Like so many before, I’m genuinely honoured to be serving as this year’s CAOKS President. My thanks go to David Wilkes for all his efforts and achievements as our immediate past President.
First things first, a bit about myself. I left the school in 1983 and went to York to read Economics. Then, like so many others, I headed south to London where I trained to become a chartered accountant. After qualifying I was lucky enough to be sent out to Hungary to work. This was just after the fall of the Berlin Wall when Eastern Europe was opening up. I loved the experience and caught the travel bug. That led me to a pretty nomadic career in general management, working in 20 countries over the last 30 years including a brief stint at the United Nations in Geneva. For much of that time, though, I lived and worked in Australia.
Many of you will have spent time “Down Under” either as a tourist or living over there. It is a truly fantastic place and I enjoyed life there very much. Being half a world away, however, and with half of that time “pre- Internet” I was disconnected from the School and from life in the UK generally. My CAOKS newsletters were delivered to my parents address on the Wirral.
Whenever I returned to visit the family every few years my mother would present me with a small pile of mail and, despite being out of date by the time I got them, I always read the newsletters, eager to catch up on news from any former classmates or others I knew.
On my return to London in 2011 I jumped at the chance to attend that year’s CAOKS London Supper. It was organised by Mike Hurleston, then President and serving the first of his two years in the role. Despite being based in Manchester Mike did all the organising of the London event remotely and off his own bat. I must say that I was quite surprised by this and also by the fact that there were only 12 of us in attendance. I was very enthusiastic about reconnecting but I distinctly remember thinking at the time that maybe my enthusiasm wasn’t shared quite so strongly by everyone else! I think that’s true of many things. How many times have you visited a building in Chester as a tourist? Never, I’m guessing, it was on our doorstep, we took it for granted and rarely made a special effort!
It turned out that the role of CAOKS London and South- East representative had been vacant for a number of years. I guess that my enthusiasm hadn’t gone unnoticed by Mike, so the next thing I knew I was the new London and South-East Representative!
I stepped willingly stepped into the breach. With so many OKS gravitating towards London I reasoned that being based there I could put some energy behind it and build attendance numbers at the event.
Four years on I’m serving as President and, with two hats on this time around, will be inviting myself to host this year’s London Supper in early November! Numbers have grown steadily and we are now hoping to get 40-50 people along to our usual venue, the Bleeding Heart Restaurant in Farringdon. It can be even bigger.
In my day job I am the Chief Executive of the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) and based in Portland Place in central London.
The RIBA is a professional membership body, representing the interests of chartered architects. It’s an enjoyable role and a very busy one right now as we work though the UK’s post-Brexit referendum landscape. My role is to ensure that our members are as successful as they can be, lead them through times of change and support them when times are tough. I lobby the government and other stakeholders on their behalf. I make sure that we offer value to our members, stay relevant as the member base evolves and also make sure that the RIBA runs as effectively and efficiently as it can.
All of which pretty much sums up what I think the role of CAOKS President is all about.
It’s no secret that the relationship between the Association and the School in recent years was nowhere near as close as it could, or should, have been. Times have changed and after a lot of effort on both sides I’m pleased to confirm David Wilkes’ view, as expressed at the end of his term as President that the relationship is much improved and continues to do so. For that we all owe a debt of thanks to David in particular, but to many others, for all their efforts. I would like to mention in particular Anthony Hopkinson, the School’s Director of Development, a great supporter of the Association and someone who has made a very significant contribution in a very short space of time. My thanks also go to the Headmaster for allowing Anthony to take the lead role on the School’s team working towards developing these closer relations.
The economic environment facing the education system in the UK has changed fundamentally, certainly since my time at King’s. The School now looks to the Alumni and quite rightly encourages us to make a contribution if we can, given that enormous financial pressure. For our part, we recognise that we can contribute more, though not everyone is in a position to do this financially. Over and above any financial contribution you may wish to make to support the School’s newly launched King’s 100 Bursary Challenge, the Association has a huge amount to give to pupils and leavers. There are opportunities to coach and mentor, provide advice and guidance and provide a network where we can help former students as they develop their careers. I’m currently working with Anthony Hopkinson on initiatives in this area.
In addition, we should acknowledge that the Association needs to modernise itself and to become relevant to, and representative of, everyone who has left the School. I am the first to acknowledge that we have a fantastic history and tradition to draw on. Our challenge, then, is to take the best from the past and make it relevant for the future. In the past we were an all-boys school and the Association still predominantly reflects that.
However, the first intake of girls at the School was in 1998, almost 20 years ago now, and today some 35% of pupils at the School are female. We need to be for them as much as we are for the 65% of the pupils who are male.
So I am absolutely delighted to say that I expect to be the last in a long line of over 150 successive years of male Presidents of the Association! Next year we will have our first female President when Olivia Whitlam, our current Senior Vice President, takes over. After that, I hope that ultimately both sexes can take their turns in equal measure.
One of the highlights of my year so far has been to attend a Royal Garden party at Buckingham Palace, which allowed me to wear the CAOKS President badge of office with great pride. It was a terrific day which my wife Nikki and I really enjoyed, though I have to say there were so many people there that you couldn’t get near enough to get more than a glimpse of the Royal party. Still, the Palace and Gardens are amazing, as were the enormous tea tents, and it was a real honour to have been invited.
As I write this Newsletter piece it is the week following the weekend’s 475th Anniversary celebrations. Events kicked off on Friday morning with the service at Chester Cathedral. I haven’t been to one in almost 33 years but the memories of Latin descants at the Michaelmas service came flooding back! I was asked by the Headmaster to participate in the service which I was very pleased to be able to do. I hope I did the Association proud by representing you all but I’ll leave it to the words of our Honorary Secretary Adrian Ackroyd’s Facebook Post to tell you how I fared!
“All in the Cathedral were listening intently heads bowed to the Commemoration Service Intercessions prefacing Lord Rowan Williams’ much anticipated address – first the Chairman of the Governors in an impeccable cut glass English female accent, next the Head of School in a male teenage rendition of what was English. Then Alan, Alumni President, responded and all heads looked up as an Oz drawl boomed and echoed across Chester Cathedral in stereo!”
Clearly my time Down Under left its mark!
We followed the service up by returning to the School where Lord Williams opened the Kings Walk, a curated display of the School and the Association’s history which winds its way up the staircase of the original clock tower building to what I remember from my school days as the Sixth Form Common Room on the second floor. Then we had lunch in the 1541 restaurant (the Gym in a former life) where the School presented the first of three inaugural Leading Light Awards to Ronald (Ron) Pickup. I was privileged to be part of the judging panel for the awards. Fellow thespian Nickolas Grace presented Ron’s award to him. They both gave wonderful speeches recalling their time at the School and how their experiences played influential roles in them both becoming actors.
On Saturday I was delighted to attend the formal dinner event, “A Touch of Tudor”, held in a huge marquee especially constructed on the School playing fields next to the cricket pavilion. About 300 people were in attendance and guests included former Headmasters Roger Wickson and Tim Turvey. Nickolas Grace stayed on and gave the after dinner speech where he regaled us with stories of his time at Arnold House and gave an amazingly accurate impersonation of former master Keith Lysons. My thanks to the Headmaster and all the team at the School for putting on a great evening.
I look forward to seeing many of you over the course of my remaining term as President.