The Great Room Papers, 2 of 2: A Room with a View
In my previous post, I briefly explored how James Barry’s ‘Distribution of Premiums’ sets out guiding principles for the RSA, with reference to the Society’s commitment to equality. In this post I’m looking to see how the painting captures something a lot less abstract about the Fellowship.
It’s as lively as the other panels in the series, mingling dignitaries, London awaking and even a falling Lucifer. William Shipley, Edmund Burke, Lord Romney and a bewigged Dr Johnson are among the crowd, debating and discussing, as you’d expect. It’s all very impressive, but why is it relevant to today’s RSA? Well, the painting captures Shipley’s energetic policies to ‘embolden enterprise, enlarge science, refine arts, improve manufactures and extend commerce’. He proposed to do this by awarding Premiums to worthwhile social projects, and using the expertise of the Fellowship to bring those projects to fruition.
Mrs. Montagu recommends a young lady to other Fellows and Dr. Johnson does the same, whilst William Locke and Dr. Hunger examine a Premium winner’s work. If I was inclined to contemporary business-speak, I’d say Fellows and the RSA were building capacity by developing the Fellowship network and investing in social capital. Given my preference for the everyday, I’ll say they’re supporting projects by offering to help and getting people involved in the Fellowship.
An initial Catalyst grant helped the organisers ensure the event was a success, and Fellows based in Leicester were instrumental in adopting the concept of the project
Today, the Fellowship fulfils part of Shipley’s vision through the Catalyst fund. It’s a seed fund that supports new, socially beneficial projects and has awarded over £142,000 to more than 50 projects since April 2010, two of which have been ‘Our Leicester Day’ and ‘Ladies who L-EARN’.
Fellows Richard Brucciani and Neil McGhee wanted to create more cross-cultural communication in Leicester, one of the most diverse cities in the UK. They thought that whilst most communities lived harmoniously alongside one another, there was very little social contact between them. ‘Our Leicester Day’ brought together many communities, clubs and charities in a celebration of the city and its people. An initial Catalyst grant helped the organisers ensure the event was a success, and Fellows based in Leicester were instrumental in adopting the concept of the project, carrying out key tasks and seeing it through to success and critical evaluation. Richard and Neil have obtained growth funding with which they hope to develop a model of outings that can be taken to different cities around the UK.
17 of the participants went on to pursue education, employment or self-employment.
Here in the capital, ‘Ladies Who L-EARN’ helped young unemployed women complete an entrepreneurial development course culminating in running a market stall specialising in designer products. A grant of £2000 awarded last March helped Asma Shah FRSA coordinate the programme for 21 young women in Tower Hamlets. 17 of the participants went on to pursue education, employment or self-employment. Having raised significant other resources from other Fellows including venue space and mentoring, the additional grant of £5000 is helping Asma market mentoring/leadership development packages to local financial services businesses, and to form partnerships with creative and City companies to enhance the learner experience and employability of participants with work placements. Asma has subsequently gone on to raise a further £22k to expand the programme.
In summer, the Barry paintings will once again be on display, reminding the Society of its commitment to investing in valuable social projects, and getting people involved. If you’d like to put an idea forward for Catalyst, or nominate someone for Fellowship, then please get in touch with one of us in the Fellowship department.
Four ways Fellows can engage with the RSA:
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Gurmeet Singh is a Fellowship Recruitment Researcher. You can contact him on firstname.lastname@example.org