7 JULY 2022
Displaced by Covid and closure, the Court has met in all sorts of venues over the past 27 months: other company's halls and committee rooms and virtually in everyone's front room, study or (in case of one Past Master) library, thanks to Zoom.
But on 5th July we were finally back where we belonged: in the Court Room of our own Stationers' Hall. And do you know, it seemed pretty much unchanged, after all the millions of pounds worth of work and refurbishment that has gone on all around it during the substantial effort of Vision 350.
That is, of course, absolutely right, when an old building is the still centre of substantial change: a new garden entrance, a new lift for 21st century accessibility, kitchen refurbishment, air-cooling units and new dining and meeting rooms replacing familiar but modern extensions of the Hall.
Even the pretty-much-unchanged Court Room has a new carpet, whose absorbent fluffiness caused the Master to call on Court members to speak up, lest the exchanges be too sotto voce to be heard.
But we were assembled not to gawp at the new surrondings, but to participate in this short Court meeting. It abuts as it does every July the Election Court, then Common Hall for all Stationers, and the Installation of the new Master. (The Company rules say this change of office should take place on the Saturday after St Peter's Day, June 29th, but the rules have been modified over time, just a little.) Much growing and processing and exchanging of badges of office, all meticulously in order of the Beadle.
But before the ceremonies, the business of the Court. "Welcome Home!" said the Master, Robert Flather, as he presided over his last Court in office. One of the first pieces of business was to renominate the Treasurer Ian Leggett. Despite a stage-whispered aside of "Will Leggett leg it?", the nomination was approved with relish. "Huge approval and respect of those on the Court", said the Master.
The Chairman of the Education Committee reported on the success of Apprentice Futures, held in the Guildhall at the London Careers Festival for two days at the end of June. There were 45 exhibitors, many student visitors, and help from Liverymen and Stationers' apprentice ambassadors. Media students from Stationers Crown Woods Academy were there to shoot footage for the new Apprentice Futures website.
A Past Master commented that it was wonderful to see the interaction of students and exhibitors.
Concern was expressed, however, about the lack of recognition that this was an event started and supported by the Company.
The Master said: "The Stationers have been airbrushed out of the London Career Festival. We have a strategic question about this." There were further expressions of disquiet, and one Court Assistant asked from whom were we seeking credit - 'It is important not to come across as complaining' expressed one Past Master. We needed positive ways of promoting what he termed "our brand".
The context for this was widened when the Under Warden remarked that after years of an arms-length relationship with the Corporation, it might be time for a few years of bridge-building. "We need to build a better relationship with the Corporation," he said.
There was also praise for another education event backed by the Foundation, the annual awards for school magazine and newspapers (and websites and podcasts) organised by Shine. "A fabulous event," said the Master, who has spoken at both this year's and last year's Shine awards ceremonies. Schools from far-flung parts of the country get up as early as 4.30am to be able to attend the ceremony, held this year at the Royal Overseas League in Piccadilly.
Then it was time to say "farewell" to those leaving the Court, axed by the rule that the age of 75 is the witching hour for participants. Three past masters with a combined age of 47 years on the Court were retiring, a signal event.
Immediate Past Master Stephen Platten characterised his time with the Stationers as swinging between the Herald of Doom and a Pheonix heralding rebirth. A Stationers' School alumnus, he started high office in the Company as a Renter Warden and rose to the Mastership. With his record of being on overturned committees, Stephen Platten said he was happy to land on some future committee, in the hope that it would not be abolished.
Past Master Kevin Dewey addressed the Court in rhyme too complex to be reproduced accurately here. "The future is in good hands," he trilled.
Also retiring was Past Master Nigel Stapleton, who the Court had heard much from over recent years as the power behind Vision 350 and the rebuilding of the Hall. "I should now say practically nothing," he said, "except to hope that it has all been worthwhile." He looked at a Court which was - he said - the best that he could remember. But it definitely needed somebody grumpy, a role which (he implied) he had fulfilled.
There were also heartfelt tributes to the Clerk, Giles Fagan, taking over from the redoubtable William Alden, whose contribution during a difficult year for the Company "leaves us absolutely speechless," said the Master.
And with that the Court was swept up into the process of change: Common Hall reviewing the past year, then a new Master, Wardens, a new Company year.
And, as it happens, a new Livery Committee Representative on Court. In future, somebody else will be writing this stuff... with my very best wishes.