Welcome to this entirely online version of Middle Templar. Given that most of last year’s printed copies languish in the post rooms of chambers, we felt by using an electronic formula we would ensure that the fantastic contributions from so many Middle Templars could be more readily disseminated and shared. I hope you’ll enjoy them.
Several of Guy Perricone’s introductions to the magazine described the past years as ‘extraordinary’. With all due respect to my illustrious predecessor, I think that was perhaps a case of ‘you ain’t seen nothing yet…’. The global pandemic, the greatest disruption to normal life since the Second World War, has shaped this year, but I am delighted to say it has not had the catastrophic impact we might have assumed. Instead, every element of the Inn’s activity has shown resilience and made real progress despite the challenging circumstances.
Joining the Inn last summer, mid-lockdown, I was struck both by its pragmatism – how quickly and smoothly it moved governance committee meetings, scholarship interviews, Qualifying Sessions, Treasurer’s lectures and even Call ceremonies online – and by its practicality, as it created new emergency funds both for dispersal via the Bar Benevolent Association and direct to students and first six pupils faced with financial hardship. Members responded heroically to the appeal from the Treasurer, enabling us to support so many of our members. The two major development projects also carried on. I am sure many tenants were glad not to be much on site as the noise of the Garden Room development and the Blackstone project – not to mention Project Pegasus next door – ruptured the peace of the place. And the problems that arose redefined the nature of ‘force majeure’; who knew that a project could face significant delay because all the Albanian tunnellers who specialise in the undermining work we needed in January had got caught in the new quarantine arrangements after they had returned home for Christmas?
The Inn has had to balance its books, which required some difficult decisions, and the sad loss of some members of staff, but there was real determination to restore life and activity to the place as soon as we could. I arrived in July 2020 with the expectation of a September re-opening in prospect. Sadly, that was not to be. Again, plans began for December events. But alas, no – so we moved the Christmas trees outside, affording some light and hope in the winter darkness as lockdown hit again, though offering limited comfort to those brides whose weddings we had to rearrange for the third time. As spring began, and more people trickled back to the Inn, an insightful Committee Chairman recommended we forgot about the finances and reopened the Fountain Courtyard Bar. How gratifying it was to hear the chink of glasses, peals of laughter as friends and colleagues met for the first time, and Wednesday evenings were even serenaded by the Temple Church choristers as they practiced in the socially distanced empty space of the Hall. One full reopening came, so many enjoyed the new Garden Room facility, whether for a drink after work, a tasty breakfast roll or to cheer England on in the Euros. I pay great tribute to the resilience and dedication of staff and the hundreds of members involved in the Inn’s committees, sub-committees and panels, who gave up their time so generously over the year, ensuring that so much was achieved.
But the year was not without its sadness’. The tragic sudden death of Lent Reader, Master John Mitchell, rocked us all. It seemed hugely fitting that our first physical event in the Inn after fifteen months was a pared-back Reader’s Feast, in which Master Treasurer and Mass Ndow-Njie retold John’s planned reading about the life of Black American Middle Templar Thomas Chester. And of course, just before the summer break, we said goodbye to the extraordinary Colin Davidson – fountain of all knowledge, and long-standing friend to so many members. We wish him and Mary all the very best for the future.
Despite the challenges of the year, we did not let the urgent get in the way of the important. The report of the Race Equality, Inclusion and Anti-Racism Working Group, launched in the wake of the Black Lives Matter movement, makes difficult and thought-provoking reading, setting the Inn an agenda for change and action. The new Diversity and Inclusion Standing Committee is mandated to take that work forwards.
Exhibitions in the Inn next term will celebrate the achievement of refugees (Camila Ferraro’s Davis Peace Prize Winning concept) and of Black and ethnic minority members of the Inn. We are also commissioning two portraits for the Bench apartments – one of Master Thirlwall, first woman Middle Templar on the Court of Appeal, and one of Master Scotland, former Attorney General and Commonwealth Secretary General, which will increase by 200% the representation of women on our walls – and honour one of our extraordinary Benchers of colour.
We should never forget that our lifeblood as an organisation is the goodwill and engagement of our members. It is a source of justifiable pride to the Education team that our younger members see us as the most friendly and inclusive of the Inns. We want all our members to know they belong here, their voices heard at our table.