Octber 21st 2014.
- Posted by British Spanish Society
- On October 23, 2014
Estimados amigos y amigas valued friends
It’s been a very good year for the Society and we thought it a good idea to remind you at the outset just what a good year it’s been with a snap shot of some of our key events , some of you may have attended, and others wished they been there. We have produced a short video celebrating our main mission of bridge building between the peoples of Spain and the UK and with others drawn to our respective cultures. It gives a sense of our growing and varied membership , and the support we now count on from our corporate and institutional partners –led by Iberica and the Spanish Cultural Office, and our principal supporters –BBVA, Ferrovial, Telelfonica, Santander, and BUPA who help us fund our successful scholarship programme for British and US postgraduates. In short it gives a sense of an organisation that is proud of its history and past achievement but doesn’t stand still.
This is an opportunity to bring our membership, principal and corporate supporters, and friendly institutions up to date about what we have been doing over the last year and where we are going, but also to show appreciation to those who have helped us in different ways, and to generally get to know each other better. .
I would like to take this opportunity to express my sincere thanks and appreciation to the Society’s Honorary President, His Excellency the Spanish Ambassador Federico Trillo-Figueroa, for his constant support and invaluable help, as well as to Mr Fidel López Álvarez, Ministry Counsellor for Cultural and Scientific Affairs. Also to Enrique Ojeda who as deputy mission earlier this summer stepped in at the last minute and played the role of host at our summer party when the ambassador was called away on urgent business to Madrid.
The Spanish embassy in London generously shares its facilities and provides support for our cultural and social activities while respecting that we are a non-political and independent organisation registered as a charity under UK law.
As in prevous years, and I keeping with accepted protocol the ambassador embassy’s ex-officio representative on the Executive Council Fidel Lopez are of course invited to our AGM but do not attend . This is due to the respect for the independence of the BSS. But both have asked me to express their good wishes to all of you and to convey their commitment to support the Society, in every way they can as we approach our centenary in 2016.
Let me take this opportunity to thank Jaime Hugas who stepped down earlier this year as my vice-chairman and from the Board of Trustees and Executive Council after serving my predecessor Dame Holt as Treasurer. Jaime has been hugely diligent in his role, and provided me and the Executive with much sound advice . I am particularly thankful for the way he has helped negotiate with new institutional partners and corporate supporters. As someone born in Madrid, it has been an honour to be able to count on Jaime’s Catalan seny (wisdom and good sense). It is an example of Spaniards working together for the greater good! .I wish him well in his new project.
….I feel hugely reassured in having Sir Stephen Wright, a former British ambassador to Madrid and a former chairman as my new deputy. It was Stephen who in 2009, then chairman called me at the Financial Times which I was about to take an amicable departure from after thirty years and kindly invited me to be his vice chairman-to help initiate a period of reorganisation and modernisation of the Society the fruits of which I hope you have been witnessing over the last four year under his, Dame Denise Holt’s and now my chairmanship. As we look forward to our Centenary in 2016 it is great to have Stephen, with his invaluable diplomatic experience, back in the front line.
I will also like to thank Lucia Cawdron who will be handing over to Carmen Bouverat her role as head of our events committee. Lucia is taking a less front-line role in order to give more time to a new job that has come up and her newly born child. She has been and continues to be is one of the life and joys of our team meetings, coming as she does from a long family tradition of dedication to the Society so I am delighted she is staying on our Executive Council to advise and organise art events.
Our key achievement and a source of some pride is our Scholarship and Bursaries Programme. This is the best example of our positive impact in society as a charity. It is an opportunity to honour the talent of Spanish and British post-graduate students who with their research and work are contributing to a better future for themselves and the society in which they live in as responsible and valuable citizens.
The year has been one of consolidation, modest re-organisation, and growth.
In the context of continuing challenging economic conditions in the UK and Spain, we have focused on strengthening the efficiency of our organisation and on improving the way we market ourselves and fund raise while reaching out to new members and other supporters. The last year had seen the Society as a registered UK charity building on the progress of the previous three years, and bucking the trend with positive results.
While ensuring enduring loyalty from our longer-term supporters, we have continued to attract new individual and corporate members, and renewed institutional agreements that have allowed us to expand our programme of cultural and educational activities.
We have developed the marketing, management and administration of our scholarship programme, in close partnership with our Principal Supporters. This has attracted support from major universities including Oxford, and Cambridge and the Universities of Madrid and Barcelona, and brought in increased applications from high quality post-graduate British and Spanish students on important subjects of research of benefit to Spain and the UK in range of fields from finance and engineering to medical and historical research. This year at a ceremony at the Spanish ambassador’s residence, we awarded a total of eleven new scholarship and bursaries thanks to the generosity of our Principal Supporters and our other fund-raising efforts, bringing to over fifty the number of students who have benefited from the programme since it started in 2008. We signed in new corporate supporters including La Boqueria and Battersea Spanish and made some progress towards the target we set ourselves last year of attracting new Principals Supporters although talks with two new major potential partners are ongoing.
Our events programme has strengthened its position as an important fixture on the British-Spanish social calendar. Our highlight this year was our Gala Dinner in the House of Commons where Dame Esperanza Aguirre our guest speaker spoke about her love of British institutions and culture. The sell-out event was widely covered in the Spanish media and attracted representatives of the cultural, political, business and diplomatic world. Other key events of the year included our annual summer party at the Spanish embassy, and a special tribute in art and music to El Greco on his 400th anniversary at the historic London Church of St James’s Spanish Place.
Our magazine La Revista expanded its editorial and advertising content, and improved its distribution, attracting new readers and raising the Society’s profile. One of the magazine’s contributors, Jules Stewart was awarded the University of Navarra award for his article on tapas in Pamplona. Other contributions , ranging from football and film to food and travel, provided another year of entertaining and informative cultural and social journalism.
Having overcome initial technical problems, our new website developed alongside our other social networks to improve our marketing and communications, as well as bringing efficiency-savings in online membership payments and event bookings.
We renewed cooperation agreements with the Instituto Cervantes in London, and the Spanish Chamber of Commerce, while negotiating new agreements with the Anglo-Chilean Society and the Association of Spanish Scientists in the UK which we expect will bring in new members and new events to our annual programme.
Growing interest in the Society and what it does was underlined by the chairman featuring in a major interview/profile in the leading Spanish financial paper Expansion , and the Society participating as a media partner at the Financial Times Summit on Spain conference in Madrid.
The Society was also a recipient as one of the chosen charities of a generous donation by Lord Tristan Garel-Jones. The former foreign office minister donated to the Society a quarter of his 10,000 euro Fundación Banco Santander prize for his promotion of British-Spanish relations. Further funding was agreed by the Spanish Ministry of Culture to help finance the publication of a history of the Society to mark its centenary. The history is written by one of our scholarship and bursary winners, the historian Luis Gonzaga Martinez del Campo.
…We do not rest on our laurels. The increased membership- both individual and corporate- over the year and the upgraded quality of our fund-raising events have meant a lot of hard work for our volunteers and part-time staff, with management on occasions severely stretched, and yet still delivering in a cost-effective and efficient way that leaves our members happy.
In the challenging world in which we live, where budgets have to be carefully controlled, we will continue to exercise careful management of our expenditure. However, we also need to secure the support we need in order not to regress as an organisation To stay exactly where we are or cut back to where we were, say six years ago when we were facing a financial crisis, would risk undermining the quality of what we deliver, and with it, a gradual fall-off in interest and support for the Society.
Our centenary in 2016 is something that we should all be proud to celebrate. It provides the Society with an opportunity to raise its profile and visibility, and this must be a key objective over the next year.
We thus plan to invest in a rolling programme of promotion of our centenary, branding a new centenary logo, and developing our marketing online and in print. The trustees have enlisted the services of a specialised research company to save, organise and digitalise our historical archive, so that it can be easily consulted by our secretaries, members and other researchers in the future. We also plan an oral history bank as we believe it will be useful to be able to download the recollections of a few individuals who have contributed significantly to the development of the Society. We hope this will be kept relatively simple as part of the archive so that it can be drawn on as necessary for future promotional material.
Similarly we plan to hold a small exhibition on the history of the Society, and end up with a composite video as a tool for promoting the Society to general audiences and potential audiences. The programme may involve a second more specialised video dedicated to our scholarship programme.
This programme remains our premier charitable activity and concrete contribution to British-Spanish understanding. These are tough times for students and youth unemployment remains high in both Spain and the UK. We will continue to do our best to contribute to a better society by helping unlock the potential of young minds, and channelling investment into the future by supporting research and investigation.
We are hoping to count on the continuing support of our principal supporters at least to maintain the current level of annual awards. We will continue with our effort to attract additional corporate partners and sponsors so we can put the future of this valuable enterprise on an even firmer footing.
We are hopeful that an increasing number of Spanish and UK companies will come to see us as a cause worth associating with in terms of their own public profile and marketing interests. For our part we aim to continue to offer an attractive range of opportunities from sponsorship of events to advertising in La Revista.
Our popular Christmas party in December, sponsored again this year by Iberica, will kick off another diary of varied cultural and social events, with forward planning for our centenary Gala dinner and dance in 2016 as a very special event indeed which we hope will generate a lot of interest and support.
Part of our response to our growth as an organisation, has been to professionalise some of our services including paying the Editor of La Revista for the excellent job she does. We intend to continue to put high profile fund-raising events like our Gala dinners in the hands of professional l events managers.
However one of our main logistical as well as budgetary challenges this year will be securing adequate office and secretarial organisation after the Cervantes Institute, where we have had an address until now, moves out of Eaton Square to new as yet undisclosed premises. The Trustees are discussing various options for the future while remaining open to ideas from friends and supporters. Our aim is to secure new office arrangements that allow us to function cost-effectively as an organisation.
In the updated Vision Document 2014-2016 published we have set ourselves the ambitious goal of having over 1,000 members, more than double our levels three years ago, by our centenary in 2016. We believe we remain on track while conscious of the risk of running ahead of ourselves. But to stretch to another analogy, this is a small charity that likes to and can punch above its weight and will continue to do so while it has a mission that justifies our charitable status.
With our centenary on the horizon, we believe there has never been a better time to be a member of the BritishSpanish Society. We count on the enduring support of those who are with us already, while hoping to attract, along with new members, new sources of funding including new sponsors and donations.
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