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 Barcena, David Hurst, Jordi Mateu, Paul Pickering, Silvia Montes, Alexandra Brown, Elisa 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.”
THANKYOU VERY MUCH