57th AGM 7th December 2017
As always it is a great pleasure to welcome you all to the AGM – our 57th.
I hope that it is not a diplomatic solecism to welcome His Excellency to his own Embassy. It is always an honour to have Dr Subedi with us on these occasions and I very much hope, Your Excellency that you are aware of how very much we appreciate your generosity in allowing us to meet from time to time in such prestigious surroundings. We greatly value the warm and constructive relationship that exists between The Embassy and our Society and are delighted that you have agreed to become an ex officio Patron of the Society. We much look forward to hearing from you in a moment or two.
I am also delighted to welcome on your behalf Al Howard who has recently taken over as Director of the Gurkha Welfare Trust and who will bring us up to date with the Trust’s activities following the formal business of the evening. A fuller introduction will follow.
Once again Nepal has had to face natural disaster this year with the devastating monsoon flooding. As a Society we have not specifically responded to this event and perhaps we should have done. However, we are beginning to get underway with a review of our donations strategy. The Treasurer will have more to say in his report about this as well as our intention to build up a reserve fund for charitable purposes.
It is always sad to report to the Society news of the death of members and this year is no exception. We think particularly of Maurice Armytage, Sir Simon Bowes-Lyon, Margaret Dean, Colonel Jimmy Evans, Susie Dunsmore, Bhupal Gurung, Brigadier Tony Hunter Choat, David Jefford, The Countess Mountbatten and Primrose Reynolds.
I would particularly wish to pay tribute to Jimmy Evans who, with Jenifer, was for so long a stalwart of the Society including a stint as Chairman. As well as his commitment to the Society, Jimmy also founded the Britain-Nepal Chamber of Commerce.
May I ask you to stand for the customary moment’s silence as we reflect on the lives of these lost friends.
On a more cheerful note I know that you will be pleased to hear that Jenifer Evans has agreed to become a Vice President of the Society. Field Marshal Sir John Chapple has also accepted this position. Both are and have been fantastically loyal and supportive members of the Society.
Reverting to the year’s events I am delighted to report that we held a highly successful Annual Supper in February attended by substantially greater numbers than we had seen for several years. We were greatly honoured to have as Chief Guest on a brief visit to London Dr Arzu Deuba, a Nepali parliamentarian and wife of four times Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba. Dr Deuba gave a brief and lucid account of the challenges facing Nepal.
Lisa Choegyal (nee van Gruisen) was our Guest of Honour and principal speaker. She gave a fascinating and most entertaining account of her 40 years of living in Kathmandu. As well as the speeches, guests enjoyed a slide show of wonderful photographs of Nepal by Johnny Fenn. More recently he gave a hugely appreciated talk and slide show as part of our evening lecture programme. We are hoping to persuade Johnny to repeat this presentation as it is one that many more members than were able to come on this occasion would greatly enjoy. Copies of Johnny’s book Light and Life in the Middle Hills are available at the front desk or can be ordered at £20 each.
Other talks during the year were given by Nick Kershaw and a double-header by Mr Indra Prasad Bhandari and Professor Doctor Shanker Thapa whom His Excellency had invited over from Nepal. The former’s talk entitled Impact Marathon Nepal described Nick’s brainchild – a global programme of marathon events to raise money for local causes. He was just back from the Nepal run which raised well over £100,000 for projects in Nepal.
Our two visitors from Kathmandu took part in the first of a planned series of events jointly sponsored by the Embassy and the Society. Both speakers gave fascinating insights into the cultural dimension of relations between Britain and Nepal and attracted one of our largest lecture audiences with excellent representation from both communities. It is intended to hold two such events each year with the Embassy and the Society alternately arranging speakers. On this occasion the Embassy generously sponsored a welcoming reception and drinks for the supper that followed the talk. This new venture should further strengthen the already close relationship between Society and Embassy.
During the summer a small group visited the Gurkha Museum in Winchester where the Museum’s Director and BNS Committee Member Gavin Edgerley-Harris gave a highly polished and riveting talk on Gurkha Memorials around the world. The talk was followed by an excellent curry lunch in the Museum’s impressive McDonald Gallery.
Also in the summer the committee gave a reception for recently joined new members. Some 30 new and committee members gathered in a private house in Holland Park for a most congenial drinks party. The new recruits seemed to enjoy the friendly atmosphere and it has been good to see some of them at subsequent events. I hope that a steady flow of new applicants will enable us to repeat the event before too long. Many thanks to those of you who have encouraged friends and relations to join the Society. Do please keep up the good work.
At last year’s AGM I mentioned that plans were afoot to establish a network of charities and NGOs with projects in Nepal. The idea is, amongst other things, to share best practice, to avoid duplication of effort and to form alliances in the pursuit of funding from government and other sources. Some progress has been made and the new organisation, called BRANNGO an acronym for Britain and Nepal NGOs, is in sight of producing a draft constitution and criteria for membership. BRANNGO would clearly value the support of the Britain-Nepal Society and the BNS Committee is examining the nature of any possible relationship with BRANNGO which could be very advantageous to us in terms of influence and of new members. The Committee is interested in pursuing this initiative with the clearly understood proviso that the Society should not expose itself to potential reputational risk from the activity of rogue members.
Amongst other things, association with BRANNGO should allow us to develop our own schools programme initiated so successfully by Ashley Adams a couple of years ago but not yet capitalised upon.
Looking ahead we have moved the Annual Supper to a little later in the year to take advantage of lighter evenings and, we hope, less risk of wintry weather. Next year’s Supper will take place as usual at St Columba’s on Tuesday 27th March with the distinguished Himalayan climber Doug Scott as Guest of Honour and principal speaker. It would be marvellous if we could beat the excellent turn-out achieved this year.
The lecture programme arranged so far for 2018 includes a talk in May by Professor Michael Hutt who will bring us up to date with restoration work in Kathmandu with particular reference to the Bhimsen Tower. Later in the year Dr Maggie Burgess will give her postponed talk on the leprosy work in Nepal of her charity Promise Nepal. I do hope that you will be able to get to these talks and others still to be arranged. On the whole audience numbers for our lectures have been steadily increasing. Do come if you can and bring guests particularly those who might decide to become members themselves. And please let a committee member know if you have recommendations for speakers
The Treasurer will report in more detail about membership numbers and the Society’s finances. We have had a steady trickle of new members but these are offset by the number of lost members and those who run the risk of being ‘struck off’ following a failure for at least two years to pay their fees. It is sad that this is the case but I would like to pay tribute to Rupert Litherland for his time-consuming efforts to regularise the membership list.
Again, Rupert will report shortly on our finances. Suffice it for me to say that with the caveat just mentioned they are in pretty good shape. We are concentrating on building up our reserves and are beginning to draw up a clear donations policy. As well as to Rupert our thanks are also due to Roger Wilsher for acting as assessor of the accounts.
I hope that you have all visited the Society’s website recently. Visually it is extremely attractive and is becoming ever more informative with links to all sorts of social media which are, I am afraid to say, rather beyond me. The lion’s share of work on the website is undertaken by our indefatigable secretary and web mistress MJ Streather. To help her in this limitless task we have taken on some professional help.
Whilst we continue to mail information to members who wish to receive our communications through the post we are increasingly using e-mail to send out information about lectures and other events. Clearly this makes us more environmentally friendly and saves us a good deal of money. However, members who have elected to receive notifications by e-mail no longer receive postal duplicates for most event. It is crucial that they open Society e-mails and we do know that a significant number of members do not always do this which may account for the drop in audience numbers at a recent lecture. By the same token, please do keep the Secretary informed of any changes in your contact details.
Committee Meetings have been extremely well attended this year and I would like to thank all those who have given up much time in support of the Society. Mrs Minu Chhibber, Colonel Peter Sharland and Andy Sparkes have joined the committee during the year and are up for election this evening. After several years of elected or co-opted service Frances Spackman and Jenifer Evans are standing down at least for the time being. Jenifer was, of course, Secretary for a while and is a fount of knowledge on all things BNS whilst for a number of years Frances fulfilled the thankless task of minute-taker at meetings. We are very grateful to them both and I know they will continue to be as involved as ever in ‘meeting and greeting’ at our events.
Also retiring from the Committee is Major Nigel Wylie- Carrick who as Secretary of the Gurkha Brigade has been an ex officio member of the Committee for several years. Nigel has done unobtrusively sterling work in arranging such things as Orderly Officers and Pipers for the annual Supper and has been an excellent conduit to the Brigade. Nigel’s successor is Major Manikumar Rai MBE whom we very much look forward to meeting at committee meetings and Society events. Sadly he cannot be here tonight. A final change on the Committee is that Alison Marston has decided to step down as Chairman of the Younger Members Committee. Discussions about a possible successor are underway. In the meanwhile it is hoped to bring Alison on to the main committee in recognition of the sterling work that she has done over the last few years. This news came too late for inclusion in tonight’s papers.
And now to finish, a few more thanks. To Gerry Birch for producing another full and fascinating Journal. These things take up a huge amount of time and we owe Gerry a considerable debt of gratitude. And to Monty Shrestha and Prashant Kunwar who once again have most generously sponsored the Kukhri beer for this occasion and all our Society events. It is much appreciated
The committee has recently decided to build up a reserve fund of £30,000 to enable us to make substantial donations to Nepal as and when the need arises. This will not preclude us from making occasional smaller donations, the future criteria for which are currently under discussion. Alternative candidates for committee
“If at the AGM it appears that the number of candidates proposed does not exceed the number of respective vacancies, then the Chairman shall declare the candidates elected.
“Any one or two members may make alternative nominations….and these must reach the Secretary at least 7 days prior to the AGM”
Alison Marston has indicated her intention to stand down as Chairman of the Younger Committee at some stage during the course of next year. When this occurs the committee wishes to co-opt her to the main committee effectively bringing the committee numbers up to 11 the maximum allowed under the constitution.
I originally took up the chairmanship for the customary five year period ending with this AGM. Discussions have been taking place with Mr Andy Sparkes who has indicated his willingness to take over from me. However, prior commitments prevent him from doing so during the current academic years. I have therefore agreed to remain in post if that is the wish of the meeting until the second half of next year when we will hope to effect the handover.