An urban myth has it that the Chinese Premier, Chou En-Lai, when asked in the early 1970s about the historical effect of the great French Revolution, replied that it was ‘too early to say’. There is some scholarly debate about whether this exchange actually took place, but it makes for a good story. On the subject of the great corona virus pandemic of 2020, there is no doubt that any wise person would currently give the same answer.
Whether you are a lockdown heretic, in good company with Lord Sumption, Max Hastings, Lionel Shriver, Peter Hitchens and Matthew Paris, or whether you support arguably the greatest curtailment of our normal liberties since before the Magna Carta for the public good, there is little doubt that we are currently living in conditions which, in good ways and bad, are making us reassess certain aspects of our professional, cultural, personal, charitable and civic lives.
We should soon wake up from what (for the most part) could be characterized as a nightmare – with varying but identifiable benefits attached. Will we, people’s memory being for most part short, revert largely to our old ways? Or will we change many of our systems for good, never to return to former customs and habits? These questions have particular relevance for the livery movement, founded as it is on the three pillars of fellowship, charity and support for the great civic institutions of the City of London. Taking each of these in turn, my own half-formed views are mixed.
Fellowship can neither limp along nor thrive on Zoom meetings and occasional quizzes. It relies on long-term and fraternal relationship-building, which itself relies on the physical congregation of like-minded and gregarious souls of one sort or another – either for social activity or to conduct the business of the Livery. Yes, we can and have held Zoom meetings of all the Paviors’ committees, and they have been handled well and expeditiously, but they have worked at the moment precisely because most participants have been well known to one another over many years of close personal contact.
Charitable fund-raising, organizing and giving – a tricky subject at the best of times, is also an area of the Paviors’ activities that cannot easily of be pushed forward without two things: a relative sense of prosperity amongst the membership, and the physical ability to reach out and inspire activity such as the London Construction Academy, where morale-building and the visibility of senior successful Paviors act as a powerful stimulus for greater endeavours on the part of those young people attending our courses.
As for the City, its continued success will be critical to rebuilding economic confidence and prosperity once things do get back to relative, but mortgaged, normality – and thank goodness we have it; it must be cherished and supported as far as possible.
I hope this state of enforced inertia will not last much longer and that we shall all emerge only a little older and possibly none the wiser but with renewed enthusiasm to see the Worshipful Company of Paviors and its related charitable foundation flourish ‘root and branch’ as never before.