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.