I render my Annual Report for the Royal Navy Club of 1765 and 1785, my first as Chairman.
It has been a mixed year. On the one hand, since early March the Coronavirus has disrupted the Club’s normal ways of working and its primary purpose as a dining club. On the other, we were able to enjoy an excellent Founder’s Day in February; membership numbers are stable; and attendance at dinners has held up very well.
FY 19/20 accounts passed audit without qualification; the General Fund was healthy; and though the Surplus Fund’s Investments suffered from the general market falls in March the Fund remains fit for purpose. There is an excellent dinner programme planned for 2021 too.
Video conferencing has enabled committee and trustee business to continue unabated; it has facilitated high attendance and the opportunity to ensure that the Club manages the significant changes in investment markets, the ongoing needs of beneficiaries and a programme of events for members. There is more below on each of these aspects.
Membership and Dinners
Through individual committee members, appointers and the Secretary, the Club has well established ways of approaching and attracting new members, and these need continual effort to bear any fruit. But individual members have a role to play here too, to add encouragement and help to those considering joining. I would ask all to be ready to do so.
The committee has considered the balance of the dinner programme and venues against the geographic disposition of members. It has concluded that a programme of three dinners a year continues to meet our aims well: Founders’ Day in London, followed by June (with spouses/partners) in the regions and Trafalgar Night in the south or south west, preferably onboard HMS VICTORY at least every other year. Whist national pandemic restrictions have prevented both June and October dinners this year, there is a suitably ambitious Dinner Card in 2021, including two dinners a floating: Founders’ Day dinner onboard HQS WELLINGTON with its increased seating capacity; a June dinner onboard RY BRITANNIA; and Trafalgar Night in the Wardroom HMS NELSON. I am delighted that Sir Michael Palin has accepted our invitation to be our guest speaker in BRITANNIA, celebrating the Royal Navy’s role in the exploration of the North West Passage and the contribution made by HMS EREBUS. If you haven’t read his book on the subject I wholeheartedly recommend it to you.
Alongside its charitable aims, dining and socialising are the raison d’etre of the club, so I would ask that members try and support at least one dinner a year if at all possible. Other than Founders’ Day (where to ensure Chatham House rules for our speakers, the only guests are the Admiralty Board) we warmly welcome guests to our dinners. There is normally capacity for more, so I encourage you to sign up early and bring a guest.
Without detriment to our focus as a dining club, the committee has considered the relative benefits of smaller, regional events to enable those who have difficulty travelling to dinner venues to maintain contact with their fellow officers. The cancellation of dinners this year has also acted as a stimulus to this initiative. The Vice Chairman and Secretary are currently organising the first of these events, probably in October in the West Country. More details will follow and the Secretary would welcome your views on this concept.
The Club’s charitable status, broadened in 2006 to be gender neutral, is predicated upon “the relief of distressed widows and widowers, orphan children, siblings and dependants of those who have been Members of the Club but who have ceased to be so by death or resignation”. It is the continued firm and declared intent of both the Trustees and the Committee that the definition of dependants will be applied as broadly and positively as possible. The Club will seek only to examine genuine connection and need, established via an independent assessment by other service charitable agents. This means that unmarried partners may, at the discretion of the Trustees, be considered for financial help, always based upon genuine need.
Support for 5 Memorialists, all widows of former Club members, has been maintained through financial support. The Trustees have scope to provide support to more, even given the reduction in the values of Surplus Fund investments (see below). I earnestly encourage you to advise the Secretary of anyone who is in need of support and eligible to be a Memorialist.
That said, the Committee and Trustees have given early, contingent consideration to
circumstances in which Memorialist numbers reduce and how best to ensure a justifiable
benefit/overhead ratio. This might be through an arrangement with another Naval charity. This is an important, though not urgent, issue. The Secretary has been tasked with further work on this and it will be the subject of discussion at future meetings.
Surplus and General Funds
The General and Surplus funds continue to be healthy and received a clean verdict when audited in April. Each remain in surplus after all bills are paid and charitable aims met. The General Fund transferred £500 to the Surplus Fund at the end of the financial year, continuing the tradition well established by our Founders and thereby helping to meet our Club’s charitable remit. We intend to transfer the same next year. The Surplus fund continues to be managed by Quilter Cheviot on behalf of the Trustees. The investment portfolio ended the last FY having suffered losses during the Coronavirus market downturn, which continued for a while before a partial recovery, but funds remained well within those required to support normal expenditure. Markets remain very uncertain and the Trustees are closely monitoring returns through the Secretary. The approved and signed Independent Examiner’s report on both accounts can be accessed through the Club’s web site.
With the cancellation of the Trafalgar Night dinner planned for 29 October the 2020 AGM cannot proceed in its usual format. I intend to hold the meeting over VTC, to enable me to present this report, to take questions on it and provide an opportunity for wider scrutiny of the Club’s management by Members. The Secretary is examining VTC options and is keen to get an idea of numbers of those who wish to participate in this way. Please see elsewhere in the Annual mailshot for details.
Amendments to Club rules in recent years means that there is a welcome increase in the number of members at Lt Cdr rank. It is proposed to add a member of that rank to the Committee. This item is now on the AGM 2020 Agenda, and I hope that you can support it.
Club Prize. The Club’s annual prize to the best performing student at the Command Qualification 2 Board was in 2019 awarded to Lt Cdr Mark White RN. He was presented with his superb, highly polished brass sextant by the First Sea Lord at the Founders’ Day dinner on 6 February 2020 at the Naval and Military Club.
And finally …..
I am very grateful to my predecessor, Admiral Sir Mark Stanhope, for all he did to ensure the success of the Club during his tenure; and roundly thank all the Committee members and Trustees who give valuable time and expertise to the governance of this unique Club.
Vice Admiral Sir Charles Montgomery KBE