Chair’s Report 2021 – Robert Bewley, Honorary Chair of the Board

Chair’s report 

Dr Robert Bewley, Honorary Chair of the Board

One year in, what have I learnt? When James (Watt, Chair of CBRL 2016-2020) handed over to me as Chair this time last year he used the words, ‘CBRL is a wonderful organisation and (it is) in good hands.’ Essentially hinting that I didn’t need much to do and I could just sit back and enjoy the ride. Well, thank you James! I can echo that CBRL is indeed in good hands but what he failed to say is that the appearance of calm and a well-ordered organisation masks the huge amount of work that goes on beneath the surface. This is my way of saying thank you to all the staff and trustees for the enormous amount of work that goes on.  

There has also been a huge amount of change at CBRL over the past year. Everyone has had to experience, not only the pandemic, but changes to the (UK) government’s approach to funding, which is code for less, not to mention a government that wants to see less in the way of overseas aid. We hope that this will change in time. Meanwhile CBRL is in a good position, our strategy and vision are well developed, we’ve compiled a draft four-year strategic plan that takes us to 2025 which we will review on an annual basis.  

Change is very much in the air with the question of decolonialisation still uppermost in our minds and how we, as an organisation, can do more for researchers in the Levant. As yet, climate change, which has been in the news in the UK because of COP26, hasn’t been so much of a driver as it might be, but that’s something that we might need to think about in the future and integrate further into our strategic research themes.  

Funding continues to be a challenge, but everyone is committed to raising funds both tactical, in terms of grants for projects, and strategically too for the longer term. This is to address the balance of British Academy funding and non-UK-government funding. We are very reliant, but also very grateful, to the grant in aid received from the Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) via the British Academy. Without that we just simply wouldn’t exist.  

Much work has been done over the years on strengthening governance and that continues; ethics codes for publications, a gifts policy, HR policy etc. are very important at all levels of the organisation to help and safeguard the staff, trustees, members, volunteers and visitors and everyone involved in CBRL.  

Making CBRL more relevant in terms of its influence in the region is also key. Making us relevant in the region is something that we need to discuss more and more.