Did the #RoyalInstitution SGM #SavetheRi?

When we started this campaign we had two key aims:  in the short-term, stop the Trustees of the Royal Institution from selling 21 Albemarle Street; and then, having done so, get a clearer idea of the financial situation so that we might help the Ri to secure its long-term future, in its current building.

A Special General Meeting was held at the Ri recently.  I summarise below what I learned:

Firstly, I am pleased to tell you that at the SGM Prof. Lord Robert Winston reassured members that “we are NOT looking to sell the building” – and this clear message was re-iterated by all who spoke – the sale of 21 Albemarle Street is now firmly off the agenda.

And there was some good financial news too: Sir Richard Sykes, Chairman of the Ri, said that the Ri had recently received a £4.4 million donation: “This donation is very timely and will clear the Ri’s bank debt, as well as giving us the breathing room to explore other options more fully.”

The bad news came from Martin Knight, chair of the Ri’s finance committee: “Some people might say we’ve been saved. We’ve not been saved, we’ve merely staved off the evil day… We have an operational deficit of 1.5 million a year.”

Sykes explained: “Our financial issues are far from being resolved… We need to raise a fund of £40 million, to provide ongoing income for the Ri…. So we need a vision, and then we need a skilled fundraising team to raise money to deliver that vision.” – Sykes was insistent that the Ri needed to decide on a clear vision for its future before it could go out looking for backers; even suggesting that a membership drive should wait until the Ri had more to offer.

To that end, Lord Winston had been appointed Chair of a newly formed “Future Direction Committee”, tasked with developing a compelling new vision for the Ri based at its Albemarle Street home.  Lord Winston said: “We now have a collective responsibility for the future of the Royal Institution and an obligation to produce a very real business plan.”

The members of this new committee are: Prof Lord Robert Winston (Ri Trustee – Chair), Prof Jim Al Khalili, Prof Chris Bishop (Ri Trustee), Prof Colin Blakemore, Prof Julia Buckingham (Ri Trustee), Dr Gail Cardew (Ri Director of Science & Education), Prof Richard Catlow, Prof Brian Cox, Theresa Drowley, Prof Mark Miodownik, Prof Hugh Montgomery, Sir Paul Nurse (President of the Royal Society), Prof David Phillips, Prof Michael Reiss, Prof Andrea Sella, Kim Shillinglaw.

At the meeting, members were given the opportunity to contribute their views about the future direction of the Royal Institution and discuss the Ri’s financial situation.

Several excellent suggestions were made by members, though some members commented afterwards that Richard Sykes seemed a little dismissive of members’ views – he would perhaps do well to remind himself of the comments he made when he first took on the post of Chair in September 2010: “I am delighted to accept the role of Chairman and to work with the Council to represent the interests of our members…” – I believe that the Ri’s members are a rich resource that still remains largely untapped: there is much that the members can give to the Ri, and much that the Ri can give to them.

In conclusion, I agree with what Sykes said in summarising the meeting: “It sounds like the membership is supportive of the steps we have taken so far.  We now need to unite behind a common vision that will garner the financial support necessary to secure our long-term future on Albemarle Street.

Yes, I support the decision not to sell the building (obviously) and I support the decision to set-up a Future Vision committee.  We all need to work together now, to ensure that the vision that’s created is a compelling one.  One that will attract donations of all sizes, and bring in new members.   I think a Fundraising Committee should be established now too – to advise the Future Vision Committee as they develop the vision – the two go very much hand-in-hand.

As I have mentioned before, I am standing for election as a Royal Institution Trustee – the AGM will be held at the end of May. If I am elected I promise that I will continue to do all that I can to secure the Ri’s future, in Albemarle Street; and to encourage more engagement with its members.

The Ri is its members. The members are the Ri.  And together I believe we can and will secure the long-term future of what is arguably one of the greatest scientific establishments in the world.

If you are not a member yet, then do please join the Ri and help contribute to it’s future (both financially and with your ideas).

If you are  a member, then please encourage your friends to join – if we could get 15,000 new members then that could pretty much remove the operational deficit, and potentially inject a wealth of new ideas too! – How many people can you persuade to join?

Please Join the Ri Here:  http://www.rigb.org/contentControl?action=section&id=8962

If you are feeling generous, join as a fellow, or a corporate member!  Remember, you don’t need any letters after your name to join – the Ri is an organisation open to anyone who loves science – that’s one of the many great things about it :-)

Mary R. Crumpton (née Perkins)
Founder, Save 21 Albemarle Street Campaign

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#SavetheRi Progress Report:

Spurred on by our campaign, lots of members of the Ri wrote in to demand a Special General Meeting. That meeting is being held tonight, at 6.30pm, and I shall be attending – I will report back.

And thanks to your support, and the significant public outcry, we anticipate that at the meeting tonight we will hear that that the sale of no.21 is now firmly off the agenda.

I will tweet from the event, and I encourage other Ri members present to do the same, using the hashtags: #RiSGM and #SaveTheRi

Financial Situation:

It would seem that the immediate crisis has lessened.  However, much needs to be done to develop a 21st Century vision for the Ri which will attract funding and secure its long-term future in its current building.

The day after I met with the CEO, Chris Rofe, and urged more transparency about the Ri’s finances, the Chair ‘went public’ with a piece in the Guardian. This details how the finances are at present, and you can read it here:
http://www.guardian.co.uk/science/blog/2013/feb/08/building-sustainable-future-royal-institution

The key line: “Today, our financial situation is this: we are £5m in debt, we have an overdraft facility of £2m, we are operating with an annual deficit of circa £600,000 and we need to replenish the original endowment by about £7.5m.”

So, this means we need to raise, I think, £15 million to clear the debts. But we also need to look at reducing the annual deficit by developing a vision that will attract members, sponsorship, and other funds. Long term I think that the Ri needs to build up an endowment that can provide an ongoing income.

So, that is where we are up to.

A final comment: There will be another meeting, an AGM, at the end of May.  At this time 3 of the current trustees will step down and 3 new ones will replace them. I have put myself forward to stand for election as a trustee.  I believe that will give me the chance to put forward the views and ideas of this grass-roots campaign, and inject some fresh ideas and energy into the Ri, to complement those of the existing governance team.

Onwards and upwards! :-)

And don’t forget to join the online supporters group here:

https://www.facebook.com/groups/Save21AlbemarleStreet

Mary R. Crumpton (née Perkins),

Founder, Save21AlbemarleStreet Campaign

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Calling all Members of the Royal Institution

Calling all paid-up full Members (or fellows) of the Royal Institution – we need your help today please.

We are trying to get a clearer picture, from the governance team at the Ri, of exactly what the financial position is.  The only way we will gain that clarity swiftly, is at a Special General Meeting (SGM).  On Friday evening I emailed Richard Sykes, Chairman of the Ri, to formally request one.

We need at least 15 other Ri members to do the same, in order to be certain that the SGM will be called – that’s where you come in.

Can you please send an email to Chairman@ri.ac.uk  copied to his P.A. KHageman@ri.ac.uk   and also copied to Save21AlbemarleStreet@gmail.com  (for our records).

Do take care with spelling those email addresses ;-)

In your email can you please say something like “As a member of the Ri, I write in support of the email you received from Mary Perkins on Friday 25th January.  I too ask that you call a SGM, as soon as possible, to discuss with members the Ri’s financial situation and the possible sale by the trustees of 21 Albemarle Street.”

You will need to include your address (and/or membership number) so that they can verify that you are a member.

The more members that can do the above, the better please.  We need to show that we want to be involved, and that we don’t want to see the building end up as a hotel!   The more members that email, from across the spectrum of the membership, the louder our message of support becomes.

Thank you :-)

Mary.

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SavetheRi campaign interview on The Pod Delusion show

I was interviewed on the Pod Delusion show the other night. I think they said it goes out to about 30,000 listeners via pod-cast. And the show also gets broadcast on a couple of (London?) radio stations, which add further to the audience figures.

They have very kindly clipped out for me the segment of the show that I appeared in.  You can listen by clicking on the link below.  It lasts about 9 minutes.

https://audioboo.fm/boos/1174826-the-campaign-to-save-the-royal-institution

Do share this link with all your friends to spread word about the campaign.

Thanks,

Mary.

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Letter from the Chair of the Royal Institution – A response

Earlier this evening I received a letter from Richard Sykes, the Chairman of the Royal Institution, sent out to members.

Below is the text of his letter, followed by my personal response:

Dear Miss Perkins,

Thank you for the tremendous amount of support and suggestions that have come in over the past week. I am truly overwhelmed by the strength of feeling about the future of the Ri, and this is hugely encouraging as we work through some very complex issues.

No one more than I would like to see the Ri flourish at its home in Albemarle Street, delivering our vibrant events programme and global outreach via the Ri Channel and Christmas Lectures, set against the backdrop of our wonderful heritage.  

 However, as I have said previously, we have significant debt and a major challenge to find a sustainable operating model.

Such uncertain times are very difficult for staff, members and everyone around the world who loves this institution. The Trustees and I are very aware of our duty to safeguard the financial health of the charity and to ensure the delivery of the objects in our Royal Charter.

The scale of the challenge is significant.  Over the last two years, we have been working hard to secure major funders and partners. We have many loyal supporters, but we have yet to establish a robust endowment that would put us on a firm financial footing.

I am committed to finding the best way forward for the Ri and whilst we continue to explore the various options, I will keep you informed.

Thank you once again for your support.

 Sir Richard Sykes, FRS

Chairman of the Royal Institution

And my reply to him was:

I understand that there is significant debt, and that finding a
sustainable operating model is a challenge.  And I appreciate the duty
of the trustees to safeguard the charity, and deliver its objects.

However I, and many others, are devastated that yourself and the
trustees have been so quick, it seems, to consider selling the
building. A letter from a member of the Ri Audit Committee, which
appeared in the Times recently, seemed to imply that you thought it
would be impossible to come up with a viable business plan which
included remaining in the current building.  Are you certain of this?
I cannot and will not believe it to be true.

You say that you have been working hard to secure major funders and partners – how much have you asked others for help in your quest?  To establish the endowment needed is indeed a huge task, but there may be many among the membership and within the wider scientific, financial and general community that may be able to help you with this.

Surely exploring all the options means at the very least asking your
members, and others, for suggestions?  Surely they might come up with options that you have not have even considered?  And perhaps the Ri has powerful friends that you are unaware of, because you simply haven’t asked.

Worse than this, there are rumours now of a trustee decision-meeting
being called.  You simply cannot make this kind of major decision
without giving the members a chance to have their say.

I believe an EGM needs to be called, and I will be writing to you
shortly, as a member, to call for one.  Not as a means to attack
anyone, but as a means to be involved in this decision, it being one
that affects not just the members, but the world.

Yours, sent with love (of the Ri AND it’s building),

Mary

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How you can help #savetheRi

We are thrilled to see the level of support for our campaign – and thank you so much to everyone who has been in touch via email, Facebook, Twitter, and so on.

At campaign HQ we have now put together a core team of people, an Ri Action Group, which includes myself, Harry Kroto, and various others.  And we are currently in the process of coming up with a ‘plan of attack’ of ways to help to save the Ri.

How you can help:

Tell people about this website: www.Save21AlbemarleStreet.com
and follow @save21albemarle on twitter and join the Facebook group.

That will help us to communicate with everyone and make it easier for us to ask for the specific help we need as plans develop.

Also please sign the petition I started, asking the government to buy 21 Albemarle street from the Ri and then let them remain in the building.  I think the building is worthy of being described as a “world heritage site” as well as being a centre of current exciting research and of science communication (did you know that over 4 million people watch the Christmas lectures world-wide?)

The petition is at: http://epetitions.direct.gov.uk/petitions/44790

Can we get a million signatures?  Please sign it and share the link above with all of your friends.

You could also write to your MP – tomorrow I will post a suggested template for a letter, and tell you how to get in touch with them easily.

And then there is financial support...  Every little helps, so please donate whatever you can to the Ri – you can do so online, via Just Giving, here: http://www.justgiving.com/royalinstitution

And, if you want to be a part of it and help shape the future of the Ri, then why not become a member?  Anyone can join and you can do so on-line here: JOIN THE Ri  – Membership starts from just £28 for Associate Membership, £85 for Full Membership, £13 for Student/Junior Membership,  or if you are feeling flush you can become a Fellow of the Ri for just £295  :-)

Thanks again for all your support.  Together, we will Save 21 Albemarle Street and Save the Ri.

Mary.

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Statement by Harry Kroto

I am pleased to join forces with, and lend my support to, the Save21AlbemarleStreet campaign set-up last Friday by Mary R. Perkins.  The following statement reflects discussions we have been having.  I encourage people to follow @Save21Albemarle on Twitter and, for those on Facebook, to join the group:

http://www.facebook.com/groups/Save21AlbemarleStreet

Thank you to the overwhelming level of support so far.  I apologise for not replying to each email individually – there are just too many!

Harry

Campaign to Save the Royal Institution

“We shape our buildings, and afterwards our buildings shape us.”  So wrote Winston Churchill, and there is no building anywhere in the world to which this profound observation applies more than the Royal Institution.  We can move all the books in the British Library to a new building, as has been done, and we can move all the treasures in the National Gallery also, but we cannot move the Royal Institution. The Royal Institution is the building and the building is the Royal Institution.  Generations of budding young scientists, from the UK and all over the world, have been inspired just by walking along corridors where once strode Humphry Davy, Michael Faraday, Nobel Laureates Henry and Lawrence Bragg as well as George Porter or by peering into the laboratory where Faraday’s first electric motor is on display and where he actually discovered the key properties of electricity, the life force of the Modern World.  No one who has had this experience forgets it and anyone with a modicum of scientific zeitgeist can see that it cannot be reincarnated elsewhere.  Make no mistake, if this building is sold the Institution will be lost forever and it will be a loss fully commensurate with the one hundred and sixteen plays of Sophocles burned (only seven survive) and the wanton destruction of the Buddhist statues in Afghanistan as well as countless other priceless cultural icons of human creativity deliberately destroyed.  In this case the act will not be by ignorant philistines but people who profess to be guardians of our culture.  Sale of the building will be the death-knell of the greatest shrine to not only British Science but to the Scientific Culture of the World, and we must not let this happen.

There is only one credible way to save the Royal Institution and that is to find a government or philanthropic source or most probably a cohort of philanthropic sources able to pay off the current debts and create an endowment that will allow it to function in Albemarle Street for the foreseeable future. The actual cost of this can only be determined when the Institution’s current financial situation becomes clear.  In order to attract potential donors, there will also have to be a forward-looking “business plan” that is both compelling and imaginative in addressing the scientific and science educational needs of a country that must compete in the technologically advanced modern world.  The UK will desperately need to inspire the next generations of young scientists and technical entrepreneurs of the 21st Century in a way that the Royal Institution did in the 19th and 20th.  In addition, given the controversy surrounding the recent management, a new form of governance may be necessary.  In the UK, only a few organisations have the experience and credibility to assist and advise on the running of operations like the Royal Institution.  Of these, the Royal Society is certainly one attractive choice, so the campaign must develop its strategy with some such end in mind.

The forward-look strategy will require a three-pronged approach in which: a) The Institution’s iconic position as the still-vibrant inspirational source of the UK’s national science educational programme for our children must be maintained and its media and Internet roles expanded; b) Research groups with imaginative and healthy research programmes, capable of attracting research funding, as was the case until ca 2000, should be replanted; there may be some advantage in preferring theoretical and computational research which will be more easily accommodated in such an historic building; and arguably most importantly,  c) The Institution must become the platform for 21st Century Educational Science Outreach on a truly global scale by exploiting the full potential of the Internet as an intellectually democratizing influence which is as revolutionary as was the printing press which over 500 years ago led to the Birth of the Enlightenment.

Since the preliminary survey was initiated to determine the viability of a campaign to save the Royal Institution, in almost no time at all, several hundred responses have been received, all conveying the following two messages: a) Total shock that sale of the buildingcould even be contemplated and b) This institution has played a most amazing role in the lives of a huge numbers of not only UK scientists, engineers, teachers, technologists but an amazing number of lay people who became fascinated by the sciences because the seed of scientific excitement was planted in their minds by the activities of the Ri when they were young.  The latter result indicates most clearly that the loss of this building and its associated activities will have the most serious negative impact on the UK’s future science base with dangerous consequences for our ability to compete as the 21st Century becomes ever more technologically competitive.

A typical message: “Let me add my name to your campaign to save the RI premises from being sold off.  As a personal inspiration to me as a youngster to become involved in science I would hate to see future generations deprived of the experience”.

Originally posted at http://savetheri.wordpress.com/

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