Members will be aware that the Company has an Honorary Almoner. The Almoner, like many of those who work within the committees of the Company, undertakes the role for three years and last summer Mike Clark took over from Robert Sanger. Big shoes to fill indeed! We asked Mike about the work he does and initially to give an overview of the almoner's role.
I am indebted to Wikipedia, that refuge for the uninformed, for a definition of the word “almoner”. ‘Originally a chaplain or church officer who was in charge of distributing money to the deserving poor, the word has largely gone out of use. However, the almoner remains an active and important office in the livery companies of the City of London. The almoner’s duty is to oversee the needs of the members. He is the contact for charity and looks after the welfare of the members, including visits to the sick, aged and infirm.’
That sums up my role very succinctly. I see my task as being to deliver traditional and enduring values in a modern 21st century context.
Can you outline for us the various types of assistance available and to whom it might be offered?
The Stationers’ Foundation is the independent charitable arm of the Company, with governance through its own board of trustees. Details of the Foundation can be found on the Company’s website. One of its stated missions is to: ‘Provide financial assistance and care to those who work, or have worked in our industries and their dependents in time of need.’
The principal activity of the Foundation’s Welfare Fund is the provision of annual or one-off grants to persons in need, hardship or distress. The Fund depends on your donations! The Honorary Almoner acts as the interface between the Foundation and those seeking support from the Welfare Fund. The application for help may come from a Stationer, or from someone who has worked in one of the Communication and Content industries, or their dependents. The request might be for a small annual pension payment to supplement their state pension, or for a one-off payment in the case of an immediate need. Typically, the request will come because of a personal problem, ill health, having to act as a carer for a spouse of relative, and where the applicant feels that he or she has nowhere else to go for help. Much of my time as the Almoner is spent talking with people in situations of distress or hardship and trying to help distill their need into something which will help them. For example, they may not really need financial help, they perhaps need to talk to an organisation such as The Citizens Advice Bureau, or to a medical support charity. They may need to apply to the Foundation for long term pension support and be guided through that process, or they may need some financial help them in the immediate short term. Whilst all major applications will be directed to the Foundation, I do have access to a limited discretionary fund to enable me to provide immediate help where I deem it appropriate.
Is it the case that sometimes it is not financial help that is required, but a friendly chat every now and again?
Absolutely, for some people the need is just to be able to talk and get a problem off their chest, to know that someone is listening to them and is sympathetic to their position. I have spent quite a bit of time hearing about people possibly peddling drugs in a charity run apartment block, or the inefficiencies of the bus service to hospital, or even just a chat about the relative values of individual supermarkets.
How do you become aware of the need for help?
My constituency covers a very broad spectrum, including all members of the Company, as well as those who have ‘worked in our industries’, and their dependents. Correctly and speedily identifying those who need help is a major issue. I rely on an amazing network which demonstrates the spirit and values of the Company. The office at the Hall is a major source of information, perhaps one member has missed the last few events, or that another did not look at all well at the last Livery Lunch, or, more directly, that we have been told that a member is not well. But, I also rely heavily on input from Company members. If you know of any member who needs help just let me know and I will be more than happy to follow it up.
For those from outside the company, the first contact may be an application for help from a person seeking charitable support. I have made sure that the work of the Foundation is known to the trade bodies representing our allied trades and we have several examples of people receiving help from the Welfare Fund as a result of these contacts.
So, do you only contact people who are in immediate need of help?
Absolutely not, for example one of my key roles is to keep in touch with members’ widows. Lucie McCord and I make sure that all widows and pensioners receive a personally signed Christmas card and that the widows are invited to the annual “Cakes and Ale” event on Shrove Tuesday. On Shrove
Widows enjoying the Cakes and Ale lunch in 2016
Tuesday my immensely pleasurable task is to meet and greet the widows, some 25 this year, and to make sure that they are shepherded to St Paul’s for the service and then back for the light lunch in the Hall. They are delightful company and all are immensely grateful to the Stationers’ for involving them in the day.
If I hear that a member has been admitted to hospital, or has had a serious accident, I will make contact with the member or their family to make sure that they know that the Company is there to help them if needed. On a much sadder note, I send condolences from the Company to the families of members who have died and make sure that the Company is represented at their funerals. Since taking office I have personally attended three funerals and benefited greatly from hearing about the amazing lives of our former members. It is also a time to gently find out if the family need any help from the Company.
Do you visit Stationers in their homes?
I do, but the visit needs to be appropriate and at the invitation of the member or pensioner. Getting to know our members and their needs has, in my opinion, to be balanced with not being intrusive or a nuisance.
Do you have any background in this kind of work?
Over the past several years I have served as a trustee of a number of local charities, including a Day Centre for the elderly, and served for six years as a churchwarden at my local parish church. For reasons best known only to my former employers, I am also the chairman of my previous company’s UK Pension Fund, acting as a director of the Pension Trust. So, not exactly the same as being an almoner, but similar issues with which to deal.
Looking ahead to 2019, when you will relinquish the post, do you have any advice for your successor?
Well, I’m sure that I will have learn a lot more by then, but my initial advice would be to get to know the Foundation, how it works and how they want to work with you. Liaise closely with the Company office and especially with Pamela Butler, the Foundation’s Administrator, and try and make sure that members know who you are – hence this article – because they are your eyes and ears. Don’t be afraid to be proactive and, finally, remember that you can be at your most eloquent and helpful when you are listening, and not talking.
Liveryman Paddy Belton is a journalist working for, amongst others, the BBC, Standard and Poor and the Spectator. His specialist fields include technology, economics, banks, cybersecurity, Ukraine, Afghanistan, Pakistan, the Arab world, Northern Ireland, UK and Irish politics, paramilitaries, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Hamas, scoundrels, rogues, Irish fiction and even the odd theatre review. The Company has often received emails from Paddy on various matters while he was on assignment in Donetsk or in some other difficult part of the world and we have been “concerned”. This lecture, the Annual Men's Breakfast Lecture which he delivered at St Gabriel's, North Acton on Saturday, 6 May 2017, deals with whether it is possible to do the right thing in situations where consistently and correctly identifying the right thing is fraught with difficulty and danger and does so in a way which reveals that our “concern” was not misplaced. Past Master Tom Hempenstall spotted the text on social media and felt that Stationers would want to read it. Click here to read it in full.
We are all becoming increasingly aware of how the internet can allow us to remotely control our heating systems or how cars can be guided to their destinations without the need for drivers etc., but these are just the tip of the IoT iceberg! We are grateful to Liverymen Janet Bell and Steve Hilleard of OPI for permission to link through to Michelle Sturman’s fascinating article.
Michelle (seen above) is Deputy Editor, OPI and in her piece she outlines the size of the impact that IoT is going to have on offices. Click here to read.
At what age did you realise you wanted a career in food and where did you train?
It was no longer than 12 years ago, when I decided to cook for a living. Since I was a teenager I was trying my luck in the kitchen. It was a hobby to begin with, more than a passion. I always enjoyed cooking, first for my parents, then for friends and it stayed like that. I was working in many restaurants working my way up and I was really lucky because I was working with really good chefs and they were always happy to train me. Now it’s totally different. Cooking for sometimes hundreds of people, managing big teams of chefs, very often not being able to cook, just instructing other chefs. It is a totally different ball game. It’s very exciting now, but it was a long way for me to get here.
What are the challenges of catering for large numbers generally and specifically at Stationers’ Hall?
The biggest challenge in catering for large numbers is timing. When doing a big event you always have to consider that whatever job, it will take significantly longer than doing it for few people. You have to consider that things during long prep can cool down, harden up or dry up. So very often you have to do big jobs in small stages. Planning is the most important thing when catering for large events. Experience helps a lot as there is no recipe on how to run the service.
At Stationers’ Hall my biggest issue is the space. Once a year we hold the Trade Christmas Lunch, normally for around 300 people. When we prepare 300 plates of each dish we have to be very precise with timings and planning. At one time we can plate around 70 plates of a cold starter. They have to be stored somewhere while maintaining freshness and quality. I wouldn’t be myself if I didn’t mention limited oven space! But hopefully we will be able to overcome that issue in the near future.
How big is the team working in the kitchen at Stationers’ Hall?
The core of the team is not that big, it consists of just 4 people. In catering you have to be much more flexible than in restaurants because on larger events I can have up to 12 chefs working at the same time. It all depends on the size and importance of the function. Obviously functions for Stationers’ are absolute priority so even on small events I’m making sure that there are enough chefs, to run an event smoothly and with highest quality possible.
Do you see fads and fashions in cooking and if so how do you react to them?
I definitely see those, I like to try new things but l don’t like to follow new trends too much, because very often they pass quickly and no one remembers them. I prefer to stick to a more classical style of cooking. I do like though modern cooking techniques like sous vide.
What do you like to cook for yourself?
I don’t really cook for myself, just because I don’t like half measures and spending hours to make a meal just for myself, that will be eaten in minutes is a little bit pointless. But If I do cook for myself it’s normally something Asian, it’s quick and healthy.
Do you have a favourite cook book and/or a food hero?
I have so many books that it’s just hard to decide which one is my favourite. I think that the one that I’m coming back to the most is ‘Galvin a Cookbook de Luxe’ by Galvin brothers. My food hero is definitely my mum. She was always very passionate about cooking and I think that, partly because of her I’m doing what I’m doing now.
Do you keep a collection of your own tried and tested recipes which you might be tempted to publish one day?
I do have a few of my own recipes but I’m not a Michelin chef and I think that just those should be publishing books.
What do you think about media chefs? Are they helpful, inspirational or traitors to their art?
I don’t think that the role that they play is very good for the industry. You can see that especially with the approach of young chefs to cooking. They don’t realise how important experience is. After watching programs on TV or just following famous chefs on the internet, they think that they can do the same thing just because it looks so easy. They don’t realise that whatever they see on screen was done before hundreds, if not thousands of times and it requires a lot of attention.
Have you got one foodie tip to pass on which our members will enjoy or find useful?
It’s not a shame to fail in cooking, it happens very often in professional kitchens. My tip would be to find out what went wrong. Maybe the temperature was too high, maybe the oven was too dry or maybe you used too much of something. Learn from your own mistakes, home cooking isn’t very measurable so just repeat things that didn’t work out and you will find a way of mastering it. In my opinion that’s the best way of learning how to cook. You have to understand the whole process.
In the office supplies industry and especially in the world of b2b, mobile has always been seen as a channel that is under invested, and it is still true today that the Office Supplies industry under indexes in mobile traffic in comparison to other e-retail industries.
However, it’s worth noting that there is no longer such a thing as a single channel purchasing journey. Customers might have a preferred channel but they no longer interact exclusively through that channel and are often influenced or have researched their purchasing options across channels before buying. In order to compete in the office supplies market going forward, dealers must be able to start a dialogue or transaction on one media and continue it across others, ensuring they have a strong brand presence across all channels.
This coming January Google are planning their next big mobile algorithm update, which has been dubbed by the search community as the next phase of “mobilegeddon” and dealers must be prepared.
What are the key mobile changes to look out for in 2017?
Google to Divide its Index
To date Google has operated with a single search index covering both desktop and mobile usage, but following a recent announcement in October made by Gary Illyes, a webmaster trends analyst at Google, they now plan on releasing a separate mobile search index within months, which will become the main or ‘primary’ index that the search engine will use to respond to customer queries.
Google’s mobile first strategy, should not come as a surprise considering most digital growth is now coming from the mobile channel, however quite how this will affect desktop search results is still unclear. For example, if you are not optimised for mobile, will your desktop rankings be penalised? If the mobile index is to become ‘Primary’ then how out-of-date will the desktop index become? What is clear once again, is companies like Google reiterating the importance of creating mobile friendly websites, so if you haven’t made plans to move to a responsive web design solution, you really should make plans to overhaul your shop window soon.
Google will penalise mobile sites for pop-ups that obscure your view
Pop-ups that obscure the main content of a mobile site will now also negatively impact your keyword rankings and the ability for customers to find you on mobile devices.
Most of us agree that ads on mobile (pop-ups and interstitials) are annoying, yet in the world of m-commerce they are still frequently used to push promotional messaging and capture user details. Google’s objective is to direct users to informative and optimised search result pages with clear content and strong user experience, so it seems reasonable that Google would look to start penalising sites by lowering rankings where content is not easily accessible.
Let’s hope that with the introduction of the ‘primary’ mobile index, mobile websites that are ignoring the warning signs, do not start to see an impact on desktop.
Speed and Performance
Back in June 2016, Google announced that they were updating their page speed ranking factor to specifically look at the page speed of mobile pages. In the past many of Googles ranking signals were based on desktop web pages only, but in line with their love of all things mobile, Google has updated their algorithms to factor mobile page speeds.
In September this year, Google also announced its support for the new AMP technology and their plans to implement a new AMP icon on its mobile search results pages, enforcing the importance of ensuring your mobile site speed is optimised.
How will this impact office supplies dealers?
Office supplies dealers have to compete not only with other local dealers, but with online retailers and the giants like Amazon. It makes it even more important that any local searches for your products bring up your company name at the top of Google search. On average our dealer partners get 40% of sales online, and mobile traffic nearly accounts for 10% of global traffic across the group. Therefore, it’s crucial to continue to optimise all online channels and take all the steps you need to ensure your customers can easily find you online. As mentioned before there is no such thing as a single channel purchasing journey, and your website is your ‘Shop window’ in the online world, so it’s important that you future-proof it for all new visitors.
From now on, Google essentially won’t make any distinction between mobile-friendly and non-mobile-friendly websites – all websites must be mobile friendly, and if they’re not then your website will simply be penalised for it. According to Google, on average 56% of all their searches are now performed on mobile devices, so the algorithm updates are unsurprisingly supporting the Google mobile first strategy.
What to do if your mobile site is not mobile friendly?
At Office Power we have been working on a huge user-experience re-design project for our dealer partners which will be launched this January to coincide with Google’s algorithm updates. Our partners will benefit from a fully responsive solution, built using the latest technologies to ensure we adhere to Google’s guidelines.
If you haven’t moved towards a mobile-friendly responsive website design, then invest now to ensure your potential new customers can find you across all channels. If you do have a responsive website design, then make sure it follows all of the latest guidelines. Check things like font sizes, load times, image sizes, button sizes and if you are still using mobile interstitial ads then start to think of an alternative advertising plan.
By Richard Sinclair, Product Director at Office Power (part of the EO Group, a Stationers’ Corporate Member, and sister company of Euroffice).
The Office Power (part of the EO Group, a Stationers’ Corporate Member, and sister company of Euroffice) are experts in the office products market . They recently issued the following piece on Branding and as you will see it has nuggets of information, ideas and interest for anyone, regardless of their industry sector.
Lots of our new Freemen, not just those who aspire to the Livery, go on to Guildhall, after their freedom ceremonies here at the Hall, to apply for Freedom of the City which is an essential step on the way to becoming a Liveryman. Murray Craig is Clerk to the Chamberlain’s Court and he, and his Deputy, Laura Miller (a Freeman of the Company) will be familiar to all those who are made Free of the City. But what does the Clerk to the Chamberlain’s Court do? We asked Murray who is seen in the photo with one of his more famous new Freemen!
The Stationers’ Company is passionate about Stationers’ Crown Woods Academy and members will be very keen to know more about you, your way of thinking and your plans...
Q: What was it about teaching that first made you think "That’s the career for me!"?
A: To be honest I'd planned to become a Lawyer, or a modern Russian Historian. I decided upon a PGCE after my History degree so that I could teach and earn a living, whilst I learnt Russian and sought further qualifications. However, pretty much instantly when I began
Written by Past Master Kevin Dewey
Fig 1 - An indenture certificate dating back to 1857, binding Patrick Meehan to William Vernon and Ludolf Mellin as apprentice for 5 years. Patrick amongst other things promises not to ‘haunt taverns, inns or ale houses’. In return he would have received a training at the ‘Goulburn Chronical and Southern Advertiser’ in New South Wales for a princely, then sum of 7/6p per week for the first year rising to 25/- in the fifth year.
Written by Court Assistant Tim Connell
“As good almost kill a Man as kill a good Book” (Milton)
In his Areopagitica of 1644, John Milton put forward a passionate case for freedom of expression and the right to publish without hindrance. He himself was in some danger at the time of the Restoration when his books were burnt outside the Old Bailey, and removed from university libraries. It is a danger which has flared up at different times and in different parts of the world both before and since, and to this day people take enormous risks either to get a story or to publish an opinion which is not in line with standard orthodoxy.