61st AGM 9th December 2021
Welcome! How nice to be back in this splendid setting in real life, as opposed to as blobs on a Zoom screen! Very nice blobs though you all made, you look much better in three dimensions!
I should like to begin by thanking our acting Patron, the excellent Charge d’Affaires of the Embassy Mrs Roshan Khanal, who has kindly again offered us the use of this lovely Embassy building and has also made time to be with us. I have huge admiration for Roshan-ji. Having been in the career myself I know that If you were on the toughest imaginable training exercise for life as head of a diplomatic mission, the exercise brief might say: a) “the Ambassador is about to be recalled and you will be in charge” and b) “the Prime Minister and a senior accompanying party are arriving in your capital in a few days. Please make all necessary arrangements.” Well that happened to Roshan for real! She and her team managed it with calm and charm. So huge respect, Roshan- Nepal is lucky to have you and so are we to work with you.
Roshan will now be holding the fort for a few more weeks pending the arrival of a distinguished new Ambassador, whom we look forward to welcoming, perhaps even at our Annual Supper on 15 February. [Roshan has kindly agreed to say a few words to us in just a moment]
Can I also take a moment to say a special welcome to Nick Hinton, the Chairman of BRANNGO. Nick sits ex officio on our own Committee but he has kindly agreed to speak to us tonight about BRANNGO the story so far. We look forward very much to that once the formalities of the AGM are complete.
That the Prime Minister who visited Britain for COP 26 at the end of October was Sher Bahadur Deuba rather than KP Oli shows us that Nepal had another eventful year politically. Mr Deuba is certainly experienced- this is his fifth time as Nepal’s PM- and it was an honour that he made time to receive a few of us representing BNS, plus Nick representing BRANNGO, when he visited London en route to Glasgow. The campaign of Visit Nepal 2020 was of course torpedoed by COVID, so I suggested to the Prime Minister that he should launch one post-COVID for 2023 or 2024. He seemed keen on this, and on your behalves I pledged that BNS would do what we could to spread the word. The millennials and Generation Z need to discover and fall in love with Nepal the way that the baby boomers did. Let’s hope that, as younger generations see for themselves the majesty of the snow capped Himalayas, they will redouble their efforts to tackle climate change before those snow caps disappear.
Whilst I am on the subject of promoting tourism can I congratulate Monty Shrestha on being appointed Honorary Public Relations Representative for the Nepal Tourist Board. We will take a lead from you, Monty, on how best our Society can add value.
So now before moving to the evening’s agenda can I invite Roshan –ji to speak to us[Roshan speaks]
….. Thanks very much Roshan- for those words and again for your kind hospitality and all your support to our Society.
We now move on to the evening’s agenda, for which initially I turn to a lady whose contribution to the BNS is quite simply vital- the artist known to us all as MJ. She is someone who prefers to operate below the radar and she probably won’t thank me for this but every so often we need to thank her. So can I ask you all to join me in a round of appreciative applause. MJ over to you now for the apologies:
Minutes: adoption of the minutes of the last AGM held on 5 December 2019
Before I go on to report on 2021, it is appropriate that we pause first of all and remember those whom we have lost since our last annual meeting. The following members and friends have sadly left us and we pass our condolences to their families and loved ones:
Susan Roberts who was a stalwart of the Society in its early days before she returned to her native Wales; Major Kit Maunsell MC who won the Military Cross as the Company Commander during the action at Serekin in Borneo on 21 November 1965 when Rambahadur Limbu won the Victoria Cross. Kit was a Life Member of the Society and although he did not attend events he donated generously donated to our Covid Relief Appeal. Also Keith Hyatt, John and Phoebe Tyson, William Harkness, Kathleen Francis.
I would now ask you to stand for the customary moment’s silence as we reflect on the lives of these lost friends.
So 2021. A year when we emerged from COVID hibernation and saw each other again. We were still too locked in our tiers to make our usual February timing work for the Annual Supper, but you will remember that the government let us out to play again in July. This was just in time for a picnic in the wonderful garden of Maggie and Patrick Burgess at Shopwyke Hall near Chichester. There the morning rain gave way to blazing sun and we had a lovely afternoon. Huge thanks again to Maggie and Patrick for inviting us.
We then took the decision to hold our Annual Supper in early September rather than miss a year altogether. It’s not an ideal time as many of course were on holiday. Some intrepid souls even ventured overseas despite the risk of imprisonment at their own expense in a concrete box near Heathrow airport! Nonetheless we had a good turn out, we more or less broke even, and were able to hear Nepal’s thoughtful, intelligent but alas transitory new Ambassador Sri Lokdarshan Regmi charting a path for our future relations. It is a path which notwithstanding the changing of the political guard in Kathmandu, I am sure his successor will also want to tread.
To my delight we were then able last month to resume our series of lectures followed by supper at the Medical Society of London. The Medical Society is an ideal venue for the purpose, kindly made available through the good offices of BNS stalwart Dr Neil Weir. A very good turnout of well over 50 heard a great talk on 25 November from Doctors Mark Watson and Andrew Hall reporting their researches into the British Cemetery in Kathmandu. These will shortly be published in a book entitled “A Corner of a Foreign Field”- an apt use of Rupert Brooke’s famous phrase. The cemetery is a beautiful, peaceful spot. I attended myself as Ambassador the burials there of Ingrid, the wife of the legendary Boris Lisanevitch, and their son also alongside. But I knew little of the history behind the other older graves, many of children of former Embassy staff. The new information that Mark and Andrew had found and documented was not only interesting but moving. And they were even able in a couple of cases to trace the families of those commemorated there and reconnect them with the place. Please buy the book when it comes out.
I reported last year on the major effort which our Society made to respond to the COVID crisis in Nepal, which was our major preoccupation during lockdown. We lobbied hard for HMG to provide Nepal with more assistance, especially a greater share of the vaccines which need to be more efficiently shared if we in Britain are not to be hostage of wave after wave of the dreaded new variants. We live in a global village, it is in our interests. But in the case of Nepal of course, we have a special friendship and “a friend in need…etc”. That lobbying remains work in progress, in tandem with the Gurkha fraternity, BRANNGO and others. Please keep writing to your MPs.
But in our modest way we also provided some material help. I pay tribute again this year to the tireless energies of our Chairman of Younger Members Kirtijai Pahari who has turned our fund-raising into telling action on the ground. I am glad to say that, thanks to the generosity of many in this room and others, the COVID Relief Appeal was able to more than match the £20,000 which we paid out from our reserves, making a contribution of £40,000 plus overall. Much of this money has been used for HFNC Airvo machines, which aid oxygen flow. With remaining money in the Relief Appeal pot we have just managed to provide an eighth. Kirtijai reports that these machines are hugely valued, not just for COVID but for other intensive care cases, and it is good that we have been able to send them not just to Kathmandu hospitals but to the provinces. With cases of the new Omicron variant now confirmed in India, the region may again be facing difficulties in the coming months.
Society members will remember that it is now the policy of the Society to make an annual grant of £1000 to a deserving cause in Nepal in addition to any emergency funding that may be donated. This year, thanks to a most generous bequest from Antonia Derry, the Annual Grant Sub-Committee has been able to recommend that the Society make two grants of £1000 each. 17 applications were considered with the winning applicants being Burns Violence Survivors and The Nestling Trust.
Burns Violence Survivors is the only non-governmental organisation working to support burns patients throughout Nepal. The grant will fund a prevention communication programme via radio broadcast across Nepal which will alert people to the danger of fire and spread awareness on immediate first aid and burn care management.
The Nestling Trust operates in a similar sector (midwifery and neonatal care) to last year’s grant recipient – Help Nepal Foundation – but in a very different part of the country. The grant will go towards essential equipment for a new health and birthing centre in Baiteshwor District where neonatal deaths are thought to have tripled during the global pandemic.
BNS members will be interested to hear that a brief but encouraging report has been received from last year’s winner.
Roger Potter, who chairs the Grant sub-committee, has asked me to pass his thanks to Kirtijai –again-for his work as legman in Nepal checking credentials and diplomatically extracting a report from the winner. Thanks also to the Sub-Committee each of whom has waded manfully through a mass of paperwork and spent much time in deliberation and discussion. Finally, thanks to Nick Hinton for publicising the scheme through the BRANNGO network and to MJ for orchestrating the whole process.
In 2022 the competition will again launch after the end of our financial year in June, and the Sub Committee will again choose a winner for announcement at the AGM.
Before I hand over to Rupert to tell us the bottom line after all this, I want to report briefly on an ongoing initiative which we hope will help us to augment the value of what we pay as BNS members, both for BNS charitable funding and for the running of BNS itself.
You may recall that at last years AGM, I mentioned our intent to consider applying to the Charity Commission for charitable status. Well this proved to be not the work of a moment, but thanks to patient and thorough work by Peter Sharland, we are making progress. Earlier in the year the Committee took the decision to update and replace our Rules with a Constitution, which it was considered better represented the Objectives and Purpose of the Society, as well as reinforcing our intent to apply for charitable status. After a lengthy process , our initial application was declined primarily on the grounds that we did not sufficiently demonstrate that we as a Society exist solely for non charitable purposes. So that was a setback. But at the same time we received positive and objective advice from the Charity Commissioners on how better to tailor our application to what was required. Declined did not seem to mean a closed door. Your Committee, thanks to Peter, has therefore re-applied with some optimism. As I speak to you, we wait to hear.
So- Fingers crossed. Charitable status as I said would be more financially efficient. But BNS is and will remain about a lot more than just raising money for Nepal-related good causes. In raising awareness of Nepal in the UK we also of course highlight need in that country and promote the addressing of that need. But we do so because we are what we have always been since our foundation in 1960. That is to say, a society devoted to broader and deeper relations between two nations which enjoy an uncommonly strong bond.
We are also a society which is, in the modern parlance, both analogue and digital. Analogue is the comfort zone for many of us, and I suspect I am not the only one in this room to have received with pleasure in hard copy in my hand the 42nd journal. This is the last to be produced under the editorship of Gerry Birch and can I thank him again for this labour of love for the society carried out over more than twenty years. This journal like its predecessors is full of good things. I would draw your attention not least to the article on leeches, which are to Nepal as midges are to Scotland- the small price we pay for walking in some of the most beautiful landscapes in the world. The author Tony Schilling begins with a rather striking quotation: “ It is possible the gentle consistent sucking of a leech might even be pleasurable, depending on the area of attachment”. Speaking for myself I find leeches of limited erotic appeal and they are certainly not going to be allowed to attach themselves to my quote area unquote whilst I am conscious to prevent it. But each to his own.
So much for the analogue. Turning to the digital, this as Kirtijai rightly reminds us is essential if we are to bring on board the younger generation whom we need to carry the torch forward towards our hundredth anniversary in 2060. I am happy to report that during this year your Committee has signed a deal with a Nepali company called CurvesnColours which has already begin to work with MJ on improving our website. Our aim should be to introduce efficient payment online and an enhanced social media footprint to enable us to ride the crest of the digital wave, whilst still, I hope, clutching our journals.
Now, then, to the man who, analogue or digital, is always on the money. Before I hand over to your Treasurer to present his financial report, can I also ask you to put your hands together for Rupert, who continues to put in painstaking and assiduous effort on our behalf, and also to Roger Wilsher for acting as assessor of the accounts.
Rupert- over to you
Presentation of the Audited Accounts and Financial Report
Election of Assessor
We now proceed to the election of Officers. Normally we would also elect replacements for those Committee members who have come to the end of their five year tenure, or are otherwise standing down. But whilst we remain in transition phase pending charitable status I propose to keep your Committee as it is unless members decide to step down themselves. As I flagged last year, if we are accepted for charitable status some adjustments in our governance will be needed. Your officers will be Trustees and we may need to move to a smaller executive with more of an advisory council around them. . But for now we remain in holding pattern.
Nonetheless you do still have Officers. All are standing again. And this is the time when they submit themselves to your mercy and wonder whether you will liberate them to tend their tomatoes. MJ can you tell us whether anyone else has put their hat in the ring?
If not then the time comes for you to decide whether or not to re-appoint me. I shall ask Ashley, as Vice Chairman, to preside for this bit:
Election of Officers and Committee Members
That concludes our AGM business
Now Nick Hinton and BRANNGO…………..after which, food.