In June and July 2020 the Lord Mayor undertook a series of eleven video calls – or virtual coffee mornings and afternoons – with the Masters and Clerks of selected groups of Livery companies.
The discussions were an opportunity to discuss the impact of COVID19 on the operations and focus of the Livery, as well as other issues, including diversity and inclusion.
All livery companies were invited to participate. Over the course of the eleven meetings all but two of the Livery companies joined one of the online sessions, along with those guilds and companies without livery, the Guilds of Freemen and Young Freemen, and the City Livery Club.
A summary of the key themes raised in these meetings is below.
Charity and Financial
- Many companies have re-targeted their charitable giving towards COVID-related causes, such as struggling businesses and trades and have increased their giving.
- There has been widespread support from the Livery for the NHS Livery Kitchens initiative, providing daily meals to London hospitals.
- Some companies have identified special resources to do so, including the Goldsmiths Company, which has launched a flagship £1m fund to support small businesses in the jewellery trade, which by July had awarded small grants of £1,500 to almost 500 recipients.
- Many companies operating livery halls or other venues have reported a worrying drop in income due to the lockdown and other restrictions.
- Companies which derive income streams from equities or rents have also reported a drop in investment income as dividends fall and many tenants seek rent relief.
Fellowship and Livery Administration
- Companies are successfully conducting core business such as court meetings and committees via Zoom or other online platforms, and have extended that approach to social activities too. Some are also installing new Masters virtually or admitting new freemen online.
- Companies employing staff have responded flexibly to the constraints of lockdown and transitioned to home working smoothly. Some have put in place special structures or measures for delegated decision making during the lockdown.
- Ironically, lockdown has been catalyst for some companies to connect with members who had otherwise lost touch. Many were actively contacting members, particularly those who are elderly or isolated, via telephone during the lockdown. In other instances companies are refreshing and revitalising their online content and websites in order better to communicate with members.
- Companies with geographically diverse membership are assessing the need to come into City at all. Much fellowship and administration can be achieved virtually or outside of London.
- Some companies report that many liverymen are wary of travelling to London for fellowship on public transport, especially given the age profile of some Company memberships.
Youth and Diversity
- Companies are acutely aware most members are aged 50+ and this affects their ability to meet in person, as well as their future viability. Many companies are now actively considering how they attract younger members.
- The debate about diversity and inclusion provoked by recent events in the USA and UK has caused many companies to assess their historical connections to the slavery, as well as ways better to support or reflect diversity in their trades and professions.
- Some companies with links to schools are having success in increasing diversity by drawing on graduates of those schools as freemen and liverymen.
- Several companies are re-assessing their charitable giving to ensure it is helping as wide a cross-section of society as possible and driving social inclusion.
- Some companies reported that the cost and format of much traditional livery social activity can put off younger recruits. Some companies offer reduced quarterage to young members for this reason.
- Many companies are increasing the number of women members – this is particularly apparent among freemen and yeomen progressing to liverymen.
- Some companies represent sectors which have been particularly badly affected by the pandemic. For those with a connection to the food and hospitality trades, the struggling on-trade (pubs, restaurants, hospitality) remains a significant concern.
- Some industries have been very badly hurt by lockdown (such as gardeners or musicians). Others have had to adapt quickly to repurpose their businesses in Covid crisis.
- A number of companies have raised concerns with COVID-19 transport changes to road use in the City and the rise in the Mayor of London’s Congestion Charge.