AGM January 2019: Chairman’s Report

Chairman Jimmy Burns’  address to Annual General Meeting at the  Luis Vives Room,  London January 29th


First welcome to you all to you all and so glad we have a full house here in this room named so appropriately after Luis Vives, an enduring cultural icon of BritishSpanish relatons.


Also my apologies for the slight delay in our AGM which in previous  years has been at the end of a year rather than after the beginning of a new one.


2018 ended with members’ and supporters diaries more occupied and their minds understandably more diverted than previous years and I and my Board felt  we needed more time to agree on some pending issues that needed to be resolved to ensure we could kick of a new year with an organizational structure fit for purpose in challenging times.


The main  challenge which I  clearly identified  at our last AGM in November 2017 has persisted with us throughout the past  year-that of surviving in a climate where political developments  with Brexit  a key feature sadly all too often  seemingly bent on breaking the spirit of many of our members and supporters  and in the process risking undermining our mission and survival as a charity.

As I speak to you now MPs are discussing votes that determine the next stage of this country’s relationship with Europe , with a final outcome as to whether the UK stays in our out and on what terms uncertain.


As chairman of this charity but also as an individual with enduring  personal as well as professional  ties with  both countries spanning more than four  decades  I am acutely aware of the sense of bewilderment and  insecurity  and in some cases anger and sheer desperation   affecting members, colleagues, and friends both in Spain and the UK  and many of you are here tonight .

What a great turn out. I wanted to extend a special word of welcome to those patrons present John Scanlon, Lady Brennan,and Baroness Hooper, our members old and new and enduring corporate supporters with a special welcome to Sir Roger Fry, and Enrique Benjumea, and Telefonica’s Christian Kern  , and our new friends from Solar Water.


I know I am not alone in wishing that Brexit had never entered my world, still less  during  my chairmanship of this society . I  share in the existentialist crisis affecting members old and new as they struggle to understand where they stand now and in the future.

Last week I experienced a moment of total panic when after a wonderfully comfortable and  efficient AVE train journey whisking me from Barcelona to Madrid I reached my hotel only to discover that I had lost my passport on route , had to cancel it , and ask for an emergency replacement from the British consulate.


And yet in applying for a new one , I was reminded of the deep and enduring sense of attachment I still felt to the my  burgundy red passport with the European Union and United Kingdom of Great Britain and  Norther Ireland  blazoned on its cover .

I experienced a similar feeling when after being accompanied by my wife and daughters to Buckingham Palace I engaged in genial conversation with the Prince of Wales as he pinned my OBE on me for my work in in British-Spanish relations, realizing how much common ground has been tread  over history by the people of Britain and Spain and why it is worth preserving. Prince Charles recalled with fondness his visits to Spain.


I owed the honor of the OBE for UK/British relations , as I do the Encomienda de Merito  Civil granted to me back in 2012  by the King of Spain, to my family,  friends and colleagues who have supported my work as a volunteer and as an author and journalist, on a mission to build bridges of cultural engagement,  understanding  and dialogue, instilled in me from birth by my British father Tom Burns  and Spanish Mabel Marañón both beloved in memory.


In recent days I have been uplifted by two experiences with a common thread.  I was invited to speak to the hub of startups up at Telefonica’s  Wayra UK offices in Piccadilly where  the collective wish of   young entrepreneurs including Spanish and UK was much better  cooperation with the  EU than a bitter divorce.


And then last night what a joy of a birthday present from my wife as we saw together the  Royal  Shakespeare company’s  Don Quixote at the Garrick Theatre.  Shakespeare the greatest playwright in history.  Cervantes the father of the modern novel, contempories whose legacy  is not only enduring but at the heart of what our BritishSpanish Society is all about.


Call me Quixotic  but I am certain the UK is not about to crash  over Dover’s white cliffs, nor are the Spanish and English people about to be separated walls. They will find a way forward that recognizes  that consensus and cooperation is better than confusion and  confrontation.

As for the BritishSpanish Society, which owes its seemingly anecdotal inspiration for its foundation in 1916 to the third centenary of the deaths of Shakespeare and Cervantes,  it is worth reminding ourselves  that this charity has successfully ridden out storms of its own and those of others during its more than one hundred years of existence, without losing itself completely or sinking.

As Lord  Tristan  Garel Jones points out in his prologue to the history of the British Spanish Society we published for our centenary three years ago, the vicissitudes through which the Society passed through the 20th century and into the 21st – including rebranding, winding up, and then rebranding again- is a good reflection of the turmoil experienced in Europe (and indeed the wider world) in the century, and which has returned  haunt us in more recent times.


And yet it in  times like the ones that we are living   that what this charity has stood for since its foundation in the midst of far greater calamity-that of  the First Word war- has never seemed so necessary- and I know from the countless emails, conversations, and  gatherings both overt and more discreet that have involved myself and my fellow trustees over the last year.

For our mission was , is and will continue to be that of extending bridges of engagement, of mutual understanding, of seeking the best that some of the  good people of Britain and Spain can still offer each other.


It is these good people that have continued to support the BritishSpanish Society and for that I wanted to thank  at the outset  all those who have contributed in one or the other in this noble endeavor over the last year : the selfless volunteers with me on the  Board and on the Executive Council, our underpaid but equally passionate and selfless secretarial team, and you the honorary patrons,   individual members  and corporate and institutional  partners represented here this evening who form part of our extended community in the interests of the common good.


The goodwill, patience, and skills of bilateral cultural diplomacy-both public and behind the scenes – has been tested to the limit and thankfully held a steady nerve. If has done so  it is because there is a recognition of just how much more unites the people of Spain and the UK than divides them . This feeling and reality  is present in every event we organize, in every scholarship we award, in the pages of our magazine, in the way that this Society has the almost unique distinction of counting on the respect of two Royal families, a British and Spanish ambassador and a cross section  of support from students to senior executives to across ages,  professions, political parties, and regions both in the UK and Spain.


We are once again gathered here under the roof of the Spanish embassy thanks to our honorary president the Spanish ambassador Carlos  Bastarreche whose respect for this Society and what it does has remained as unwavering in its  generosity of spirit as that shown by e our honorary vice president Simon Manley, the British ambassador in Madrid.


The British Spanish Society has in  more than one hundred years seen ambassadors  come and go, as well as numerous governments, not to mention, in the case of Spain,  regimes. It has endured periods of war as well as peace, and this charity is still not only with us but showing no small measure of resilience, bucking the trend, against the odds.


Despite the uncertainties that affect so many European citizens Our membership continues to grow here and in Spain , our events programme remains a powerful tool of cultural and social engagement as does our magazine La Revista , and our expanding scholarship programme has continued to inspire both a sense of  social responsibility in its   sponsors and the creative talent of high caliber Spanish and UK postgraduate students.


Later our Treasurer  Juan Reig will give a more detailed update on our finances and the accounts are available for your perusal. But I am delighted to report that our membership has continued its steady growth –we are more than holding our own in the UK and also making real progress in attracting new members in Spain. Our overall membership now is close to the 1,000 mark in the UK and Spain is -three times where we were  not so long  ago, and with one of the categories have increased most rapidly in the past year that of students, showing that we are not only retaining long term members but also renewing energies and ideas with a clear vote of confidence in the work we do and in  our future.


Thanks to the careful and diligent  management by our Treasurer  and financial secretary supported  by the Board of Trustees the Society has maintained a good balance of income and expenses  and secured reserves in  our 2018/19 budget for some overdue website and internal system upgrade which hopefully will give a better service to our members, communicating better, minimizing information overload while ensuring that bookings and enquiries run as smoothly as possible.


I wanted to personally thank my fellow Trustees and EC members for their solidarity and endeavor as volunteers across all areas of this charity and also the tireless work  our part-time, overworked, and underpaid  admin staff-, Maria Soriano, Alvaro Cepero and Juan Gomez who keep our  admin , our magazine La Revista  distribution and events organization in good shape while, with patience  and good humor,   dealing with enquiries, requests, and occasional complaints.


My sincere thanks and appreciation also go to  the Society’s Honorary President, His Excellency the Spanish Ambassador Carlos Bastarreche ,once more showing his support by allowing us to host our AGM here in the Luis Vives room, and two other  two key events of the year-the scholarship awards ceremony and the summer party. Thanks too to  Miguel  Oliveros of the  Cultural and Scientific Affairs Office at the Spanish embassy for its  huge enthusiasm and support  for all that we do, not east our annual musical event .

In Spain our honorary vice president , Her Majesty’s government’s ambassador Simon Manley, has shown an extraordinary level head and generous spirit  despite periodical ministerial resignations back home and other problems not of his making on the political front which would  have sunk a weaker less professional man.  He has continued to provide huge moral and  logistical  support to the Society as well as invaluable advice to its chairman, for which I am personally grateful.


On the occasion of the Garden  Party at the embassy residence in Madrid celebrating the Royal  marriage of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle last May, it was an honor to receive from his hands  a special award on behalf of the  BritishSpanish Society in recognition of its  charity work with the British and Spanish community in Spain, as well as in the UK. And our annual autumn reception in the same grounds last September drew a record number of guests and graced  the pages of Hola Magazine.


Thank to Carmen Young and her team in London and Madrid, our events programme has remained both varied and inspired, catering for different tastes, moods, and passions and different ages but always with an underlying g spirit  of cultural , educational and civic engagement. From Paul Pickering’s guided tour of Spanish masters at Tate Modern and the night of literature and wine at the  Spanish School Vicente Canada Blanch to our exclusive  access to an English National Ballet rehearsal and  Zarzuela’s  Highlights at the Guildhall School of Music, we have had one quality event after another, and not just in London.

One of the highlights of the  year was an extremely well attended conference on Global Risks one of our Spain based Trustees Cristina Alvarez  helped organize at the IE Business School in Madrid following up on other successful  events  we have held in Madrid, Toledo and Barcelona.


In the UK, we moved out of London to Cambridge  University and Churchill College to launch a conference  led by one of our esteemed members the historian   Dr Peter Martand and a special exhibition I curated  on Churchill & Spain in   collaboration with Churchill College and the Instituto  Cervantes, where  distinguished guests present included the great man’s grandson , and one of our patrons Randolph Churchill.


We have continued to build constructive and mutually beneficial  institutional  partnerships not least with Ignacio Peyro , a fellow author and Director of  the Cervantes Institute in London with whom we jointly held a very popular conference on the work and challenges of  Spanish Women artists in London including two enduring members of the Society the writer  and published Isabel del Rio and  Tamara Rojo, the director of the English National Ballet.


And here may I mention the support we have received from one of our new partners  Maravilla Media Group, an innovative media and communications  group based in Barcelona Madrid and London who have  helped promote the BSS online and on radio programmes in Spain  and helped improve the design of our popular and widely read flagship publication La Revista .

I am delighted that the magazine with Carolina Jara Huergo, and  the rest of the editorial team in London and Madrid and its contributors  in both countries  continues to thrive with  well-written  and exclusive pieces on  a range of cultural subjects  from profiles and interviews to reviews and diaries.


Of the  articles over the year I would like to highlight two in the November issue as between them they exemplify  our  magazine La Revista  at its best in terms of scope of subject, insight, and quality,  Laura Obiol’s profile about the London based Spanish shoe designer  Lina Amata, and our own Executive Council’s Dr Marina Perez de Arcos interview with Alfredo Perez de Arminan, present of the Patrimonio Nacional revealing King Alfonso’s X111 humanitarian connection with Britain during WW1 at the time of  this Society’s foundation..


As always, but with renewed vigor and sense of purpose,   in these uncertain all too often visceral and  confrontational times ,  the goal of La Revista is to celebrate the engagement  and the creativity that comes from a positive cultural and educational  experience.


Our  Gala dinner at the Melia ME hotel in the Strand last November 12th was both a necessary fund raiser and   a celebration- it marked the 10th Anniversary of the Scholarship Programme.  It was an appropriate reminder  of how the modern era of this Society has been defined by  developing working partnership with sponsors supporting more than 78 Scholarships and Bursaries cutting-edge post-graduate projects h in fields as diverse as medicine, urban planning, engineering, linguistics, literature, physics, architecture, marine archeology  environment protection and music.

The  importance  of projects and  the quality of students can be fully appreciated in the new updated prospectus which we have published, copies of which are available here this evening.


We  yearly  receive “hundreds” of applications and we make a big fundraising effort to make sure more and more students can secure their research projects, while only too aware that the programme has only been  only possible with the generous support of our Principal Corporate Supporters which last year were Santander, Telefonica, Mahou/San Miguel, Plastic Energy and for the first time Fundacion Sabadell.


At our  scholarship awards ceremony last Spring held in the Spanish ambassador’s residence we presented 8 Scholarship Awards, more than ever before, and a special award with donations of BSS Patrons and Members.


At a time when international  cooperation and support is uncertain , we are providing  a vital life line for creativity, innovation, and research often in joint teams invoking British  and Spanish investigators . Our scholarship programme identifies talent, but also gives opportunities to the unseen and unheard , ensuring that the potential of some of the best young minds is not ignored or frustrated through lack of funding.

We would very much like to expand our scholarship programme as we believe it plays an important role in furthering links between our two countries and showing how important is research and investigation and shared knowledge and expertise for the future of Europe.

This partnership of our charity with socially responsible representative leaders in the private sector is based on a belief that universities and talented students –researchers, investigators, and creators, have a vital contribution to make to successful, dynamic civic societies in the UK and Spain. We want Britain and Spain to continue to be magnets for talent from each other’s countries, and become leaders in international collaboration that can benefit society as a whole.


So let me repeat my thanks to our principal supporters  for renewing their support –BBVA, Santander, Plastic Energy, and Fundacion Sabadell with Plastic Energy increasing  the number of scholarships they are supporting. Thank to our members who have attended   our events and those companies  who have support us by sponsoring them and also advertising in La Revista. It is again a real vote of confidence in what we do our events not only continue to be well attended but  also  that we continue to count on the support of a range of companies and institutions.


I would like mention other supporters here Codorniu, Cuatrecasas,  Landerer Financial Consultants , IE Business School , Hispania , Boqueria , Gomez Acebo y Pombo , Allen & Overy and Chiswick Auctions  and two new additions since the summer  Stonyhurst College and Venta de Aires in Toledo.


Later I will ask our Trustee our head of events Carmen Young to fill you a bit more about our events programme going forward -but I would like once again to thanks once again the Trustees and EC and administration  who have contributed to o making this such a worthwhile and  wonderful year of cultural celebration  and discovery and social encounters and engagement despite of  enormous challenges in the world we live in.


Few other society or charities of our size can claim to have its  volunteers  and  admin staff working with such love and commitment on  behalf of its supporters- and we do this because we believe passionately in our mission of buildings ties of friendship and understanding  between the people of Spain and the UK has never been more important than the times we live in. And our growing membership both in the UK and Spain is proof that the BritishSpanish Society is considered to doing  a good job.


Two years ago I pledged to make more of an effort to listen to the views of our members as to how we could do better to strengthen this charity by carrying out a detailed survey of opinion on various aspects of what we do. A subsequent survey of member  opinion last year gave us some valuable feedback which we are in a  continuing process of responding to within our  resources and with  ways that can continue to deliver on our charitable   mission.


The Society is alive and well as it moves with renewed confidence into the third year of its next one hundred years .  But we do not rest on our laurels, still less in the uncertain certain times we live in.


The BritishSpanish Society has made important advances over the last five year to improve its management structure and organization, improving the skills base  and professional experience of its Board of Trustees and Executive council, and  investing in IT to improve our communications, data management, and accounting.


This had helped us raise our profile and weather the storm of the economic downturn, increasing our individual membership subscriptions, and corporate support for our events, magazine, and  Scholarship programme.


We are now at a point at which our administration   and the most active of our volunteers are fully stretched in sustaining the organization,

Without the commitment of all trustees and EC members , and  additional financial support  to grow and evolve, The BritishSpanish Society’s sustainability will be in jeopardy and our ability to deliver on our mission diminished.


Our aim is to build  on want what we have achieved expanding our scholarship, sustaining the quality of our events and magazine,  and building up our membership and corporate support in the UK and Spain.


Our membership  and our corporate supporters  remain our backbone. But our membership fees have not increased in more than five years. We  may have to revisit this. A more concerted approach to fund raising through direct appeals for specific  projects and legacies is needed to ensure  our longer term survival  and we need our supporters to help us diminish costs by offering us  free venues for events and if possible free office space.


We want to increase our reach and audience  outside London in the UK and in Spain so that more people hear about the BSS and feel that it is a cause worth supporting to inform their thinking and their lives in our uncertain troubled world. Where others build walls, we build bridges of understanding and engagement. We know our members and supporters  move easily between countries and we hope they will continue  to be able to do.


Last March marked the fifth year of my chairmanship. In subsequent discussions a consensual view emerged within the Board that suggested that at a time of stormy waters, it was not a good time to jump ship even I was tempted to,  unless a clear alternative presented itself, and  that consolidation  and continuity what needed while  taking measures to strengthen the   Governance of the charity so that its governing body   continues to serve the best  interests of the Society and the membership it is elected to serve as we continue to navigate in unchartered waters.


At our  last Trustees meeting, it was agreed that we should strengthen the overall Governance of the Charity by way of ensuring that different roles and responsibilities are better  defined and that  management functions are shared within the board.

As chairman I have been  fortunate in being able to count on  a  Board of Trustees, which is diligent in  its fiduciary  duties with a wide range of skills and experience and commitment to drive strategy and implementation and a similarly effective supporting Executive Council. It is good for the continuity and stability of the charity that we have a strong body of  Trustees and EC with experience of and love for the BSS  seeking re-election who have proved  to be dedicated  volunteers over the last year and integrated well.

At the same time it a huge act of  faith in the future of the BSS  that we have two nominated candidates who I expect to fill in vacancies arising . They will  bring necessary new ideas and  support to key areas.


I would like to thanks Hugh Elliot for his invaluable advice over the last year on a range of issues. He is stepping down as a Trustees to prepare for his role as the new ambassador in Madrid when he take over from Simon Manley later this year and I will sure will continue to be a huge supporter of the BSS.


I would also like to thank Eva Sierra who is stepping down as a member of the EC for her support in some of our  institutional  relationships.

The nominees which have the support of the Board of Trustees are to the Board the current EC member  Justin Ellis, and to the Executive  Council Francisco Molina Holgado


So given what has gone before you I would like first of all to seek your support to carry on for another as chairman (UNANIMOUS VOTE)

And a Board of Trustees composed of :  Juan Reig, Roger Golland , Carmen Young, Scott Young, Jose Ivars, Marian Riesco , Cristina Alvarez, Fernando Menendez, Dr Mike Short , and new entrant Justin Ellis.  (UNANIMOUS VOTE)

:And for Non-Trustee Executive  Council: Marina Perez de Arcos, Julian BarcenaDavid HurstJordi MateuPaul PickeringSilvia Montes, Alexandra BrownElisa Ramirez Perez: Alberto Linares: Francisco Molina Holgado  (UNANIMOUS VOTE)


I would like to end with a very Quixotic and indeed Shakespearean quote from St Francis of Assisi  which I hope sums up the spirit of this meeting and the BritishSpanishSociety     ” All the darkness in the world cannot extinguish the light of a single candle.”