Annual Review 2020/21
Report on behalf of the Trustees of
The Lunar Society
Deirdre LaBassiere LL.B Hons FTLS, Chair, The Lunar Society
2020 was not a year that any of us would wish to live through again, but with the end of restrictions we have had to endure, the Executive Committee and Trustee’s attention is now on returning to physical activities but also taking advantage of online platforms which have certainly advanced the reach and breadth of our meetings.
Events and activities
Over the course of the last year, we had a busy series of meetings, helpfully facilitated through the medium of Zoom webinars. With the pandemic impacting so significantly on society and indeed on many of our members and supporters, the Executive Committee supported the proposal for all our on-line events to be free to access – thereby performing a valuable social role in maintaining contact and achieving dialogue and discussion. We are particularly grateful to the membership for their support during this most challenging of periods and for their continued loyalty which is greatly appreciated. We now look forward to the time, hopefully not too far away, when we are able to meet again in person.
Despite the pandemic therefore, we continued to hold robust and engaging discussions and debate on a variety of pertinent topics ranging from Meeting Climate Goals in July 2020 hosted by Lunar Society Fellow and Executive Committee Member David Dundas to the most recent, held on July 16, being a further event in the Boulton and Watt series of Lectures examining environmental issues. Cllr Ian Ward, Leader of Birmingham City Council and Transport Lead spoke and responded to questions and issues posed by members on The Future of Transport in Birmingham and the West Midlands.
The Black Lives Matter movement that arose out of the murder of George Floyd in America highlighted the issue of inequalities on a global scale. As such, in October, we commemorated Black History Month and provided a forum to examine and debate current issues and to help develop a wider understanding of Black history, including the roles of the original Lunar men.
The Black In…Series which covered four areas – Health, Politics, Law, and Innovation – celebrated Black contributions to British society including those by the eminent panellists. All the events were well attended by a diverse audience who contributed honestly, openly and transparently to the discussions. Special thanks go to the panellists, amongst them Lord Simon Woolley CBE, Bishop Dr Joe Aldred, Cllr Paulette Hamilton, Pearl Moses, Yetunde Dania, Karen Bailey FTLS, Susanne Dodd, Cllr Yvonne Mosquito, Rachel Okello, Martin Levermore DL FTLS, Drew Currie, Marika Beckford, Michael Don-Smith FTLS, Jacynth Ivery, Yvonne Coghill CBE, OBE, JP and Rameri Moukaman.
In a historical first, we also incorporated the arts into our meetings featuring: Guilaine Arts, Colin Gabbidon, Fiona Faye, Allan Bennets, Kwame Toussaint and the award-winning international jazz opera star Marie-Claire Giraud.
At the end of October, at the Sir Adrian Cadbury Lecture, we presented the outcome of the Governance Inquiry and launched Karl George MBE’s Race Equality Code 2020 which has been successfully adopted by organisations across the UK including Birmingham City Council and is also embedded in the National Housing Federation’s new Code of Governance 2020 for Housing Associations in England & Wales. We thank the Rt. Hon. Liam Byrne for delivering the principal address and we are grateful to Aston University and the George Cadbury Fund for supporting the Lecture, now in its fourth year.
In December, we held a timely consideration of issues that face the homeless and the charities and organisations that support them. Homelessness is not just for Christmas… included an expert panel superbly chaired by Cllr Sharon Thompson JP, Birmingham City Council Cabinet Member for Homes and Neighbourhoods and including Sharon Hudson, Community Development and Partnerships Lead, Birmingham St Marys Hospice, Christine Grover, Learning & Evaluation Coordinator, Birmingham Changing Futures Together, and Lee Demetriou, Development Officer and former Peer Mentor. The emotional evening ended with music by the Choir with No Name.
We started 2021 with the future in mind as part of our Futures series… In an event titled How can we enable children from disadvantaged backgrounds achieve their full potential? we turned our attention to our children, their education and those disadvantaged amongst them, particularly in light of the gross inequalities highlighted as a result of the COVID19 pandemic. Thank you to the skilful and brilliant Chair Colin Diamond CBE and the panellists Sharon Bell, Abigail Vlahakis and Alex Hughes for their insightful contributions which fostered a robust discussion which included intersectionality of race and class together with impacting nuances such as hidden disadvantage, mental health, gang violence, empathy and climate change.
In February we went to the other end of the spectrum and considered with Chair Richard Kirby, panellists Prof Zoe Wyrko FTLS, Danielle Oum, Mustak Mirza and Benita Wishart through Ageing Well In Birmingham that despite Birmingham being one of the youngest cities in Europe, the increasing older population has major health and social care needs, exacerbated by the COVID19 pandemic. We also explored the accelerated implementation and collaboration of new cross-sector partnership working.
In a historical first, we also hosted a speaker live from the United States of America addressing the Lunar Society members in the UK in an exclusive talk by eminent historian and author Anton Chaitkin FTLS. Franklin, Lunar and America’s fight for universal progress included evidence to make the case that Benjamin Franklin, the American scientist and statesman, inspired and was inspired by the Eighteenth-Century Lunar Society, such that they made the advancements that transformed British industry, America’s industrialisation and modernised the world. Special thanks to Dr Peter Mayer FTLS and Dr Peter Borg-Bartolo FTLS for arranging the talk.
In March, Lunar Society Fellow and Executive Committee Member, David Dundas spoke as part of the Boulton and Watt series of Lectures looking at the role of Nuclear energy in a fossil fuel free environment and examined the two types of nuclear power: fission and fusion of atomic nuclei in the context that commercial fusion power is unlikely to be available before 2050.
Sadly, in October 2020, The Lunar Society lost one of our leading lights with the passing of Dame Rachel Waterhouse DBE, the first Chair of the newly constituted Lunar Society, who was a great consumer champion, proponent of women’s rights and the first recipient of the Lunar Medal in 2006. A tribute is included on the Society’s website.
In March, we took the opportunity to honour her memory at an engaging and lively discussion, Choose to Challenge – Women in the frontline, with the Rt. Hon. Jacqui Smith MP FTLS; Olympic, World & Commonwealth champion Christine Ohuruogu MBE; Tina Swani FTLS; Louise Teboul, and author, singer and historian Dr Chibundu Onuzo – chaired by acclaimed broadcast journalist Juliana Olayinka FTLS in celebration of International Women’s Day and Women’s History Month.
We were joined by Dame Rachel’s daughters, Rebecca Morgan and Deborah de Haes, who paid tribute to their mother along with Amanda Cadman FTLS, the Society’s first Secretariat. Indeed, I was particularly delighted for Rebecca Morgan to comment: “The Lunar Society has evolved and moved with the times since our mother was involved with its relaunch and in a way that she would have embraced and would have been delighted to see. She supported change and she would have been particularly pleased to see an audience that was so much more representative of the City of Birmingham today”.
In another first, in April, The Lunar Society held the only hybrid online / in-person Hustings for the regional elections to elect the Metro Mayor and the Police and Crime Commissioner for the West Midlands Combined Authority region, with both events chaired brilliantly by Executive Committee member Charmaine Burton FTLS. In two robust and engaging ‘hustings’ meetings, candidates presented their plans for the West Midlands and faced questions from Lunar Society members and guests. Immense thanks to Matthew Boulton College, part of BMet, for hosting both events and special thanks to the support of the staff for their professional engagement and to the young people who spoke at the event.
In May, history touched the present for the benefit of the future when The Lunar Society spoke at the inaugural meeting of Potteries Lunar Society where homage was paid to one of the original Lunar Society men, Josiah Wedgwood, a great abolitionist, who designed the medallion, “Am I Not a Man and Brother” which became the rallying cry in the fight against slavery in the 1700s. This he did in conjunction with being an entrepreneur, an innovator, a thinker and a revolutionary way ahead of his time. Thank you to Annette Cartlidge, Ian Mood, Nicky Twemlow, Mike Riddell and David Amigoni for inviting us and for Executive Committee member John Rainford FRSA FTLS for facilitating the invitation. We are building upon the link with the Potteries Lunar Society, and we are engaged in a schools and community engagement project focused on Wedgwood’s abolition medallions working closely with the V&A Wedgwood Collection.
This month, Vice-Chair Peter Borg-Bartolo, David Clarke DL and I attended the UK Cyber Security Association’s one day global summit addressing the growing threat of Cyber Security on our global community. Our special thanks to Lunar Society member Chris Windley for extending the invitation for us to have a presence at that summit.
Our Three-Year Business Plan
Building upon the strategic plan agreed at the Executive Committee’s Away-Day in January 2020, a Three-year Business Plan to steer the direction of the organisation was approved by Executive in May 2021. We are grateful for the considered review of the plan by Sir Michael Lyons FTLS, John Charlton FTLS and Tina Swani FTLS amongst others. The plan provides a significant opportunity to develop the Society’s reach, engage more widely and to enable innovation and radical thinking such that The Lunar Society is capable of responding to and leading in relation to changes in society brought about by technological innovation, the pandemic, cultural, national, international and governance changes. We wish to thank to thank David Clarke DL, Siobhan Harper-Nunes and Natalie Louise-Brown for their contributions to the plan and the Big Lottery for their support. Immense thanks goes also to the hard work of the Executive and particularly Vice-Chair Dr Peter Borg-Bartolo FTLS and Hon. Secretary Clive Stone DL FTLS for their measured input.
The Business Plan acknowledges both the challenges and the opportunities. Our membership has declined in recent years but is now levelling off and shows a small upturn. Our finances have been under strain particularly due to the pandemic and the lack of in-person events which resulted in a fall in sponsorship and, as with many other membership organisations, we need to broaden representation and achieve further engagement with a wider constituency. These are all issues that are being addressed whilst there are also some real positives that come to bear:
- The Lunar Society and our events are extremely well regarded as evidenced by the recent hustings, with praise from the 11 candidates to the Society for organising such events during a difficult period (the pandemic) that enabled hundreds to participate in live debate and discussion.
- The Society benefits from strong leadership and succession.
- The Society is capable of opening doors and achieving partnerships with those institutions, bodies and individuals that are well respected particularly within the Midlands. Business organisations, universities, FE colleges, schools, enterprises and other institutions have been happy and keen to partner with the Society. These include high profile events with Birmingham University and Aston University and with BMet College in respect of two hustings and high-profile individuals such as Olympic Champion Christine Ohurugu MBE.
- Far from being an inhibitor to activity, the pandemic has accelerated activity. Whereas in 2018, there were 8 events, in 2020/21 there were 20 attracting nearly 1,000 participants.
- Holding events online has extended reach with attendance from mainland Europe, the USA, South Africa and the Caribbean and a small but important increase in the number of overseas members.
- Subject to the Constitution, there is a potential line of succession of the Chair for the next five years. The Society’s Executive Committee has broadened to include wider gender and ethnic representation (albeit there is more to be done). Online events have also seen wider representation including younger people, an area which the Society will be developing over the next three years.
- The recent granting by HMRC that as a charity we are able to claim Gift Aid on both donations and subscriptions will prove useful both in terms of reclaiming Gift Aid from past years but also in the future. In addition, we are aware of donations that are due to be made in the next financial year (2021/22) as a result of this news. This will provide a welcome addition to our finances.
The plan sets out how the Lunar Society could achieve a reinvigoration, revitalisation and rejuvenation of the organisation to match the vitality of the original founders and be a leading determinator of society’s future, addressing the issues of today and building upon our ‘heritage for the future’.
The introduction of Honorary Counsellors
As part of this, this year also saw the introduction of Honorary Counsellors – individuals of substantial and noteworthy professional and social backgrounds who can support and act as a sounding-board for the Chair and the Executive Committee and who embody our ambition to reinvigorate, revitalise and rejuvenate the Lunar Society. We are delighted to welcome Paul Faulkner, former Chief Executive of Greater Birmingham Chamber of Commerce and now Chief of Staff and Operations at RCL partners as our first Honorary Counsellor.
Our Secretariat and communication
I have been delighted with the development of the Society’s Monthly Newsletter which is much more dynamic and engaging, featuring thought pieces from members and external individuals addressing issues ranging from COVID19 impacts, influences and challenges to inequalities in our world today and how to navigate a post-COVID world.
Sadly, The Lunar Society is losing the Secretariat services of Clarke Associates who have served the Lunar Society for the last seven years. David and his team have been invaluable to successive Chairs and Executive Committees in their cooperation, dedication and support, particularly in times that have proven challenging. We are, however, delighted to welcome Joanne Horton FRSA who will be stepping into the role from 1st August 2021.
The pandemic has sharpened the need for an apolitical, community-wide forum capable of discussing and developing ideas to enable society to respond to a post-COVID-19 world. In consequence, we are planning more in-person activities to include the annual Boulton and Watt Lecture to be delivered by Baroness Brown of Cambridge in September and a discussion with the recently appointed WMPCC Simon Foster in October. We also hope to hold in-person, The Annual Sir Adrian Cadbury Lecture and the Annual Dinner.
The modern-day Lunar Society will mark its 30th Anniversary in 2022 (financial year end March 2023) providing a landmark opportunity to focus attention on its work, activities and achievements. This coincides with the Commonwealth Games to be held in Birmingham for which we are planning a documentary and series of events to mark the same. This is very much aligned to the fact that no other membership organisation in the Midlands has such a broad representation within its membership not linked to any affiliation or cause, making us a unique and diverse melting pot that truly engages in diversity of thought at all levels.
All these initiatives have been spearheaded by our inspiring Executive Committee, and by many of you – Society Fellows, Associates and Corporate Members – with the support of our secretariat Clarke Associates. I must, of course, thank all our dynamic speakers, participants, sponsors and members, without whom we would not have achieved our success.
We have all acted with one belief – which is to further the aims of the original Lunar men and to build upon the great work of the founders of the reconstituted Lunar Society to ensure that in this 21st century we are creating our own legacy for a space for stimulating ideas, broadening debate and catalysing action in a meaningful way for society. I look forward to the Lunar Society’s continued success.
Deirdre LaBassiere LL.B Hons FTLS