My Presidential year began in early May with the retirement of Alex Graham as Chief Executive after 21 years and a handover to our new General Manager, Lorna McCrudden.
It was important that this transition in senior management was done as seamlessly and efficiently as possible without any serious disruption either to the Club or the staff and I am pleased to say that is the case with Lorna settling well into the role.
The Ulster Reform Club comprises a large number of staff, committee and sub-committee members. There are many members that give up their time voluntarily for the benefit of the Club and my sincerest thanks goes out to them all for their contribution
Our Head Chef, Robert Fulton and our kitchen staff continue to provide a high standard of food and service. On many occasions before Christmas, it was difficult to book a table such was the demand. Furthermore, feedback suggested the Club was an example of
some of the finest dining in the City at affordable prices.
As you know there are a number of officers, management committee members, convenors and club members who sit on sub-committees. There are 5 sub-committees and I will mention each briefly, starting with:
1. Remuneration Committee
This committee meets under convenor Trevor Hinds to review staff remuneration and benefits and agrees to continue with the objective of paying staff slightly more than the living wage. As at the 11th October 2019, after an original investment of £50,000, the Sir Cecil McKee bursary was valued at £84,000 with some £9,000 unencumbered funds available for disbursement and training. Senior staff have visited the Dublin Clubs, Katie, our Hospitality manager, got to see several of the London Clubs to learn of their experiences in Hospitality and Service and the general staff have also had an enjoyable evening on a “Dine around Deane’s bus tour”.
I wish to thank Trevor Hinds and his committee for their efforts.
2. Membership and Marketing Committee
This committee is convened by Mark Blackburne, assisted by Christina Johnston, Membership Relations Manager. At December 2019, Club membership registered at 919 including 40 resignations, but this was rebalanced by 40 new members joining throughout the year. This committee continues to encourage our club members to attract new members and promote the use of facilities for business presentations, meetings, Club societies and family social events. The committee also encourages events such as the younger members lunches, ladies’ lunches and the development of social media and the Club website to attract wider interest in the Club.
Members are encouraged to consider the access to and use of reciprocal clubs as a benefit to their membership and I am pleased to report the addition of 3 new Clubs in South Carolina, Philadelphia and Amsterdam now on our list to visit. During the Rugby World Cup last year when I was in Japan, I had the opportunity to dine at the Kobe Club in the city of Kobe, to meet with their President and to present our Ulster Reform Club book. I also received an invitation, as your President, and duly attended the Centenary Celebrations of the Royal Scots Club in Edinburgh in June 2019.
With the current development of the University of Ulster campus in York Street, there are a number of initiatives ongoing to attract new members and to encourage our existing Ulster University members to market our dining facilities and rooms.
I would like to thank Mark Blackburne and his committee for all their successful efforts.
3. Art Restoration
This committee is currently chaired by our Past President, Harry Sproule. At this point in time, we have a portrait of Sharman Crawford being restored in Belfast. In its place, on the stairwell, is a painting, on loan, of a fellow member, the late James McDonald. In October past, the Club was presented with a silver salver by the 27 Club, a group of former military personnel and we hope to find a space to display it in the near future.
Having come across a plaque in the lower office, recognising the Victoria Cross won by Second Lieutenant John Dunville, it has now been relocated to the members bar. John Dunville was a relative of one of the founder members of the Ulster Reform Club, Robert Dunville.
I thank Harry Sproule and his committee for continuing to look after, restore and protect the many valuable artefacts we have here in the Club.
4. Ulster Reform Club Building Company
Following on from the devastating fire in August 2018 at the Primark Building, the URC Building Company endorsed and began a major refurbishment to the exterior of the building in early June 2019. This included the cleaning of existing stonework, work to the stained-glass windows on the south of the building, replacing and repointing stonework and several structural repairs.
The contractor, Hugh J O’Boyle performed very well, and the project was completed by the end of October which allowed full access and use of the building as the busy Christmas period approached. £250,000 had been allocated but as the costs were kept within budget it allowed a sum to be directed towards exterior lighting which looks fabulous at night-time and enhances the façade to the front of the Club. This is the third significant restoration or improvement project undertaken by the Club in the last 20 years.
I wish to thank Jonathan McAlpine, Harry Sproule along with Alex Graham acting as secretary to the URC Building company, the Design Team and the committee members.
5. House, Sports and Social Committee
As you know this is a very important committee, organising a number of social and sporting events, chaired by Patrick Thompson. We began in May with Alex Graham’s Retirement Drinks Reception.
The following months included Wine Tasting, The Stirling Cup hosted at Dunmurry Golf Club and our famous Seafood and Roast Carvery Buffets, amongst a
wide range of other social events.
Once again, I would like to thank Past President Jim Neilly for bringing many of his Rugby friends to speak atthe Sporting lunches. These are always sell-out events.
From the Remembrance Day event right through to Christmas, the Club functions and lunches are almost always fully booked, with the staff working tirelessly.
However, this year we didn’t have our Sporting Dinner and Auction as it clashed with the Rugby World Cup in October, which traditionally raises several thousand pounds for the Club. We also had two major corporate lunches that
were held elsewhere as we couldn’t accommodate the large numbers. This is reflected in our annual turnover which is slightly less than in the preceding year. However, later this year on 5th November 2020, we will celebrate our 135th anniversary which may be
an opportunity for a major fund-raising dinner or event to be held here in the Club.
I would like to thank Patrick Thompson and his House, Sporting and Social committee for all their hard work.
At the beginning of my report, I declared that I had a very busy and enjoyable year as your President but there are many challenges ahead. As you know the experience of the High Street retailing and shopping is changing and the lease with Santander, our tenant in this building, expires in 2024. With this in mind, we have a Special Purposes committee formed and chaired by Past President Chris McCleane, which will consider the longer-term direction of the Club under the main headings of Financial Strategy, Club Personnel, Use of the Club and General Strategy. This committee will be meeting in the near future.
Once again, I would like to thank all those who have made my presidential year a rewarding experience, Trustees, Past Presidents, Committee members, Club members and staff. It has been a pleasure and great honour to have been your President and I would like
to take this opportunity to wish the Junior Vice President, Jonathan McAlpine, an enjoyable and fulfilling year ahead.