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Liveryman Mike Clark writes:

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So, what does the Honorary Almoner actually do?

In my three years as Honorary Almoner of the Stationers’ Company I have probably been asked that question at least once on every occasion I have attended a function at Hall.

The role of the almoner is an historic one, which has changed very little since the Company was founded. In the early Christian church, the almoner was the chaplain or church officer in charge of distributing money to the deserving poor, in execution of the Christian principle of donating 10% of an individual’s income as charity. The City livery companies followed the example of the church and appointed almoners, who acted as the channel for charity and looked after the welfare of members, including visits to the sick, aged and infirm.  

That role continues in 2019, albeit the way in which the job is fulfilled is constantly adapting to meet changing needs and modern life styles.

The Stationers’ Foundation an independent charitable trust. In addition to its key role in education, the Foundation is also charged with providing welfare. The Trust Deeds state that, in addition to its educational objectives, the charity’s purposes specifically include the provision of welfare support to not just Stationers, but also to the members of all allied trades, where they can be shown to be in need, hardship or distress. Thus, the Honorary Almoner is a welfare link between the Company and the Foundation.

However, welfare is very much more than doling out money. In my experience, the role of a modern almoner can be broadly divided into 4 areas.

Stationers, or members of their families will inevitably suffer illness or injury, perhaps requiring hospital treatment. I rely on the splendid Company network to bring such cases to my attention, so that I may contact the member to check that everything is OK and see whether there is anything which can be done to help. This might lead to a series of calls to provide appropriate support. The fact that they have been remembered by the Company is inevitably received with thanks and gratitude.

Secondly, there are cases where the member has long – term health or welfare issues. A regular ‘phone call, or home visit can be greatly appreciated and often provides comfort out of all proportion to the simple act of having a chat. I have greatly enjoyed the stories and anecdotes I have heard during these conversations. An area in which I would liked to have been more active is helping members who can’t cope with normal travel to attend Company events. For them the chance to attend Hall and meet old friends is a real joy and is usually not so difficult to arrange.

The Foundation’s welfare fund is not substantial and is necessarily limited in the purposes to which it can be deployed, but I have taken considerable personal satisfaction in liaising with the charity to help a number of people in severe distress. Two examples were the young widow of a printer, who had lost a son to suicide and her husband to brain cancer and who did not know to whom to turn to meet the funeral expenses; and the elderly trade pensioner in distressed circumstances, struggling to live on her own at home, whose Disability Living Allowance had been summarily withdrawn and on whose behalf the NHS approached the Almoner to seek short-term support whilst her appeal was heard. The Foundation also provides modest supplementary welfare pensions for currently two retired people, with whom I maintain contact.

Finally, in the sad event of a member’s death it is the almoner’s responsibility to make sure that the rest of the membership are made aware and that the next of kin receive a letter of condolence on behalf of the Company. Wherever possible we try to ensure that the Company is represented at the funeral and it may fall to the almoner to discharge that duty. It is very much Company policy that we keep in touch with the widow(er)s of deceased members and one of the features of the Company calendar is the annual “Cakes and Ale” service in St Paul’s, to which they are invited and entertained at lunch (see photo below) .

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There are no rules for being an almoner. The rules are determined by circumstances and need.

Image: La retraite de l'aumônier ou Le Bréviaire Jules-Alexis Muenier

 

Marie is a Knowledge and Information Officer at Clifford Chance.  She was made Free of the Company in February 2019 and we have taken this opportunity to get to know her a little better.  She is seen in this photo with her sponsors Court Assistant Mike James on the left and Liveryman Dominic Graham on the right.

Can you explain a bit more about what you do and what  a Knowledge and Information Officer within the context of a legal firm actually does? 

When I describe my role to those outside of the profession I usually say I'm a librarian and researcher. Rather than sitting in a separate library I am embedded and sit among the finance lawyers.

I help the lawyers by conducting legal and business research, keeping them up to date with, for example, the latest news on their clients, on topics such as Brexit and the replacement of Libor, and on UK and EU legislation as it progresses through Parliament. I provide information, which is why I am an "Information Officer".

The "Knowledge Officer" aspect is because I also work with the lawyers to collect and organise their own personal knowledge – for example, when they create a document with an unusual clause in it I try and find an appropriate home for it (usually on the intranet or in a precedents collection) and endeavour to make it as discoverable as possible, so that if another lawyer needs a similar clause in the future they can use the example rather than start from scratch.

Congratulations on winning a Young Stationers’ Award for Books and Archiving.  For those not at the Young Stationers’ Dinner can you explain what you won the award for?

I won the award for my involvement and contributions to the library and information profession. I have spoken at various conferences both in the UK and in America on libraries in the corporate legal sector. I have also volunteered in numerous roles including as President of SLA Europe, and I have also mentored students and new entrants to the profession. I was extremely honoured to win the award and huge thanks is due to Anne Welsh, my personal tutor from UCL, and to Katharine Schopflin, a fellow volunteer at SLA Europe, both of whom very kindly nominated me!

Was the Awards Dinner your first visit to the Hall – Can you remember your first impressions?

Yes it was – in fact, I'm sorry to say that I had not heard of the Stationers' Company before being nominated for the award! I remember being absolutely stunned by the grandeur and beauty of the Hall and feeling rather humbled by having dinner in a place that was so obviously steeped in history. It was a truly spectacular evening!

Do you feel that storing knowledge in print has had its day and that the future will become more and more dependent on digital archives?

Some of our lawyers are absolutely wedded to print and would not part with their trusted books with their handwritten annotations and flagged pages for all the world! But these lawyers are becoming much fewer, and trainee lawyers are coming in with expectations of information being available digitally on mobile devices. For librarians, digital resources throw up myriads of new challenges; such as organising digital resource licences for multiple people instead of purchasing one print book which could be shared around the office, and the challenge of how to provide easy access to our digital resources when we no longer have a physical library where a lawyer can come and browse the bookshelves.

In our office I think we would be stretching the term 'library' to describe the remaining couple of bookcases we have left! Certainly in the corporate legal sector the ease of being able to read up on the latest hot topic while on the way to see a client seems to be the future.

You have recently become a Freeman. What are you looking for from Membership?

I am already a member of several library and information associations including CILIP, BIALL and SLA Europe, but what I am looking forward to from the Stationers' Company is the opportunity to network with those in different but related professions to myself, as well as to attend more fabulous dinners in the spectacular Stationers' Hall!

One of the things that many people say they are looking for is the opportunity to network – do you think networking is still relevant to younger people in this age of LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter, etc?

Absolutely! I think social media is actually a great way to facilitate in person networking – for example, the Young Stationers Committee advertises networking events on Facebook and Instagram. With in-person networking you can never predict the serendipity of who you might end up chatting to or what you might end up learning - which is what I have enjoyed about the social events I've attended at the Hall so far! So many of the Stationers have had such long and varied careers and particularly as a younger professional some of the conversations have been very educational (as well as entertaining!).

I know that you are already working hard on behalf of the Young Stationers – can you explain what you are doing for them?

I am currently responsible for the Young Stationers newsletter, which we email monthly to Stationers under the age of 40. Our aim is to the make the Stationers' Company as transparent and as approachable as possible to Young Stationers and to promote content and events which may be of particular interest to them. I've really enjoyed working with the Young Stationers Committee – they are a lovely bunch and Ella Kahn is a fantastic Chair!

Congratulations on winning a Young Stationers’ Sector Award.  For those not at the Young Stationers’ Dinner can you explain what you won the award for?

Thank you very much, Deborah! It was a huge pleasure for me to represent the OP industry and something I will be immensely proud of throughout my career.

Congratulations on winning a Young Stationers’ Sector Award.  For those not at the Young Stationers’ Dinner can you explain what you won the award for?

I won the Young Stationers’ award for Publishing, Digital, and Design, which was for magazine, Londnr, that I launched online in 2015, bringing out our first print issue (my pride and joy!) this year.

City of London Champion Laura Miller writes:

Everything you ever wanted to know about the City and more…

Our Archivist, Dr Ruth Frendo, writes: To mark Black History Month, we’re highlighting a very significant document from our archive. The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano, Or Gustavus Vassa, The African was registered in our Entry Book of Copies on its first publication in 1789.

As the new Company year starts, a new team of four Renter Wardens takes office.  Renter Wardens serve for one year and this year they are (starting top left and moving anti-clockwise in the photo) David Harry, Andrew Jones, Rod Kirwan and John Waits. 

Ruth Frendo writes: In June I attended a joint meeting of the City, Cambridge and Oxford Archivists Groups, held at the Museum of the Order of St. John (photo above). The meeting was accompanied by a programme of talks and presentations on recent developments relating to archives held by some of the member institutions of the three different groups.

Members will be familiar with the story of the origin of the word ‘Stationer’ as the name those limners who stopped being peripatetic, and who set up stalls or ‘stations’ in St Paul’s Churchyard, were given. 

Bettine Pellant, CEO, PICON and Liveryman of the Stationers' Company outlines the relationship between PICON and the Company and how each benefits the other.

While the Stationers’ Company has its roots in history, it has worked very hard over the years to ensure that, unlike many other Livery companies, it remains very relevant to the evolving print industry. One way it does this is by maintaining close links with the industry’s trade associations.

The Worshipful Company
of Stationers
and Newspaper Makers

Stationers' Hall
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London EC4M 7DD

Telephone: 020 7248 2934
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