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(Delivered at the AGM of the BCS on 10/04/2018)
To this end, we have recently been engaged in a series of strategy meetings to try and redefine the society’s role and purpose, and indeed, its very reason for being. We’ve made some very good progress and I would say that there has been a renewal of enthusiasm to address all these issues and we plan to continue this exercise over the course of the year.
Many people scratch their heads and wonder what keeps us so busy, when on the face of it, all we seem to do is put on three or four events per year. It’s the INvisible that clocks up the hours though, and for that we rely largely on volunteers. For instance, the Welfare of people in our community is one of our priorities and this is necessarily a confidential process; so you will obviously not hear much on that front. Volunteers and the office spend a huge amount of time managing these properties, for the benefit of the whole community. But no one really wants to hear about blocked drains or leaking roofs, security issues or space issues, so we don’t tend to report much on that front either. Every event we put on requires several weeks of planning and physical effort by anything from three to thirty people, including the office staff of course. And underlying all these aspects is the work of the Treasurer and the Investment committee, without whom none of it would be possible. A recent estimate, which will be explained in the Financial Report, has put the monetary value of volunteer hours at the BCS at a whopping R$356 thousand per year. If you spread that among the half-dozen or so people who are constantly volunteering their time, you can see that it’s not insignificant.
Noreen Smith has been in overall charge of the Welfare committee again for the past year, and I am deeply grateful to her for her dedication to this role, which she has held for a very long time. In spite of geographical and physical constraints Noreen continues to bring a wealth of experience and expertise to the table and we all owe her our sincere thanks.
Until the end of last year, Welfare spending was fairly steady at around R$70 thousand for the year, but just recently three or four new cases have come to our notice and we have either already taken steps to help or are making preparations to do so. In the second part of 2017, we took on a new case, which was eventually charged to the NRH Fund and has now been taken on by the Royal British Legion; however it is members of the BCS council that do the legwork to identify and examine these cases and decide on how best to help.
We note that more than 25% of our membership – around 80 members – are 80 years old or more. This is something to consider in terms of possible future Welfare needs, and we continue to think that there is likely to be an increase in cases over the coming years. For this reason we are very careful about what we spend. Every single case is different and requires a balance between human kindness and meticulous, hard-nosed investigation into someone’s personal life and finances and there is a general feeling that some cases may be beyond our lay capabilities and would benefit from more professional management. Either way, we are looking into ways to integrate the management of welfare cases between the BCS, Christ Church and the RBL.
We have very few people helping with Welfare and we would welcome input from members of the community who may have one or two mornings or afternoons per month to spare for making phone calls or visits, particularly to elderly members who don’t get about much.
Our number of memberships in 2017 remained largely unchanged, at around 310. As I have already mentioned, our statistics show that our membership is aging and becoming less active, so in 2018 you will see a concerted effort to reach out to a younger and more diverse crowd, and also to include events that appeal to Commonwealth citizens, while still maintaining the traditional favourites.
On the Social side, our two main events of the year were the Queen’s Birthday Party, and the Christmas Lunch, both of which were attended by 120 or more people and seem to have been much enjoyed. We also repeated the Beatles Night, which draws a somewhat different, more eclectic crowd and is always a success, and the Shakespeare evening, kindly presented by one of our members. At all these events the ticket price was kept as low as possible in order to facilitate our members’ participation and overall, the events broke even. Proceeds from raffle sales and the Community Bazaars at these events – a new experiment, which was very popular – totalled nearly R$14 thousand and were donated to local NGOs that work with young people.
None of these events would have been possible without the efforts of Anna Whyte and she deserves all our praise and thanks for the fantastic job she does in organizing them all. We also thank all the volunteers who gave up their time or expertise to assist (including most of Anna’s family).
Last year we took the decision to terminate publication of The Umbrella. Like it or not, we live in an age of electronic communication and publishing The Umbrella was costing the Society nearly R$40,000 per year (almost double the membership income figure), so there was difficulty in justifying this for the very small number of people who really rely on the printed version. Aside from which it also depended almost entirely on volunteers to do the work each month and as we know, these are few and far between these days. The BCS owes a huge debt of thanks to Michael Royster who was editor-in-chief for the last few years, and to Adam Reid and Liz Wynn-Jones who were his silent, mainly anonymous assistants.
In June, we launched the new, much more user-friendly BCS website and a new look for the E-News, which goes out on a regular basis to the membership and an extended list of interested parties. We also increased our Facebook presence and that page is now updated regularly. We continue to publish articles on the website, in addition to regular news of events and other items of interest.
These days, good electronic communication is a vital tool but also a somewhat specialised one, which cannot always be left to our office to manage. Last year we enlisted an intern for a time, to help out with communications, and we may do so again.
Our other main area is Assets, which includes responsibility for the Properties and for Investments. It is the income from the latter that provides the means to pay for many of our activities.
As planned, over the last few years the entire balance of the Property Development Fund, which had been built up in previous years, has been spent on maintenance and upkeep. In 2017, the Property Fund spent a total of R$52 thousand on Site Maintenance. A further R$60 thousand was spent on replacement of the Jubilee Hall floor and other complementary improvements, paid for out of a special levy on all members of the condominium of users. This, plus a little restraint on spending has helped the Property Fund recover to a net balance of R$73 thousand as at 31 December 2017. Although encouraging, the balance is insignificant in comparison with the list of pending projects and we envisage that the cost of any new projects will have to be borne by the users, as was the case with the refurbishment of the Jubilee Hall.
The Property Advisory Committee defines the priority of work to be carried out, and includes representatives of Christ Church and the British School, besides the BCS. We still have much to do to get the Properties to the level of quality required by our status as a listed property and there are constant projects in the pipeline. Once again, David Richardson has led this area of the BCS’s responsibility and I congratulate and thank him for all the work and time that he has put in on behalf of us all.
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 his Investment committee, aided by our advisors at BNY Mellon, our funds have been kept intact over the last 12 months. My sincere thanks go to Bill Ballantyne for his untiring efforts as Treasurer; and to Robert Barclay and the Investment Committee for looking after our funds so well.
Last year, after a disappointingly short time in the post, our new office manager resigned to continue her studies abroad. We were extremely fortunate to recruit Janice Kemp Costa in her place. Janice is Anglo-Brazilian, from Niteroi, where her family were heavily involved in the sailing and cricket clubs and she brings to her duties here not only an innate understanding of our community and all its foibles, but also a calm head and a kind heart. Janice is already turning into an important asset for the BCS and we hope to enjoy her services for a long time. She is assisted by Mônica Mendes, who has been invaluable in smoothing the transition between 3 general managers over the last year or so. I sincerely thank both these ladies for their patience and their hard work.
We have three institutional ex-officio members on the Council, representing The British School, Christ Church and the British Consulate. The church and the school are our partners on this site and we all have to work closely and amiably together in order for everything to function smoothly. This can be challenging for all concerned and I would like to thank the ex-officio members and representatives for their willingness to work with us towards solutions that are palatable to all.
I also want to thank the Council Members who have served with me over the last year. I am so grateful to each and every one of you for your help, guidance and support, and particularly to my officers, Bill Ballantyne, David Richardson and Anna Whyte who carry most of the responsibility.
Before closing, I would also 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. Ken’s office has recently helped the BCS over a demand from the Prefeitura, which Bill Ballantyne will enlarge upon in the financial report.
Looking ahead, I am confident that the coming year will be one in which some overdue processes of change are begun. Our community is a very different one from even 15 years ago, let alone 70-odd years ago when the BCS started – and in evaluating the society’s role in our community, we have taken the first steps towards defining what the BCS should really be doing going forwards, and how this can be achieved, in order to ensure its future. I hope we can count on your continued support.
Thank you all very much.
Jennifer J M Byers
10th April 2018