Letter from the Chairman 2022

Dear Friends

In the six years of writing the Chairman’s Annual Letter, I have never begun by repeating my opening paragraph from the previous year.  I will change that by starting with the same words I wrote a year ago as they remain depressingly appropriate. 

“When I wrote my annual letter last year”, I could not have envisaged doing so twelve months on with the global pandemic still with us.  The world has experienced unparalleled social and economic disruption, massive loss of life touching just about everyone, with likely fundamental and sustained changes to how we live and work.  At the time of writing, the pandemic is still raging in some parts of the world, and significant uncertainty remains for those living in the UK.  In that context, life at College has understandably been seriously disrupted and the Friends have worked closely with the College to adapt our support in the last year.

In the last three months, the context of the pandemic has been overlaid by the dreadful events unfolding in the Ukraine with resulting shocks to the geopolitical balance and major dislocation to food, fertiliser and energy supply chains.  In turn this latter effect compounds the rapidly escalating challenge to domestic inflation and the cost of living.  The Friends support to the students at College has never been more needed or valued.

We continue to be centred on our core purpose to support student health and wellbeing, with a particular emphasis on mental health.  I had the privilege of meeting Leanne Freear, the full time Mental Health Adviser, and Panayota Manias, the part time student counsellor, both of whose roles are paid for by the Friends.  They are immensely committed, highly professional, working at full capacity.  Their availability and skills are rated highest value of all the Friends’ activity by undergraduates and post graduates alike.

We are part way through our triennial review of our investments strategy which is due to conclude in October this year.  Market turmoil caused by the context above, together with increasing awareness of environmental, social and governance factors (ESG) within the student body and Council will provide one new lens for our strategy.

As our external audit review is not yet complete, all of the figures for 2020/2021 below are provisional but not expected to change materially.

Grants made during 2020/2021
The total of grants made from the General Fund for the year ended 30th September 2021 was £83,122.  While this was a 32% reduction on the prior year, this is explained by the one off £50,000 covid grant made in 2019/2020 as referenced in my letter from last year.  The underlying grant was therefore up on the previous levels.  The schedule of the main grants is as follows:

i)    £35,000 for the full time mental health adviser.  This was our second year of a three year commitment to be reviewed at our Council meeting in October 2022.
ii)    £10,500 for the part time student counsellor.  This was the fourth year of a five year commitment, with a review concurrent with the above post.
iii)    £25,000 to the Senior Tutor’s fund in line with previous years.  This fund is for purposes where no other source of financial support is available and covers a very wide range of applications including urgent medical referrals, financial distress and supporting College minority groups.
iv)    £4,400 for academic prizes including the de Montmorency Law Prize and the VI form essay prizes.
v)    £2,500 for the graduate year book, funded by a specific three year donation, and building on a very popular innovation originally enabled by the covid grant mentioned above. 
vi)    £3,850 for yoga classes which were very well attended as a form of stress relief and relaxation by a wide spectrum of College members.

In addition to the General Fund, the Friends Medical Fund was separately endowed several years ago by a single donor to promote research into mental illness among young adults.  Professor Edward Bullmore leads the academic team at the University’s Department of Psychiatry and the Friends are supporting a multi year research programme under his direction, currently with two postgraduate research posts at Peterhouse.  £52,840 was disbursed to support the programme in 2020/2021 and this will increase as a third researcher joins the programme.  Professor Bullmore and his team are regular publishers of research papers which are occasionally picked up in the wider media as they are breaking new ground in exploring causal linkages between physical conditions and mental illness.

For the current academic year 2021/2022 the Friends stand ready to consider specific requests arising from any student disadvantaged by either the Ukraine war or the pandemic.  The one material change to our grant profile has been the creation of an additional £10,000 special fund to be disbursed by the two mental health specialists in liaison with the Senior Tutor for specific treatment or preventive packages.

The Friends’ Assets
As at 30th September 2021 the General Fund was valued at £2,292,280, up 18% on the past year, including £239,295 held in cash.  The increase arises primarily from the success of the investment strategy to broadly reflect drivers of global GDP growth with a wholly equity based portfolio.  The generally bull market of the period benefited our capital growth.

The Medical Fund grew by 11% to £323,415 including £54,354 held in cash.  The growth in underlying asset values exceeded the grants made in the year.

Overall funds were up 16% at £2,615,695 including £293,649 held in cash.  

Income received during 2020/2021
Investment income from the General Fund was up 26% at £27,546 reflecting the overall positive portfolio performance and despite the structure of the fund being more geared towards capital growth.

Income from regular donations, gifts and standing orders fell slightly to £6,913 but we received the fourth and final distribution from the Fiddess Legacy which brought the total to £82,462.  Across the four distributions, the estate of Mr Fiddess, a Petrean medic, and his wife contributed approximately £400,000 to the General Fund.   Very regrettably, despite reaching out to the Canadian executors, we have been unable to locate surviving relatives to thank them properly and establish whether they would wish for any form of enduring recognition.

The College Development telephone campaign included a Friends of Peterhouse Wellbeing fund option for the third year.  On this occasion it raised just under £5,000 to bring the accrued total to around £13,000.  The distribution of their fund will be subject to a discussion between the College, the JCR and MCR Presidents, and the Council.  We are grateful to the volunteers who undertake the campaign and to the Development Campaign team for their facilitation.  

Post the year end, the General Fund received an exceptionally generous donation of £100,000 from an individual donor.

Investment income from the Medical Fund was £11,900, down on the prior year by 15%.

Governance Matters
The AGM was held virtually in September as a pre cursor to an address by the Master, and alongside that of the Peterhouse Society.  Despite some technical glitches – unsurprising given the number of participants and new technology – the general consensus was that the format was a success, not least in significantly expanding the audience.  The intention is to follow the same broad approach this year and this will be held on Thursday 29th September when the Annual Report & Accounts and Council appointments will be presented.  The Accounts will be available on request from either myself or Ann Munro at the College office in the days before the meeting.

There have been two changes in the membership of the Council.  Suzanna Willis has served on the Council since 2010 and decided to stand down during the year.  I thanked Sue for her long contributions to the Friends.  With two vacancies on the Council I was delighted that Helen Thornley has joined us.  Helen read Natural Sciences between 1999-2002 and is a qualified accountant specialising in tax matters. 

The Council continues to receive excellent support from Dr Saskia Murk Jansen as Development Director and Dr Stephen Hampton as Senior Tutor.  We also welcome and value the support and involvement of the Master who continues to take a close interest in the activities of the Friends.  My personal thanks to the Presidents past and present of the JCR and MCR for their engagement, feedback and ideas.

I would also like to thank all members of the Council who give up their time voluntarily and provide wisdom, thoughtful guidance and ideas.  In the past year I would particularly thank Jenny Quan for her leadership and additional work on the investment strategy review. 

I wish all members good health and I look forward to seeing some of you at the virtual AGM.  

If you have any observations or questions on the content of this letter or any other matters relating to the Friends, please feel free to contract me at the email address below.

With kindest regards
Ian Peters (Peterhouse 1977)
Chairman 2016 –