There is no doubt that the last 12 months has been a year that we would have found very difficult to foresee. Covid 19 has affected us all in many different ways; my thoughts and best wishes are with those who have suffered at the hands of this global pandemic.
In the face of such adversity there has been so much good to see, with Club Members seeking to support the Club at every opportunity, the positive reaction of the staff to every twist and turn thrown at them and the optimism that has pervaded as we look forward to the time when the Club can function for its Members, Guests and staff in a normal manner.
The successful progress of the vaccination programme over the last number of weeks gives us hope for the future. We will await the Government guidance in regard to future reopening of the hospitality sector.
I think it is important that we record how the various components of the Club have responded during some very difficult times.
During the last 12 months, the Club has had limited opportunities to open; only 40% of the normal trading days were available as we complied with Government-led lockdowns. It was a very testing period for all, but the Club attempted to open at every opportunity.
With enforced closures and dealing with ever-changing circumstances, I can only thank our General Manager, Lorna McCrudden and the staff for their tremendous efforts to ensure that the Club maximised the opportunities to open in as safe an environment as possible.
The Club’s ability to use the space afforded by the Reading Room and Dining Room together was most helpful.
When the brief opportunity arose, The Club had a successful foray into evening opening, with a series of “Dinner at the Club” events and I trust that the success of these means that we can look forward to regular evening openings.
Our Head Chef, Robert Fulton, and our kitchen staff continue to provide a very high standard of food and service. Comments from Members and guests alike, has been very positive.
We are extremely fortunate to have such loyal Members and such goodwill; we know that regular Club activities and social events are much missed by all.
The Members’ concerns and empathy for the staff and fellow Members of the Club has been amply demonstrated through the immediate support of the Club’s reopening, the generous donations to the Staff Christmas fund or just the sharing of a few kind words.
Every conversation I have with Club members includes the comment of how they are looking forward to using the Club more when the opportunity becomes available.
Club Staff & Management
The Management team and the staff performed their roles with great commitment, dignity and courage in the face of the myriad of challenges that were continually thrown at them. I have been consistently reminded of their strength of character as they have risen to every challenge with a positive and optimistic manner.
We have a new member of staff, Deborah Galloway, Deputy General Manager; she replaced Katie Wamsley, previously our Hospitality Manager. Deborah had previously worked in the Grand Central Hotel and has settled well into her new role.
Club Committees & Finances
The Club’s Officers, Management Committee members, Convenors & Club Members who sit on the 5 sub-committees have continued to perform their duties with diligence.
Your Management Committee and the sub-committees have continued to operate in as normal a manner as possible and have responded to the challenges they have faced by developing new skills and expertise, videoconferencing being one!
I have been most grateful for the support of the Officers of the Club and I think it is important that we recognise the significant contribution that our Honorary Treasurer, Adrian Bannon, has made over the past 12 months. The way he has guided the Club through the maze of financial support schemes whilst retaining a clear focus has served the Club exceptionally well and I am grateful for his contributions.
I would like to thank all the Members of Management Committee for their contributions and support.
Membership & Marketing
The Committee is convened by Mark Blackburne. We ended the year with 866 members, a net loss of 53 members, with 69 resignations and 26 new members. During 2020, the Committee have had very little opportunity to add to the new Member numbers; they have plans in place to actively engage with the move of the University of Ulster campus to York Street. The Committee are also looking to pursue opportunities to facilitate or host organisations that could be complementary to our Club.
I would like to thank Mark Blackburne and his Committee for all their successful efforts.
House, Sports & Social
The Committee is convened by Peter Rainey. Normally the busiest of Committees, this year there has been a much-restricted calendar of events. However, this has not stopped the Committee continuing to test out new events such as the “Dinner at the Club” evenings and they will shortly be starting a series of Member lectures on Wednesday evenings via Zoom, with Club Members speaking on any number of interesting topics.
We will also look forward to the Committee bringing together the 135th anniversary events that have now been delayed.
I would like to thank Peter Rainey and his House, Sports & Social Committee for all their successful hard work.
This had been chaired by Trevor Hinds and the Committee continues to ensure that the staff remuneration and benefits are kept under review. As at December 2020, the Sir Cecil McKee Bursary was valued at £91,486, the Committee will continue to utilise the income generated to support the Club staff in their career development and assist with staff hardship rewards. Trevor has now resigned as Convenor and I would like to thank him for his contribution to this Committee.
Past President Harry Sproule continues to chair the Committee. The restoration of the portrait of Sharman Crawford is nearing completion and I thank Harry and his Committee for continuing to look after, restore and protect the many valuable artefacts here in the Club.
Ulster Reform Club Building Company
After a very busy 2019, during which the building received a significant refresh, the last 12 months has been a quieter period for the Building Company under the continued guidance of Harry Sproule. He has added Chris Lowry to the Board; they continue to deal efficiently & effectively with all property matters. Changes in the High Street have been accelerated over the last 12 months and with the lease with our ground floor tenant expiring in 2024, we await further developments.
We know the challenges that the Club faces when we reopen, as set out by the URC Strategy Committee chaired by Chris McCleane. We must ensure that we engage with the current Membership, attract & retain new Members and maximise the magnificent Clubhouse that hosts the Club in 4 Royal Avenue.
Once again, I would like to thank all those who have provided such wonderful support and guidance during the year, Trustees, Past Presidents, Committee Members, Club members and all the staff. It is a great honour to serve as President and I would take this opportunity to wish the Junior Vice President, Chris Sherry, a successful and rewarding year ahead.
Jonathan T McAlpine