From the first day I was appointed to be Chief Executive of the RSA my over riding ambition for the Society has been to enable and support our amazing Fellowship to be a powerful force for good. Yesterday was an interesting day on that journey.
In the afternoon came the news that the Evening Standard had printed a diary piece, obviously briefed by a disgruntled Fellow, making a whole series of untrue allegations about me and about my relationship with RSA Chairman Luke Johnson. I had heard most of these allegations before as a different newspaper had approached me a few weeks earlier and I had been able to head them off. Unfortunately, the Standard didn’t check the facts. However, the paper has now agreed to remove the article from their web site and archive and we are discussing the best way to publicly recognise that almost all the content in the piece was inaccurate.
I can’t pretend it isn’t unsettling that many people now think I am paying myself a £160k salary or that Luke Johnson uses his excellent FT column to send me coded messages of disapproval, but fortunately there is more than enough good news to drown out the bad.
For example, I heard on Monday that a town centre initiative taken by a small group of Fellows in Chelmsford, and then backed up by the efforts of the Fellowship team in John Adam Street, has been so successful that it has just attracted funding from the district and county councils. This model of HQ backing Fellows’ projects so they can gain scale and momentum is exactly what we hope to see across the country, especially after we launch the Fellows’ Initiative Fund in a few weeks time.
I also heard yesterday that the latest in our Fellows’ social media workshops – in Sheffield – had been a great success. The always enthusiastic Vivs Long-Ferguson e-mailed the team to say
‘…the best yet….A full house from Yorkshire and East Mids, the Yorkshire committee enthused, recruited one new Fellow, a network forming in Sheffield and three possible community ideas that could benefit from an online presence’
Dating well back before my time, relations between London and Yorkshire have not always been as warm as they could have been (I’m sure lots of the blame lay with us), so it is great to hear this went so well
Talking to former Trustees and senior staff from the RSA I have heard that there have been attempts in the past to develop a more outward looking, collaborative, model of Fellowship. These have foundered not because most Fellows didn’t support this model – they did – but because a much, much smaller group of determined people were willing to go to great lengths to maintain the status quo.
It's not been easy, and we have had at times to learn from our mistakes, but I believe we are making great progress in backing the ideas and ambitions of our Fellows, and that we can achieve much more in the years ahead. Of course, I’d rather we could pursue this ambition together without the RSA, and me personally, being publicly vilified, but ultimately it has to be a price worth paying.
We shouldn’t underestimate how far our societies have pulled apart. Yet there is hope for renewal, says Anthony Painter. The question is not whether we come together – but how.