Peterborough Conservative Club



7 FEBRUARY 2019 


Ladies and Gentlemen. It is now just over seventy years since this club took up residence at number 77 Broadway. Having moved from the Co-op Hall in Park Road, its first incarnation here was as The Unionist Club which was changed some four years later to what we know now as Peterborough Conservative Club. 70 Years. Long time. Imagine the various committees, the large number of staff and the abundance of members that have adorned this building over that time. We are talking thousands of people, meeting here, enjoying the facilities of this precious gem of an institution. How has it stood the test of time? It has done this through hard work and dedication of members and staff over the years, riding the good times and addressing challenges through not so good times, with foresight, belief, hard work, and may be a little bit of luck. We are now living off that long legacy, and have done for some time. Going forward, what will be our legacy leading into the next seventy years. We have our own challenges, and I will return to those shortly. 

This time last year I was on my way to the Taj Mahal. No not the restaurant t in Lincoln Road. The big one in India. It was disappointing, not a madras or vindaloo in sight. But if I knew then what I know now, I may well have stayed there. At that time, I didn’t think for one minute that I would be addressing you tonight. That wasn’t in my plan. This time last year the club lost a vast amount of committee experience when both John Watt and Les Smith retired and John Gardner set himself up for an easier life in the role of President. That clearly wasn’t in his plan. Only he didn’t know it yet. 

So, a new committee emerged. Like a chrysalis turning into a butterfly, or a tadpole turning into a frog. I leave you to make your mind up which applies. A new Chairman, new Vice chairman, new Treasurer, new Trustee, new committee members, joining a small, yet elite, group of continuing committee members. But if they knew then what they know now, the prospect of remaining a tadpole may have been rather attractive. We were plagued in the first few weeks with continuing problems with the new till system. Not so much teething problems, but full root canal surgery. But we got through it. At this stage I must extend my thanks to Norman and his team who developed 

every workaround imaginable through this period. And they didn’t complain…. well not every day anyway. But seriously, and things do get serious from now on, this is one example of how our staff respond to challenges and changes that are put upon them, and many more presented themselves later in the year, and I would like to record my gratitude for their support during these extraordinary times. Thank You. 

In early June, the Chairman and his partner, also a committee member, suddenly resigned. No reason given. None forthcoming since. However, as they say, the show must go on. We decided in the first instance not to resort to a wholesale reshuffle of the committee. Being a relatively new set up, people were still finding their feet with only four months into their roles. I was asked to assume the role of acting Chairman, working without a Vice Chairman. John and I took on joint responsibility of overseeing the management aspects of the Club with vital assistance from Lorraine. We agreed priorities going forward and took the step, at that point, to address the weakness in the flat roof over the snooker room, and to tackle an up and coming environmental health issue in the cask ale cellar where the increase in mould spoors could potentially become toxic. Both of these works have now been completed. 

In September, regrettably, it was necessary to dismiss the Secretary for gross misconduct. 

It is with further regret that I am unable to elaborate on this event at this stage as Noel has lodged a claim for unfair dismissal at a tribunal which will take place later this year. I cannot say anything that may compromise or prejudice the Club’s defence, which is extremely strong and robust. The actions were not taken lightly, and only after seeking advice from, arguably, the best employment lawyer in Peterborough. I am sorry if you were expecting more. It is as frustrating for me as it is for you. 

This departure created a need for speedy comprehensive action to keep the Club functioning normally, with very little documentation on procedures, regular activities, timing of regulatory reporting, and many other things we didn’t even know about. I must make it clear to you ladies and gentlemen, that in the vast majority of cases, my fellow committee members here with me now, have been exceptional. Additional help and support has been overwhelming. Whatever shortcomings we all have, and I am not overstating this, if it wasn’t for this team, and, again, our excellent staff, we may not have been having this particular meeting this evening. It could have been something 

else entirely. I don’t want to single particular people out but I will make an exception. Our new secretary, Brenda Hurley, has taken up the reigns admirably and has been a godsend. We now have the semblance of an organised operation which, although not perfect, is in much better shape administratively than it has been for some considerable time. Can we please show our appreciation for Brenda and the salvage team. Thank you. 

I would like to finish on a high note, but instead I will just touch on our finances. In a few minutes, Andrew will take us through this year’s accounts in some detail. Before that there are a few things I need you to consider. Many of you will remember the times when this lounge was two or three deep at the bar most lunchtimes, and similarly a brisk regular trade between six and eight in what was the Heath, then Thatcher lounge. Those days are long since gone. People change. Habits change. Working attitudes change. Times change. Over the years this, along with other factors, has impacted on our trading income. Year after year, at these meetings, successive chairmen have had need to bring to your attention the stagnant or decreasing bar takings, indicating a reduction in usage by members. We continue to search for a reason why vast numbers of our membership do not take advantage of this magnificent club. 

I just want to touch on membership fees. Apart from Life Members, most of you will have renewed your membership during January or December at a cost of £35 and £30 respectively. These fees include VAT, so the Club keeps £28 or £24. This equates to a first or second class stamp per week or a quarter of a cup of high street coffee. That’s less than a cup of coffee per month, around twelve cups per year. Now I would like to do a straw poll, and need your help. I want you to assume that we all drink coffee and we all love Starbucks and I want you to ask yourself a question: Is my membership of this club worth more than a cup of coffee a month? 

Back to reality, our outgoings continue to rise and we haven’t adjusted our expenditure accordingly. In recent times our expenditure has exceeded our trading income regularly. Fortunately for us part of our predecessors’ legacy was to invest in property. As outlined in the accounts, we have four properties from which we derive income which was specifically intended to maintain those properties and be rainy-day money for the Club to spend on major upkeep or specific projects. It has, however, been necessary to dip into the rainy-day water butt regularly, to such an extent that, within two years, if we do not increase our income and reduce expenditure, it will be bone dry. This is not scaremongering. This is fact. The consequences of continuing with our 

heads in the sand will lead to us having to raise money against this building, or start selling properties. Not an attractive proposition. We need to, and must, change our approach. 

Putting some perspective on this, we are an operation that has a high asset value, but with a reducing stock of cash. It is like owning your home outright, but not having enough cash to pay running costs without dipping into savings. But let me be crystal clear. We are not in any way in financial difficulties, as we have property assets. However, realising cash from our assets must be seen as a last resort. That would be treating the symptoms and not the cause. We must focus our efforts jointly on reducing the gap between income and expenditure. This is vital, and we all, as members, need to understand the seriousness of this situation. We have out lived most other contemporary clubs who failed to act positively and quickly to address their financial issues and subsequently went out of business. By acting now, together, we can address our current circumstances. The new committee will be looking at all aspects of the club’s finances over the coming weeks and months. There will be changes. There has to be change and we have to face facts. There are difficult choices and decisions to be made and your understanding that we are all working to sustain the legacy for the future is appreciated. One aspect that requires attention is entertainment, in the broadest sense, and how we manage that financially. The recent exchanges on the subject of jazz have demonstrated the strength of feeling that members hold for their specific passion which still remains heavily subsidised. Where we need your help is to seek out new members, and particularly members who will use the club on a regular basis, and to encourage members you know to use the club more frequently. Any other suggestions would be warmly welcomed. I think you will agree we have a very unique and special institution here. By working together, we can keep it that way. To finish, I would like you to give some consideration to the following variation on a famous quote by John F Kennedy: ‘Ask not what your club can do for you – ask what you can do for your club.’ 

Thank You. 

Andy Sanders

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