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