And it's farewell from him!

3rd February, 2016

Here's my speech from last night's AGM (my last as President). Thank you so much for a great turnout.

Hello everybody.

Well it’s that time when I get to say a few words about my stint as President of the Chamber of Trade and, of course, to hand over to the new President, Heidi Marshall.

Before I hand over the chain of office, I would like to say a few thank-yous and cover a few points about my time in charge which I feel are important to share with you.

First, I really want to thank everybody on the executive team as each and every one of them has been so helpful and keen to support all the meetings and events that the Chamber has run over the last year.

So there’s Liz Allinson – always such a cheerful and knowledgeable individual. Those that know Liz well will know what I mean. A real Penrith businesswoman and entrepreneur. As a busy retailer it’s often difficult to find the time to attend Chamber meetings but Liz has seen the value of coming to as many as she can – she appreciates that it’s often the best way of finding out what’s going on.

Then there’s Alan Reading who essentially runs Totally Locally. Alan’s enthusiastic approach to the Marmalade Festival set the standard for getting businesses to get behind a theme. More on that later.

Nick and Karen Harvey from Acorn Guest House have really kept the accommodation providers in Penrith on track. Premier Inn coming to Penrith has caused some angst but Nick and Karen have realised that the way to respond is for the independent providers to deliver a competitive offering. They have been working to keep the team focused on how to do that.

Then there’s Helen Little who for a while now has been the steady financial hand on the tiller. We’ve introduced a new membership process and structure and changed secretaries more than once. Helen has responded in a calm and efficient way. I’d also like to thank Magdalena who has supported Helen so well – a cheerful and willing assistant.

Fiona Askins, as the head of our growing team of ambassadors, has continued to work hard on the Castlegate project and also to provide a focus for the whole ambassadors’ team. When the pile of Winter Festival brochures arrived to deliver across town, Fiona didn’t bat an eyelid and organised their efficient distribution with support from the executive and from Richard Utting in particular.

Kate Cunningham took over the reins as Secretary after the two previous holders of the role had only stayed for short stints. She has done a great job and I am indebted to her for her initiative, enthusiasm and hard work.

It was Kate who organised a really successful and well attended Christmas social event for the Chamber at Center Parcs. She too has been a real support.

And finally, last and certainly not least, there’s Heidi Marshall. Heidi’s common sense, no nonsense approach and her ability to deal quickly and competently with any crisis make her a really invaluable deputy. Her role on the BID board has also helped both groups to work collaboratively on Penrith projects.

My next set of thanks goes to you, the members. I know that the first Tuesday of the month at 6pm is sometimes difficult to make, especially when it falls on the day after a bank holiday. Your loyalty has been heart-warming and hugely appreciated. Some of you have even managed to get to every single meeting.  Of course, the Executive meets monthly, over and above these general business meetings, and it’s your support that makes their dedication to the Chamber worthwhile. A big thank you to all of our members.

Also a big thank you to Anthony Penney of North Lakes Hotel for the great support they have given the Chamber providing us with complimentary meeting spaces, a great venue for events and for putting all this on for us tonight!

So what about 2015 and my year in the chair? I’d like to pick out a few highlights of what I like to call the Penrith Festivals Calendar.

  • In March, the Chamber supported the World’s Original Marmalade festival, organised by Dalemain. Over 50 Penrith businesses put orange-themed displays in their windows and many had ‘Orange Offers’ for shoppers and a collection box to ‘A-Peel’ for money for Hospice at Home.
  • Then there was the May Day carnival – Chamber members joined in with enthusiasm to make it a great community day.
  • June was the month we had our glitzy Stars of Business Awards adn this was hugely supported and a great event it turned out to be with David Beeby of Innovia Films as our guest speaker.
  • July brought the Food and Farming Festival and, at the end of the month, the Penrith Show.
  • The Tour of Britain Bike Ride in September was an exciting event for Penrith and the whole of Cumbria and brought nationwide recognition to our town.
  • The Winter Droving in November is becoming established as a very successful annual event and, in spite of the inclement weather, this year was no exception.
  • Finally, there was the Penrith Winter Festival in the weeks running up to Christmas. Again, amazing numbers of businesses joined the window dressing competition and I am really impressed that Lisa Jackson was able to conduct affairs from her hospital bed.

These and other events, too many to mention individually, brought huge numbers of visitors to Penrith for local businesses to show off their wares.

Throughout the year, I have been particularly proud of the way that businesses have continued to support the Chamber. The Chamber cannot exist without you as it has no separate source of funding. All events have been run on a not-for-profit basis and through member subscriptions. In 2015, our membership went up. A big thank you to Richard Utting who has worked really hard on that. The Professional Breakfast Group has gone from strength to strength under Heidi Marshall, my vice president, and there has been an inclusive feel to the Chamber with Rheged and Dalemain being more involved.

In the five years that I have lived in the area and running a small but perfectly formed building society (one of only 44 in the country) and in a sector (financial services) that has had its fair share of stick, I have realised that what was once considered old fashioned is not old fashioned at all. The public at large are sick of commoditisation, homogenisation – or to put it another way, everything looking the same. Personal service, ethical behaviour and integrity may not be in great supply in other places, but they exist here in Penrith, and in Cumbria as a whole. These values can be a great export to the rest of the country.

The Penrith economy works because it is, in inverted commas, “old fashioned”. What we as businesses need to do is to use new methods to highlight that “old fashionedness”. We need to make more and more people up and down the country see the way we do things as the right and proper way. As such, institutions like this Chamber of Trade, the BID, Eden District Council, and individuals such as politicians and business leaders can play a big role. They can help businesses adapt to the future, make them stronger, and give them the ability to bring more money into the economy. That way everyone can benefit through the increased prosperity that will follow.

So, to conclude. I am delighted that we have a strong executive team and the arrival of Laura Marshall on the Executive as the new vice president will strengthen us hugely. There is so much to look forward to in 2016 under Heidi’s excellent leadership. I know that, with your continued support and loyalty, she will make a great president. THANK YOU.


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Amyn Fazal flanked by the two Marshalls Heidi(l) and Laura(r)
Amyn Fazal flanked by the two Marshalls Heidi(l) and Laura(r)