- Posted by Amy Bell
- On December 21, 2021
It has been a difficult and unpredictable year for the BritishSpanish Society. The consequences of Brexit, and the pandemic still without end, have put strains on our fund-raising and organisation, throwing us into uncharted territory.
We are however a charity with a history of more than one hundred years of weathering disruptions in relations between the UK and Spain. The Spanish Flu hit the world the year after our foundation in 1916, yet we moved on.
And so, we have found ourselves having to rise to the challenge of our times, protecting our reserves while remaining as active and safe as possible. It’s been a time of recalibration, of doing things differently, to ensure the sustainability of the charity.
I want to thank my fellow Trustees, other members of the Executive Council, and our Administration team for the way they have contributed selflessly, in myriad ways, to sustain the charity in 2021. I also want to thank our membership, corporate sponsors, and partner institutions – not least the Spanish embassy in the UK and the British embassy in Spain – for their continuing support.
We are a membership-based charity with a clear mission of building bridges of cultural and educational understanding. So, one of the first tasks the Board of Trustees and Executive Council set themselves as we entered another year of Covid at the beginning of 2021 was to maintain communication and engagement during the restrictions. Unable to have live events, we rolled out a programme of webinars on subjects aimed to appeal to our members, dispersed widely throughout the UK, Spain and beyond.
Our online “In Conversation” series included events with two Honorary Members, best-selling historian Sir Paul Preston and novelist María Dueñas. Other panels featured journalist Rafael Minder of the New York Times and Spanish writer Ana Romero Galan discussing the relations between the UK and Spain from historical, literary and socio-economic perspectives. We offered virtual ‘tours’ in topics as diverse as Titian’s Spanish-themed masterpieces at the National Gallery and George Orwell’s Civil War exploits in Spain. And ahead of COP 26 we put together a top table of British and Spanish experts for our own climate conference.
In September 2021 we were able to go ahead with our first major live event in Madrid. Our autumn reception at the Residence of our Honorary President, Ambassador Hugh Elliott, gathered members and friends from across the social, cultural business, academic and voluntary sectors.
This was followed in November 2021 by our sold-out concert of Spanish-themed music at St James’s Church in Piccadilly. The event, attended by the Spanish ambassador to the UK and our honorary president José Pascual Marco showcased three young musicians and alumni of our scholarship programme, Laura Peribáñez, Nicole Crespo and Greg Sanders alongside another emerging young star at the Royal College of Music, Daisy Noton.
Despite pandemic restrictions but thanks to the popularity of our webinars our membership has continued to grow in the UK and Spain throughout the year. Ticket sales for our events, together with the sponsorship of our corporate supporters, has helped generate funds for our charitable mission and compensated in part for loss incurred from the cancellation, for the second year running, of the BSS summer party at the Spanish Embassy in London.
In early November, the 14th BSS Scholarship awards ceremony at the London of our Honorary President the Spanish Ambassador highlighted a key objective of our charity. Thanks to the generous commitment of our loyal corporate supporters and members we were able to support young Spanish and British researchers and innovators working for the benefit of civic society in a range of fields from historical research and musical composition to health and sustainable development.
Meanwhile we have continued to engage our community through an active social media presence and the publication of our quarterly magazine “La Revista” which is available in print and digital format. Circumstances have forced us to adapt how we do things and what we do but we’ve got on with it. We haven’t closed down. One of the things we have identified more clearly, despite or because of Brexit and the pandemic, is what a unique space our charity-driven by the passion and commitment of its volunteers, and the generosity of our members, donors, an and supporting sponsors and partners, occupies as a Punto de Encuentro, a meeting place for British and Spanish people of different backgrounds, in an atmosphere of mutual respect. Our mission of dialogue and engagement between two peoples is as clear as when the founding fathers of this charity extended their hand of friendship between the peoples of the two nations in tribute to the enduring cultural legacy of the cultural icons William Shakespeare and Miguel Cervantes.
Our strategy going forward will be to consolidate our place as a friendly cultural and educational association in the UK and Spain. We must be realistic in straightened times about the resources we need to raise if we are to remain sustainable. We will continue to adapt to circumstances. We run a spartan office with a part-time and overworked Administration staff and volunteers. Much of what we do depends on good will and voluntary service.
The times we live in have put considerable pressures on all of us on the personal and work front. They also call for an openness to new ideas and energy, alongside drawing on experienced and steady hands, to navigate whatever turbulence faces us in the months ahead. It is in that spirit that following the elections in our recent AGM, I extend a warm welcome to new members of the governing Board of Trustees and Executive Council to join those of us who are committed to serving the charity in the year ahead.
Thank you to everyone who supports the BSS.
Jimmy Burns Marañón OBE, Chairman, BritishSpanish Society