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As you will all know, this has been a difficult year for Brazil in general, but I am pleased to report that your Society has managed to record a relatively successful year, in spite of the many challenges. We suffered a serious blow early in the year with the illness and subsequent passing of our long-serving and efficient Office Manager, Gaynor Smith. This caused a major disruption to our daily routine, and we were fortunate to be able to count on the considerable knowledge and able assistance and dedication provided by our Honorary Secretary, Jenny Byers, to see us through this difficult period. I would also like to acknowledge and thank our Office Assistant, Mônica Mendes, for all the additional work she undertook during this time. We also regret the passing of our Council member, and former Chair, Jack Woodall, who passed away in England following a courageous battle with a serious illness. Jack was a multi-talented person who provided many important services to the BCS over the years. His last major contribution was to warn the British community in Rio – some 12 months ago – of the risk of an outbreak of yellow fever in Brazil.
Earlier this year, we were able to recruit a new Office Manager, Barbara Valverde, whom many of you will have already met. Obviously, Barbara is still settling into her new environment, but with her youth and educational background, we are confident that she will become an important asset for the BCS, and enjoy a long and fruitful association with our organization.
In Welfare we have had a fairly uneventful year. Although we continue to support some needy members of the community, there have been no new major cases worthy of mention. As an example of the diversity of situations in which Welfare is involved I would mention the limited financial aid that we were recently able to provide to a Pakistani family who arrived in Brazil as refugees fleeing religious persecution in Pakistan. Our total expenditure from the BCS Welfare Fund in 2016 was around R$17.000,00.
I would like to thank Noreen Smith and her Welfare committee for all the good work performed throughout the year.
Moving on to Membership, we are able to report that our membership remains largely unchanged, at 305 members. We note that more than 20% of our Membership – almost 70 members – are over 80 years old and realise that this is something to consider in terms of possible future Welfare needs.
We promoted a number of successful events throughout the year such as the Quiz and Curry Night, which was a joint effort with the Carioca Cricket Club, and the Beatles Night, which was a huge success, as always. Our fundraiser for the Rio International Cello Encounter, which is headed by BCS member David Chew O.B.E., was kindly hosted by HMCG Jonathan Dunn and his wife Karen at their beautiful home in Parque Guinle and we were able to raise over R$11000 in support of the 22nd Rio International Cello Festival, in 2016. Our two main events of the year, the Queen’s Birthday Party, and the Christmas Lunch provided some wonderful entertainment, as well as delicious meals and were both well attended by our members and their guests. At both these events the ticket price was kept as low as possible in order to facilitate our Member’s participation.
I would like to say a special “thank you” to Anna Whyte for the fantastic job she does in organizing all our events, and also to Vicky and Ric Staniforth for helping to organize the entertainment.
As far as Communications is concerned, we continue to subsidize the publication of the “The Umbrella”, which reaches out from the Society to the wider English-speaking community in Rio de Janeiro.
I would like to express our gratitude to the volunteer editors, Michael Royster and Adam Reid. During the year we have made efforts to improve both the content and appearance of our E-News which goes out on a regular basis and we will shortly be improving the BCS website and our Facebook page.
Turning now to Assets, which includes responsibility for Properties and Investments. It is the income from these that provide the means to pay for our other activities, especially Welfare, and carry out required maintenance of the Real Grandeza 99 site. Income from properties is mainly in the form of the rent we receive from the British School for their use of the site. Over the last year, we spent a total of R$309.000,00 on Site Maintenance. The definition as to the priorities of work to be carried out is discussed at the PAC meeting, with representatives of Christ Church and the British School, besides the BCS. As planned, the Property spending over the last four years has used up the entire balance of the Property Development Fund, which had been built up in previous years. In 2017 and in future years, it is only fair and just that the money to keep up this work must be borne by the users. We still have much to do to get the Properties to the level of quality to which they were built, and that Municipal regulations require. Obviously, we cannot allow the premises to become run down once again.
As far as our Investments are concerned, our Honorary Treasurer, Bill Ballantyne will be making a full presentation, but I am pleased to report that thanks to the good work of Robert Barclay and the Investment committee, and aided by our advisors from Mellon Bank, our funds have been kept intact over the last 12 months.
It is important to remember that almost 90% of the funds held by BCS belong to the NRH Fund, which was set up some years ago with the proceeds of the sale of the Niteroi Rest Home. It is the Board of Trustees of the NRH Fund who authorise all expenditure from this fund, which can only be used for welfare cases. The First Trustee, Mary Crawshaw, will shortly be making a presentation on behalf of the trustees of the NRH Fund.
Before closing, I would like to convey our deep gratitude to our Honorary Lawyer, Kenneth Cattley, who continues to provide invaluable assistance to the BCS with his expert advice and guidance on a number of issues, whenever required.
Finally after serving for three years as Chair of the BCS, I will be standing down following this AGM. It has been an honour to serve as Chair, and I am most grateful for the unfailing support I have received from all the Council members during this time. We live in an ever changing world and just as the British community in Rio has changed almost beyond recognition to what it was just a few years ago, so too have the needs and expectations of the younger generation of new arrivals to Brazil. If the BCS is to prosper, we must find means of engaging with this younger generation and provide the kind of services that they value.
It is encouraging to see several new names on the voting slips for today’s election to the Council, and I am confident that the BCS will rise to the challenge, and continue to fulfil its mission of bringing together and supporting all members and institutions of the British and Commonwealth community in Rio de Janeiro.