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(Delivered at the AGM of the BCS on 07/05/2019)
Last year I began this report with an explanation of how the BCS intended to put greater effort into attracting younger members. At the time, we did not have enough candidates to fill all the vacant positions on the Council and some of us were concerned for the society’s future.
I am happy to say that the picture is slowly beginning to change and we do have enough candidates this year, including plenty of new, younger faces. I welcome them on board and hope they will bring with them a renewal of ideas and enthusiasm.
Last year we began using the services of a qualified nurse to help with our assessments of new cases and this has been useful in terms of arriving at an independent decision about cases.
People often ask, “How many cases do you have?” Well it varies constantly. We have two or three quite long-term ones, people whom we’ve been assisting for years; others need temporary help to get through a situation; still others need a loan, to relieve a particular condition and they pay us back. In 2018 we had a bit of all-of-the-above and we dealt with 9 different cases – either ongoing or short-term. We also contributed around R$4000 for the refurbishment and upkeep of three graves in the Gamboa cemetery that are used for community members whose family are unable to purchase a grave. We consider this an extension of our Welfare work.
A year ago we were looking into ways to integrate the management of welfare cases between the BCS, Christ Church and the RBL and this has resulted in the Community Welfare Group (CWG), formed and led by Steve Rimmer and including reps from all three groups. The idea is to ensure identification and follow-up of welfare cases that overlap between the groups (e.g. a former serviceman who is also a member of the Church) and to ensure there is a network looking out for people and helping to avoid cases falling through the net. I would like to thank Steve Rimmer and the CWG for their work with this very positive initiative. Noreen Smith represents the BCS/NRH on this committee and I’m grateful to her for continuing to help us with welfare and for lending her many, many years of experience to our cases.
As a result of the concerns highlighted last year, the past 12 months have seen the BCS focusing on ways to get new members to join our society.
We have reached out to a wider group of people and changed the format of some of our events to attract a larger crowd. We have also introduced incentives for single members and younger people to join. This brought our total number of adult members to around 398 last year. Although a large proportion of our members are over the age of 60, we are beginning to grow at the younger end of the spectrum, so in the year ahead we hope to build on this.
Many non-members come to our events, receive our newsletters and use the Botafogo site. When we consider all the supporters, fans or users, we realise that our reach, and thus impact, is far greater than simply our membership.
Our two major traditional events held every June and December, were a great success with record numbers of attendees, large amounts of money raised for good causes, and very positive feedback from our community.
In June, the British Summer Garden Party, which celebrated the Queen’s Birthday and the Royal Wedding brought together 250 people, including 75 volunteers, and many young families who were new to the BCS. R$9015 was raised for NGO Luta Pela Paz.
In December around 300 people came to our Christmas Festival in the Jubilee Hall, featuring a Christmas market with around 20 stalls selling food, drink and gifts. We also had the Brazilian Pipers and Father Christmas. R$12,660 was raised for Street Child United Brazil.
On the cultural side:
· In June the Fourth BCS Choir Festival, with 5 choirs, packed the hall with 180 people.
· In July, a Candlelight Evening with Shakespeare readings, cello music and tango dancing, raised R$7012 for RICE, the Rio International Cello Encounter.
· In September, Beatles Night attracted some 200 people with a choir and two bands, resulting in R$2000 for the NGO Arts and Social Transformation.
· In October the Jubilee Hall hosted the St. Andrew Society’s traditional Caledonian Ceilidh.
· At the monthly Junta Local fair the BCS now has its own stand that not only supports artisans in our community, but also promotes the food and culture of Britain and the Commonwealth.
It’s important to remember that everything we do relies on volunteers in our community. We hope to see much more happening in the year ahead, and both our new Council and community volunteers will be a part of this.
Our statutes say that we should be promoting Britain and the Commonwealth, so we’ve been doing that too. Using our weekly newsletter, social media and website, we have sought to not only inform our members and supporters, but also to educate and entertain them.
Readership of our weekly newsletter grew by 40% in 2018, with a lively variety of content and news of events happening that had a British and Commonwealth link, both here and abroad. Major themes in 2018 included the 100-year commemoration of The Armistice and we talked about many other things too, from patron saints to rugby tournaments, Indian spices and all those things that are dear to us as Commonwealth supporters living in Brazil.
Although still small by most standards, our Facebook page also grew in 2018 and it now reaches over 450 people in our community with posts on an almost-daily basis. A benefit of social media is that it has allowed us to promote Britain and the Commonwealth to a sizable audience in both Brazil and abroad. For example, our most viewed video last year, filmed at the Caledonian Ceilidh, was viewed 8800 times around the world and in this way we have helped promote Scottish culture and let people know about us.
The Social aspect of our activities – Membership, Events and Communications – has been almost entirely run by Alexander Corrie. Many people helped with the events but Alex has been tireless in promoting the BCS and all it stands for and I thank him most sincerely. He’s done an excellent job and we think we now have a good set-up to continue on a healthy communications trend in 2019 and beyond.
Our other main area is Assets, which includes responsibility for the Properties and for Investments.
The main projects at the Properties during 2018 were the new Hall Lighting and new stage stairs, which look better and are a lot safer. A lot of other work has been done on regular ongoing maintenance and repairs around the site. Inevitably, for a listed building of this age, there is always something to attend to. We were lucky to be able to count on Margo Black’s expertise for a major review of our insurances this year and we feel that our cover is now in line with requirements. Our retiring council member Susan Malpas has put a lot of effort into updating the Property Agreement, a sort of Rule Book for the operation of our condominium-type organisation that was written in 2005 – so it is a major job.
Over the course of the year the Council has looked into possible alternatives to the BCS continuing to run the Properties. As with most things around here, it relies on a lot of volunteer effort and we thought that there might be other solutions. So far nothing has changed though and the other main users – the School and the Church – have professed to like having the BCS to play what they call “honest broker” in all negotiations and issues.
Perhaps the most time-consuming issue has been the negotiations over the change of use of the Vicarage and the Cloister offices. To keep it simple: Christ Church is moving back into the Cloister offices and The British School is moving into the Vicarage. It definitely was not that simple to reach agreement, as a very large number of people are involved or affected and every possible scenario and detail had to be considered. I’m very happy to say that we got there in the end and from the BCS’s side – and personally – I want to thank David Richardson for all the time that he has put into this issue and to the Properties in general, for the fifth year in a row.
As far as our Investments are concerned, I am pleased to report that once again, under the excellent guardianship of Robert Barclay and his Investment Committee, aided by our advisors at BNY Mellon, our funds have not only kept up with inflation but have risen by an additional 2.4%, which is just ahead of our target of “inflation+2% per annum”.
Our Honorary Treasurer, Bill Ballantyne will be making a full presentation on these figures shortly, but I would like to take this opportunity to express my thanks to him for all his help and support over the last year, not only as Treasurer but also in most other aspects of running the society. I have been extremely lucky with my Council and in addition to Bill the other officers Margo Black, David Merrylees and Alexander Corrie have made for a great team.
In 2018 we decided to restructure the BCS office and the roles of our employees. To this end we hired Luiz Ribeiro to be in charge of everything that involves the Properties on a day-to-day basis. Luiz has been an excellent addition to our team and is growing in confidence and expertise, not to mention popularity, all the time.
Meanwhile our General Manager Janice Costa settled well into her role and is now focussing much more on the community aspect of the society – including welfare and membership issues. The office staff need to work closely with key council members and occasionally suffer from “too many chiefs, not enough Indians” syndrome, but they bear it with good grace and I would like to thank them both for their efforts and their loyalty to the society.
Aside from the 11 elected Council members we have three ex-officio members representing The British Consulate, Christ Church and The British School. In spite of their own busy lives and jobs, Catherine Cleeve, Rev. Mark Simpson and John Nixon respectively, bring their experience and expertise to our meeting table and we are grateful for their input. I add my thanks to the Rev. Alex Cacouris for his work on the Vicarage swap issue, and to Ann Frew, Head of the British School’s Botafogo site.
Every year 5 council members retire after a 2-year mandate and I would like to thank Margo Black, Richard Laver, Susan Malpas, Anna Whyte and Kathryn Wilson for all their help and support while I have been Chair. I’m happy to say that Margo and Richard have agreed to stand again, but we say a wistful goodbye and thank you to Susan, who has been such a help in Properties, and to Kathryn and Anna, who along with Richard, have been essential to the success of our social events. During her 5 or so years on the BCS Council Anna has taken our events up to another level and I’m sure her legacy will last for a good while yet.
Before closing, I would also like to convey our heartfelt thanks to our Honorary Lawyer, Kenneth Cattley, who is always available to provide advice and guidance to the BCS and whose office staff are endlessly helpful in a variety of ways.
Lastly, although I am only half way through my mandate I am resigning as Chair since I now live abroad. I have always considered it an honour to be Chair of the BCS and after a total of 4 years in the role since 2006, I have gained a very detailed perspective on our community and how our society is such a key part of it. The BCS will always have an important role to play in our community because of Welfare; and as long as it continues to be the owner of these Properties it also fulfils a crucial role as the overseer of our common spaces and liaison between the various stakeholders.
On behalf of the society I thank you for your presence tonight and for your continued support of the society’s aims,
Jennifer J M Byers
7th May 2019