Kevin Donovan FRSA gives the low down on how Liverpool fellows connect…
A series of lectures, or debates, or discussions could have ranged over issues of concern to the RSA and its Liverpool Fellows. We could have blogged, tweeted, podcast and video grabbed. But we reckoned we could achieve 21st century enlightenment in a different way.
What do we enjoy? Despite an extra loquaciousness gene, Liverpool Fellows are no different to others. Talking? Certainly. Listening, arguing occasionally, persuading, disagreeing and even agreeing once in a while. We are not too obsessed with an outcome; although one is generally achieved (whether this is a resolution, consensus or just going our different ways). Process is as important as product; in Liverpool we appreciate form as well as function.
Where do we enjoy doing these things? Like the pioneer RSA Fellows of the 18th century, a café or a pub can serve us better than a more formal setting. This is not escapism but it is certainly an antidote to the many working hours spent on committees and in meetings and a world of agendas and minutes; a pattern which retired Fellows find is repeated as they become even more involved in voluntary activities and their local communities.
A century and more of activity, upheaval and innovation have contributed to Liverpool’s reputation for radical thought and actions; from the ‘Gateway to Empire’, through to decades of decline and the city’s reinvention as a cultural capital. As a book by John Belchem and Bryan Biggs notes, individuals left their mark during the century: “a propensity for being ‘bolshy’ has arguably shaped the image of the city as uncontrollable, anarchic, separate and alienated from mainstream England. This has gone hand in hand with creativity – cultural and sporting – which has in the second half of this period reverberated beyond the city, from the Beatles changing the face of popular music, to Liverpool’s unrivalled international visual arts offer today.”
And food! Many of my generation will have relished street parties, bonfire nights, scout camps and school dinners partly because they were opportunities for a rare good scoff at a time of austerity and hardship. Now we can enjoy the city’s wide range of excellent restaurants.
Hence the Liverpool RSA Open Dinners. These events, now in their fifth year, have proved to offer a formula that allows Fellows and guests to talk productively and to eat excellent food and share a bottle of wine in convivial surroundings. We meet every six months and, between courses, a guest speaker introduces a topic associated with RSA priorities followed by questions and discussion. The venue has always been the same: a city-centre restaurant owned and managed by a Fellow and where the chef is a Liverpool institution. The atmosphere is informal and a welcome drink and communal tables allow people to mingle and new attendees to meet and chat with others. There is a loyal core of diners but the constituency may vary with the theme or because, for example, a Fellow wishes to sound out others on ideas for a new project. Every evening has ended with enthusiasm for the next time.
Debate and dining. A perfect combination. Discourse is fine but that course is better.
You will also need to book early for the autumn dinner on Monday 25 November. Our guest will be Gemma Bodinetz, artistic director of the Liverpool Everyman-Playhouse Theatres. Booking is direct with the venue on 0151 255 0808.
Kevin Donovan is a retired further education worker. Visit his website and blog.