Retiring President’s Speech at AGM


As I’m stepping down after three and a half years I want to take this opportunity to give you a picture of my time in office.  The main focus over this period, both for the Executive and myself, has been the future proofing of the Société with our five year plan, and also ensuring we are in line with Charity Commission guidelines.   Not only did we become a registered charity in 2019 with all the obligations attached, but there were concerns expressed by the Executive over such things as our accounting systems, banking governance, age and accuracy of the members database, stocktake, and efficiency of room letting.

I was lucky that Stuart Fell was already fully involved as Vice President.  In 2021 we both very unrealistically threw ourselves into resolving everything at once, including working on conservation areas, creating an Impact Report on the super highway that was to lead up to the new hospital on Westmount, making comments on developments, and starting on making the Société administration compliant with Charity Commission and general guidelines.  After a few months it became evident there was too much work and we were duplicating efforts, so we decided to divide it: Stuart covering the areas he was familiar with – planning, development, heritage and conservation – and me taking over the office side, which included PR, events and Sections.  I’ve tried to visit each Section at least once to get a picture of the members involved and what they do.  I encouraged the finders of the Le Câtillon Hoard to become our Small Finds Team, which eventually led to the recreation of a Numismatics Section.  I’m secretary to four Sections and chair to one.  Stuart started an Architecture Section, and at the same time John Pinel created the Environment Section with me putting my hand up as secretary for both new Sections.

Stuart developed an increasing focus on governance issues, corporate structure, and a general commitment to the Charities Commission requirements.  He initiated a SWOT analysis to support the Strategic Plan.  At the end of that year Stuart and I both went away for Christmas utterly exhausted.  We met again in January having come to the same conclusion after the break:  all our hard work would be lost if there was no-one to sustain the continuity and spearhead the organisation.  Small as we are, we needed a CEO. 

We advertised and Rebecca appeared as if by magic.  Initially she was coming in before 9am, working through her lunch hour, and then on to 6pm or later.  There were so many issues to be resolved with the banking, insurance, contracts and salaries, databases, etc, so surely we thought this situation wouldn’t last.  Banking was a nightmare with the banks refusing to share information as we weren’t signatories and everything being done on line, or holding on for hours on the phone.  The problem is they don’t provide face to face service for businesses.  There were times when Rebecca and I were both near tears.  This stalemate was resolved inch by inch, and carried on through 2023.

And what about the situation with Rebecca’s long hours?  They continued right through 2023.  This was our 150th year.  Rebecca and I threw ourselves into that, creating an event a month, which put enormous pressure on us, and particularly Rebecca who was still resolving the various banking issues and holding on the line waiting for them to pick up.  Along with all the other office balls she was juggling. 

Starting this year my workload calmed down, but Rebecca still found herself in the thick of it, and still not getting a lunch hour, and still working until 6pm or beyond.  We’ve looked at ways to reduce her workload so that she can focus on the future as well as the present.  Having said this, she’s always had an eye to the main heritage theme, leading with the new Jèrriais language app, forging alliances with French organisations, and showing huge awareness of the future challenges for a small charity facing massive changes in a fast moving technological world.

All the staff are amazing.  They are committed and conduct their roles efficiently and professionally.  In the last 3.5 years the  Photo-Archive has improved working practices and procedures. This is evidenced in increased digitisation output, where they are now processing 20,000+ items a year in-house compared to 1-2000 when I started.  No credit to me. On top of that the completion of the shared online catalogue with Jersey Heritage is a big improvement for researchers.

Publications have started to develop a brand identity, so that Société books are more recognisable as such, with defined series such as the Occasional Studies and the Classic (translated) Texts. They have also finished a couple of key books, such as Hamptonne, and (Chevalier nearly).  The finding and publishing of Poingdestre Premier Livre was something of note too.

The new website should get a mention, and Patrick Cahill spent many hours on this. 

Valerie in the Library took responsibility for the digitisation of Les Chroniques newspapers and all our newspaper collections from the 19th century through to the 1950’s.

Dr Hervé Duval-Gatignol came on board as our new archaeologist.  He has been working steadily completing work left by the previous archaeologist, and also supporting the work on sites such as Le Câtillon II.  When he joined us he was already working on a project on Iron Age settlements along the French coast and around the Channel Islands.  He is mentored by three well known archaeologists and supported via Zoom and they visit on a regular basis.  We feel we struck gold with Hervé and that the Island’s archaeological heritage is safe in his hands. 

There is a massive role for volunteers to play within the Departments and they show enormous commitment and give generously of their time and enthusiasm.  It would be hard to make these strides without the volunteers. 

The Sections are also dependent on the volunteers, and a feather in our caps is Marine Biology successfully establishing a No-Take-Zone in Portelet. 

Looking back, the following have been implemented directly by the management team in the last 3.5 years:

  • We received the incredibly generous gift of Mr John Fluck’s property and the decision was made to retain it and renovate the two flats to current standards:  this provides essential income to support staff salaries. 
  • We conducted due diligence on his moveable assets so that with a few small exceptions these were all sold.
  • A SWOT analysis was carried out internally – Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats – and this led to a 5 Year Strategic Plan, which we measure ourselves against on a quarterly basis.
  • We conducted a members survey to establish their needs and wishes.
  • We have an accurate financial system with reporting on specific projects or areas so that we can monitor expenditure closely.
  • We have a Reserves Policy, which means there is income in a crisis to pay expenses and staff for a 3 month period.
  • Banking is now conducted entirely on organisational devices.
  • After a long struggle the bank signatories lists which contained individuals dating back 15 years has been formalised and updated.
  • Whilst seeking financial assistance Rebecca was lucky enough to find a wonderful new Honorary Treasurer, Paul Alker, who has been co-opted.
  • We have a new and accurate members database which reveals we have less members than we thought:  1,200.  Previously some members were not paying and receiving membership benefits and others were paying and not receiving membership benefits. The new system collects accurate data and allows members to join at any time during the year, rather than on 1st January, as previously.
  • We have discovered and are sorting the filing which was in boxes in no particular order in the store.  This will ultimately be digitised so no information is lost.
  • We have restyled the shop and organised the store. A new online bookshop is in process.
  • We are close to full compliance with Jersey Charities Law.
  • Our staff have commensurate contracts and salaries are benchmarked.
  • We have tried to seal any gaps which would lay us open to legal challenges, such as have occurred in the past. 
  • We are putting protocols and policies in place.
  • Our insurance with Jersey Heritage was checked by the CEO and found to be unclear and in need of review.  Jersey Heritage are still investigating for themselves as well. 
  • We still have the Old Library where the archaeologist and Biodiversity work – thanks to the challenge to Jersey Heritage by our CEO.
  • We have increased our profile with an enormous number of events and press releases, along with our social media presence.
  • We have started on a renovation scheme for Pier Road, the most pressing concern being the high temperatures experienced in the Library in the summer which caused it to close in the afternoons.  Air-conditioning has been installed, and we are looking at the rest of the building as funds allow.
  • We are assessing the Section rooms at La Hougue Bie with a view to renovating to a standard where they can be used comfortably and provide rooms for all Sections that wish to use them, and also support events. 
  • We conducted a successful 150th year of celebratory events. The commemorative publication of our Past Present Future conference is due to be published at the beginning of July.
  • We adopted the Heritage Strategy and became part of the Heritage Advisory Partnership which supports the States on heritage issues, along with Jersey Heritage and the National Trust. This involves regular meetings.
  • We also hold quarterly meetings with the National Trust for Jersey to keep appraised of ongoing issues and shared interests.
  • We have successfully challenged developments and have a Buildings at Risk register on our website.
  • We have increased the room lets at Pier Road which is another source of reliable income. We have also developed relationships at the Government of Jersey to ensure that we are paid!
  • We now have constitutions for all our scholarships and grants.
  • We are most of the way to an organisational structure with strong reporting lines.
  • We have applied for government and other grants which have allowed us to have a new website, remedial work conducted on our land at Egypte, and the tile artwork on the Pier Road wall. An Access to Records project is also underway, as well as an Architectural Drawings project.

None of these things have happened with the wave of a wand.  All have required continuous effort on the part of a small team.  Emails, negotiations, constant pushing – hours and hours of work.  And whilst writing this list I thought of many more achievements, but decided this was enough to convince you we haven’t been sitting on our thumbs! 

Having mentioned John Fluck, I’d like to say other gifts from the blue were Brian Phillipp’s bequest to support the archaeologist in perpetuity in the sum of £1.9 million, part of which is being invested in a high interest account with Flagstone International, and part in another portfolio.

Another generous gift was from Peter Bisson in the sum of £250,000 “to be applied at the Société’s discretion towards the publication of books of a scholarly nature relating to the history, archaeology, archives or old buildings of Jersey”. 

We are so grateful to our members for these and other gifts, and also for their continuing support as members.  We are a membership organisation and it is our duty to respect our members and honour their wishes, as they support and value us.   

After three and a half years I can’t say I’m not pleased to be letting some of the steam out of the pressure cooker, but I will enjoy continuing to contribute and playing an active role.  The Société Jersiaise is an organisation I’m incredibly proud to be a member of, as were my parents and my grandparents.  For me it represents all the good things about our small Island, and it will always be a part of my life and dear to my heart.

Thank you !