On Friday evening I won an award at the Educators Trust Awards 2023. I was awarded the Mary Lou Carrington Award for a Businesswoman with a Significant Contribution to Education at a black-tie dinner at the opulent Merchant Taylors Hall (one of the oldest surviving halls from the 14th century and very beautiful).
Mary Lou Carrington was a businesswoman and a Common Councillor in the City of London with a passionate commitment to education. A founding member of the Educators, she sadly died in 2008 preventing her installation as Master. This award is in her memory. It is for a businesswoman who has made a significant and inspirational contribution to education.
I was Nominated by Sakhila Mona Mirza, the Acting CEO, for Speakers for Schools.
Speakers for Schools was founded in 2011 by the broadcaster, ITV News’ Robert Peston. It is a charity providing expert speakers from leading industry professionals and academics free of charge for state schools and colleges. These eminent figures donate their time to share their knowledge, insights and experience with students to inspire and motivate them.
I was informed repeatedly on the night by various masters that it’s one of the highest awards for alternative educators that is awarded by the Educator’s Trust (this information totally brought on my imposter syndrome!).
The event was highly traditional within the gilded, opulent halls at the Merchant Taylors Hall in the heart of the City of London.
The dress code was strict ’so no jeans and trainers no matter how haute couture!’.
The timing and protocol for the evening was strict, yet fun!
At 6.00pm sharp, there was a private drinks reception for Winners and our Nominators in the Parlour Room where we were joined by some of the Trustees and the awards judges.
We were offered champagne and wine then at 7pm Dinner was called by the Beadle – a large man in ceremonial dress, with a loud voice and a large ornate staff who ceremonially ushered us into the Great Hall. (This was akin to being in an episode of Downton Abbey).
As you enter the Great Hall, it’s hard not to gasp at the magnificent decor, gilt framed portraits of men in history, red carpets, and giant organ. I did comment to my nominator that seeing some notable women from history would be a positive nod to inclusion.
Each dinner place was indicated by name and we were instructed to remain standing behind our chairs for the first of many traditional moments.
The Beadle then announced the Procession of the Officers of the Worshipful Company of Educators as we slow clapped as they entered.
These included: the Master, the Upper Warden, Middle Warden, Lower Warden; the Renter Warden (the Social Secretary); the Treasurer; the Clerk (the general manager), accompanied by the main Guests of Honour, the chief of whom will be the Lady Mayoress of the City of London who presented me with my award.
Once they were all in place, we all sat down.
13 award winners and our nominees sat in the centre row of three, long, beautifully decorated tables and the rest of the very strict order of ceremonies began.
The three-course dinner was refreshing, light and delicious. After the starter and main course, it was announced that two special awards were to be awarded separately- one of which was mine.
I was instructed by the master of ceremonies about which way to walk ”slowly and gracefully” around the tables towards the stage, and round in the same circle on route back to my seat.
The hall fell silent as my name was read out with the citation as I walked as instructed ‘’slowly and gracefully’’ up to the stage, and when gestured to come up I was congratulated, a photo was taken, and I walked slowly and gracefully back to my seat. Luckily none of the winners were required to make a speech which made the formal evening less daunting!
As I walked to and from the stage, the thing that struck me was that masters and judges sitting at the perimeter of the hall all made a concerted effort to catch my eye, smile and offer their congratulations. It was an unexpected, warm welcome and appreciated.
The rest of dinner included lively conversation around similar interests of synergy around educating and supporting young people around the country to reach their full potential.
If I’m honest, before the evening, I had felt a little bit nonchalant about the event as it seemed so far from my real world, but by the end it was clear that the Masters and educators in their formal robes were genuinely the sincerest, kind people, many of whom approached all of us winners and congratulated us and reminded us that we were doing important work that was recognised.
There were other City Livery Peculiarities – a bit like at Big Weddings, lots of pomp and ceremony at this livery dinner.
There were four toasts after dinner (so we were advised to keep some wine back for them unless we liked port which was also served with the coffee and petit fours).
The first toast was to the King (guests sang the first verse of the National Anthem);
The second toast was to the Royal Family (the National Anthem played again but we were advised not to sing).
The third toast was to The Lord Mayor; and to all the Guests, so we toasted ourselves!
We were also meant to finish the nights olde worlde protocol with a tradition called The Loving Cup. This City tradition, supposedly dating back to Anglo-Saxon times, follows the singing of grace at the end of the meal. It marks the fellowship of the assembled company that ‘’we all drink out of the same chalice (no chance of getting poisoned) but not leaving anything to chance, the back of the drinker is always protected by his neighbour who stands on guard until the action is finished. The basic principle is that there are always THREE diners standing at the same time. Traditionally it starts with the Master who drinks wine from a silver chalice with a lid, bows to the assembled company, then turns to his right. He bows to his neighbour who has stood up and also bows. The Master passes the Cup to the neighbour and lifts the lid with his left hand and wipes the lip of the Cup. The neighbour drinks, the Master replaces the lid and the fellow turns to his right where his neighbour stands up. In the meantime, the Master guards the first neighbour’s back against assault. And so on round the hall. Basically, drink, wipe, bow and pass the Cup to your neighbour.
This process would take far too long with a hall of 200 guests, so more than one Loving Cup is in operation used to pass down the tables.
However, we were assured not to worry about the public health issues of communal drinking of wine. Covid put paid to that. The ceremony is still followed but in the Loving Cup are liqueur chocolates!’’
I was really looking forward to this part of the formal dinner, but time restrictions apparently meant this did not take place.
It was a new experience for me – an interesting evening topped off with a keynote speech by my dear friend Tim Campbell MBE – thank you Tim for name checking me in your speech – it’s been an honour to have my peers encouraging the same synergy and ambitions as I have throughout the years.
I’m rarely nominated for awards- let alone win- so this moment was truly unexpected. I do what I do because I genuinely love speaking to young people and I love seeing them win. Whilst they feedback that I teach them how to be strong multi-media talents, it’s really me who learns valuable lessons from them and their energy motivates me.
I truly recommend that if you love your job and want to encourage new, young talent into your industry, then volunteering for Speakers For Schools is a satisfying and motivating thing!