Margaret Coates – My Year as Master 2020-21

Margaret Coates – My Year as Master 2020-21

Legacy, Progression, Continuity and the Future
A Call to Arms and Alms

Speech at Robing Ceremony
21 July 2020


Wardens and Members of the Worshipful Company of Plaisterers.
Today, I should have been making my speech in our stunning Hall having consumed a sumptuous dinner and perhaps indulged in a glass or 2 of champagne. Instead I am now in the re-arranged Mott Room, in front of a video link screen, with only the Clerk for company. Meanwhile those who attended our Robing today are socially distanced from me and themselves, in our Hall watching me and you all on their video link, hopefully with a drink in hand.  For the sake of my sanity and to prove I am not speaking to myself, before I begin, just make sure you are muted and then give me a wave. Then I will start.

This has been a very special day for me and I will tell you why.

Our Robing Ceremony is the premier event in our Livery Calendar. It is about Legacy, Progression, Continuity and the Future. It is a closed ceremony in which we Plaisterers meet in fellowship, to witness the admission of officers to lead and guide us and to install new Liverymen, Freemen and Apprentices to energise and strengthen us. For the newly elected officers it reinforces responsibility of office; for new members it reinforces the ethos of the Company and for all members it cements the bonds that unite us. For all it is a proud and rewarding experience.

In this year of pandemic and lockdown, it has not been possible for us all to meet in our Hall for the Robing Ceremony. This is a sad disappointment to all those deprived of the full Robing experience.

It is a credit to our Clerk, the Clerk Emeritus and the Assistant Clerk that we were able to conduct a form of Robing Ceremony from our Hall, in the presence of a limited number of people, whilst members joined in on Zoom. In this contactless world, I want to thank our Chaplain, Charles Taylor for lifting our spirits, warming our hearts and nourishing our souls with his thoughts, words and prayers today. Today’s Robing will indeed be remembered for the fact that we made a Virtue out of the Virtual! For those new members not here in person today, there will be an occasion in the future when we will all meet in fellowship and our new Freemen will receive their Certificates and our new Liverymen will be Robed.

This is one of the proudest days in my life and I am pleased that I have experienced it in person today.  I am proud to be Master of this ancient Livery Company, with its long and distinguished history, a legacy which is currently in our safekeeping. I am proud of being its 3rd Lady Master in 8 years, following Past Master De Bradshaw in 2013 and Deputy Master Alison Gowman in 2019. I am proud that Graham Withers, who proposed me as a Liveryman in 2009, today celebrates 50 years as a Liveryman of this Company. I am the proud Master of Casey Foster who was admitted as a Freeman of the Company today having served as my apprentice for 5 years. I am proud of the quantity, quality and diversity of our new members today. I am proud that my first duties as the Master was to appoint and pay tribute to our new Clerk Emeritus and the new Deputy Master and to welcome our new Clerk.  I am delighted now to repeat the tributes to Nigel and Alison.

When, Alison was installed as our Master last year, it was not in her contemplation that her year would be shortened so cruelly by a pandemic.  She has valiantly kept her year and our spirits alive, by her Blogs, Twitter account, articles in our Newsletter, her What’s Happening in the City of London monthly briefings and of course throughout she continued to publicise and sell her book the City of London: WHO, WHAT, WHY for her charity, the Museum of London. She mobilised us all onto Zoom to participate in the excellent Gypsars and Daubers Seminars. But let us not forget, that up until lockdown Alison experienced a normal livery year and she performed her role as our Master consummately and with absolute dedication. She never lost an opportunity of marketing our Company in the best possible light and she has been steadfast in promoting the City of London Corporation and diversity within the Livery as a whole. She has left us with a fabulous photo trail of her year and a work ethic that will be impossible to emulate. Alison, on behalf of the entire Company, I thank you and it was an honour today to present you with your Past Masters Scroll and Badge. I am delighted you are now the Deputy Master.

One of my first duties today as Master, was to convey on the outgoing Clerk the title of Clerk Emeritus, in recognition of 10 years’ staunch and transforming service and to present him with his Badge and Scroll.  During his tenure as the Learned Clerk, he has played a crucial role in developing the affairs of this Company. He has steadfastly promoted and enhanced the standing of this Company amongst its peers, its affiliates and the City of London Corporation. He has served, 10 Masters, the Court, Wardens and the Committee Chairmen, all benefitting from his learned and attentive advice. And we have all savoured and enjoyed the magnificent Dinners and functions he has organised for us over those 10 years. He has left us with a legacy to be proud of.

The pandemic has deprived Nigel of his deserved farewell celebrations with all those he has worked with, including our military affiliates, our 2 Cathedrals and particularly their choirs; the Princes Foundation; our Trade and the City of London Corporation.  The pandemic has also deprived our Company of properly expressing our gratitude to Nigel, at a function in his honour. So today Nigel, our thanks appear to be less than fulsome, but that was never the intention and will be righted when circumstances allow. On behalf of all members of the Company I thank you for your service and wish you and Angela a long, happy and healthy retirement.

Today, we installed our new Clerk, Colonel Garth Manger. For a military man, his timing could have been better, but perhaps it was timely! Cometh the hour, cometh the man. To become Clerk in these uncertain times is a big commission. The role of Clerk, is an executive one and with it comes many responsibilities, including help setting the strategic direction of the Company. He is involved in all 3 entities of the Company, the Livery, The Charitable Trust and Plaisterers Hall Ltd. Like his predecessor, the Court will rely on his stewardship and wise Counsel. I am in no doubt he will lead us from the front and we will be in safe hands. I am looking forward to working with him during my year as Master.  On behalf of all our members Garth, I welcome you into the Company and wish you well. I extend a warm Plaisterers welcome to your wife Rachell who is with us today.

It has been perplexing, planning and re-planning my year as Master. I had not contemplated livery life as it currently is, with no clear pathway forward and certainly no clear pathway back to what it was and a diary full of cancelled events. Our own Livery calendar remains as it was, but expectations need to be managed because the large formal dinners we are used to may be some way off, but please be re-assured what becomes possible we will make happen. That may mean in the short term less formal and more socially distanced gatherings in our Hall, supplemented by outside visits of interest. But let us at least remain optimistic that we will be able to enjoy a traditional Christmas Supper and Carols in our Hall.  The October Dinner is too close to call at the moment.

Seminars on Zoom will re-zoom in September, but alternated with virtual gin and wine tastings. So please look out for information as these events get announced.

My year as Master out of necessity will focus on our Livery Company, its Legacy, the Future and Giving. The extent of our Legacy is the measure of our responsibility to safeguard and celebrate it. We all have ownership of the Future of our Company and Giving is an essential part of livery life. We are all in this together. So, my cry will be a Call to Arms and Alms. A Call to all our members to volunteer and donate.

Our Legacy
We have all listened to the presentations made at Common Hall today. We know that the pandemic has impacted adversely on all 3 entities of the Company – The Livery, Plaisterers’ Hall Limited and the Charitable Trust. Be in no doubt these are indeed difficult times, but our predecessors were astute and careful in how they arranged the affairs of the Livery, which means our future is secure, but we cannot afford to be complacent. The Court, the Clerk and the Directors of PHL together will make all necessary and prudent decisions to safeguard the assets of the Livery.

Our greatest Legacy and asset is our Hall and during my year as Master we do have the opportunity to celebrate a very important anniversary. The 27th May 2021 marks the 50th Anniversary of the Laying of the Foundation Stone of Plaisterers Hall. The ceremony that took place in 1971 was led by the then Lord Mayor of London. Next year our Banquet will be held on the 27th May, in celebration of that Anniversary. We hope the present Lord Mayor will be our principal guest and speaker. During the 1971 Ceremony, the Prayer of Dedication was offered by the then Chaplain, Past Master, the Reverend Cuthbert Spurling. Martin Spurling became a Freeman of the Company today. The Spurling family’s connection with our Company goes back over 200 years and has produced 9 Masters. The legacy of the Spurling family resumed again today.

In 2021, we will also celebrate another Hall of Fame, those Past Masters and Members, who are no longer with us, who had the vision and drive to build Plaisterers Hall and present-day members who were Liverymen in 1971. It is sad that Past Master Emeritus, Derek Robinson, an architect involved in the project only recently passed away. So please put that date in your diaries. Present-day members, who were Liverymen then will be our very special guests.

3 of those present-day members celebrate 50 years as Liverymen today. Past Master Emeritus Bryan Lincoln, Assistant Emeritus Graham Withers and Liveryman Dr Godfrey Nicholas. Our congratulations gentlemen and we all look forward to you being amongst our special guests next year.

Our Future – A Call to Arms and a Call to Alms
This period of pause in Livery life, is an ideal opportunity for us to plan for the Future. I want to share with you this evening, initiatives which I hope will capture your imaginations and your support. Initiatives which require volunteers and donations.

The Young Livery Group
Our Legacy and Traditions pass from generation to generation and it is the younger members who enrich the process, by their vibrancy, spirit and ambition. We need the freshness of youth to revitalise us and keep us relevant.

In April this year, with the blessing of the Membership Committee, I canvassed all members aged 45 years and younger, to determine if there was an appetite for a Young Livery Group. The purpose of a Young Livery Group is to give its members purpose, responsibility and a voice.  A seat at the table! I am pleased to say our younger members have grasped the metal and it will be full steam ahead with this initiative. To begin with, it will be attached to the Membership Committee, but in time will function as a ‘group’ in its own right, with the provision to have representatives on the committees of the Company. This will advance progression of younger members within the Company. So, I now make a further Appeal to Arms, I appeal to those younger members who have not come on board so far, to do so.

Our Apprentices will be encouraged to join this Group.  Since 2014 twelve young people, with a connection to our Company have ‘bound’ themselves to a Master at our Robing Ceremony, for a period of not less than 4 years.  At this year’s Robing Ceremony, 3 of those young people having successfully completed their apprenticeships were admitted as Freemen of the Company and at a later date in a ceremony at the Guildhall, will gain the Freedom of the City of London. A tremendous accolade and achievement for Apprentices Casey Foster, Thomas Saul and Sung Sung Morley and a matter of immense pride for their Masters. But we had no new apprentices at this year’s Robing. Why not? This is a tremendous opportunity for members to introduce their young relatives to the Livery. All the young people who have embarked on this pathway to the Freedoms have found it a very rewarding experience.

I am already in discussions with Liveryman, Squadron Leader Chris Booty concerning the younger cadets at 282 Squadron. Apprenticeships will be an excellent pathway to the Freedoms for exceptional cadets.

The Young Livery Group, when functioning will be organising its own events and helping to invigorate functions for all members. This pause in livery life, provides us with an opportunity to prepare for the possibility of a long walk back to the formal livery dinners we are used to. We need to plan for less formal events, in and away from our Hall. This is a Call to Arms to all Members who do not necessarily serve on our committees, are not Stewards or Court members but want to contribute. If you have an aptitude for planning and organising events and activities, or just want to get involved then please volunteer to be an Eventer, to serve on a sub-committee attached to the Master and Wardens Committee. If you are in the travel industry then you must get in touch. Just email the Assistant Clerk, with the heading Eventer Volunteer and she will add your name to a list and you will be contacted.

We need to invigorate our Giving. This is a Call to Alms to ideas people; members who have experience in charitable institutions or just want to help organise or take part in fund-raising events. We need a dedicated team of Charity Ambassadors and I need Charity Ambassadors to help me with my Masters Charity for the year. In the current climate it is going to be a massive challenge raising funds, but the cause should speak for itself and deserve our financial support. So, just email the Assistant Clerk, with the heading Charity Ambassador Volunteer and wait for your Call to Alms.

The Children’s Society
Over the next few weeks, I will be publicising my Master’s Charity, The Children’s Society and a very special and challenging project, which has been in the making for over 12 months now.  The Children’s Society is well known for its works in combatting child poverty. However, a major part of the Charity’s work concerns ‘Disrupting’ the exploitation of children and young people trafficked for the purpose of criminal exploitation and groomed for gang related crime and violence.  County Lines criminality affects vulnerable children from all walks of life and does not have boundaries.

Our giving will help support the work of a Disruption Exploitation Worker on the front line, in the London Borough of Newham. A borough this Company already has strong links with. Some of our younger members have already agreed to help me raise funds for this Charity, including 3 of our new Freemen today, members on our Membership Committee and members from 282 Air Cadets.

A Call to Alms was made by me to the Plaisterers Lodge, who have responded magnificently. The Lodge has donated £1000 to this project and have agreed to pay a similar amount each year for the next 3 years in support of the then Master’s Charities. These sums will be in addition to the individual donations made by its members to the Charities.

I hope you agree, the cause does speak for itself and you will respond generously to my Call to Alms for the Children’s Society.

It is now time to Call Time on my speech and on this remarkable day in our Livery Calendar. I thank all our Clerks for all their work and determination to get this event up and running and LIVE. I thank our members for their Good Wishes for today and the future.  It will of course be remembered as the lockdown Robing, but also, I hope for the fact that we were able to make a Virtue out of the Virtual. Today we did experience Legacy, Progression, Continuity and the Future, all things that unite and strengthen us.  Sunshine penetrated our Hall today. A ray of hope for livery life as we remember it.

We will meet again in Fellowship and Brotherly Love.

Root and branch let us flourish forever