Virtualising the Livery

When I applied to join the Worshipful Company of Information Technologists in the winter of 2010 I made a decision to get involved in aspects of the Livery that were unconnected with my career in IT. This was partly because I wanted to do something new and challenging, and because I was very active in the professional body for the IT industry in the UK (BCS, The Chartered Institute for IT) I didn't need yet another extension to my career with IBM.

The decision to get involved in something new led me to take an interest in the history, culture, customs, traditions, quirks and foibles of the City of London in general and the Livery Companies in particular. So far as is possible I've tried to keep my day job and my activities within the Livery untangled so the latter doesn't become an extension of the former.

Occasionally my knowledge of IT and the digital realm has crossed over with the world of the Livery, most recently I co-delivered an event on Digital Heraldry at IT Hall just prior to Christmas. WCIT won the Heraldry Society's Corporate Heraldry Award in 2018... proving that ancient and modern can combine.

The current situation with the Covid19 virus has forced the closure of the Livery Halls, cancellation or postponement of Livery events, and almost entirely eliminated the possibility of regular face-to-face meetings among Liverymen.

So how can the Livery make use of Information Technology to maintain contact with members, to hold Court and committee meetings, to share news, to collaborate on projects, to participate in online events, and even to attract new members?

In these challenging times voluntary associations, clubs and societies will need to adapt quickly in order to survive. The 'easy' option of simply shutting up shop and hoping for the best is a well trodden path to obsolescence. Let's not embark on that journey!

I encourage all the Livery Companies, from the most senior Past-Master to the youngest apprentice, now is the time to get social media savvy. 

If you are reading this you've already taken a big step, blogger (the tool I'm using to write this blog article) is one way your Livery Company can keep in touch with members and non-members alike.

Here are some quick, easy and practical steps you, your Livery Company staff and your fellow Freemen and Liverymen can take to stay in touch and continue Livery Company business by other means.

  1. Sign up for Twitter. This is the perfect and simple-to-use tool for following your Livery Company's Twitter account. Twitter is great for short, punchy announcements, sharing photos, short video clips, links to websites and the suchlike. Most of the Livery Companies are active on Twitter. The Livery Companies that are not on Twitter have taken a step down the path I mention above.
  2. Use Skype, Webex or Zoom to host online committee meetings. These are just three popular web-conference tools that offer a basic account for free. Each provides the means to engaging in a meeting where all the participants are remote from each other. They allow video, audio and screen sharing in addition to text chat and other facilities. No doubt many older members of the Livery will have used Skype to chat to their grandchildren - there's nothing to stop you scaling that up for hosting Court or committee meetings. Note: While there are legitimate concerns regarding Zoom's privacy policy and lack of end-to-end encryption, these concerns are more relevant to the Prime Minister's use of Zoom for holiday cabinet meetings than they are for the day-to-day business of a club, society or Livery Company.
  3. Digitise your Company newsletter or magazine. The Pan-Livery Initiative's survey on Livery Communications found that most Livery Companies are pretty good at internal communications. Most Companies still produce a quarterly magazine and an annual review, often printed at great expense. Nothing stops you distributing that magazine by email in Portable Document Format (PDF), or publishing it on your company's website. In fact I would also suggest you register your digital magazine for an ISSN (they are free) at the same time. The British Library will automatically pick up any digital publication with an ISSN that is published to a website - thereby allowing researchers, academics and historians to access your Company's magazine - which should be the first cut of the Company's history.
  4. Share agendas, minutes, reports and other documents using DropBox. This collaborative file sharing service provides a very simple and effective means of distributing documents online. It is secure, integrates well with your PC or Mac's inbuilt document folders and the basic version provides ample file storage for most Livery Company needs.
  5. Get blogging with Wix, Blogger or Wordpress.  These are just three among many free blogging tools available, and they are easy to setup and use for publishing articles that can include photos and links to other resources. Bonus: There's are no deadlines, and no sub-editor! (Actually those might be disadvantages). There's no reason why the Master can't have his or her own blog, and perhaps committee chairmen might have their own. You don't have to work to a regular schedule (I don't) and depending on the topic you may decide to write an in-depth article or a more frequent and concise in-flight magazine style piece.

Pitfalls to avoid

Analysis paralysis... that is the temptation to evaluate and test out every tool on the web, or engage in protracted research into the best tool in the store. The web has literally thousands of free tools to enable social collaboration online - beware entering the biggest digital DIY store with the intention of finding the perfect hammer to fix that picture hook to the wall. It's the picture you're keen to enjoy... not the brand, features and functions of the hammer.

Don't form another committee! The Livery's response to most new challenges is to form a committee, to agree terms of reference (usually handed down by a higher committee), to appoint members to the committee, elect or appoint a chairman, secretary and other members, to draft an agenda, schedule meetings, engage in discussion, generate reports, report back to a higher committee... all very familiar... and all totally inappropriate for the needs of the hour. You'll be better served finding 2-3 enthusiastic members who are willing to dive in and have a go.

Key to success

Sooner is better than perfect. The Livery's normal decision making processes progress (and I quote a particular learned and eminent Clerk here) "At the pace of a striking slug". Getting stuck in and trying these things out, learning what works and what doesn't, is far more effective than spending weeks engineering the perfect solution. These web tools are designed to be easy to use, they are flexible, they are generally quite secure (if you apply the same diligence as you would with your wallet or purse), and you will improve with experience. Be prepared to make mistakes - fail fast, learn quickly and try, try again. As Churchill famously wrote when Alan Turing asked for support to build the Bombe computer that cracked the German Enigma code "Action this day".

allied to this...

Ask forgiveness, not permission. We all know that if you want something done, ask a busy person. One of the characteristics of busy people is that they tend to be self-motivated, self-directed and do not wait for permission to act. This is just the sort of person who will drive forward the Company's engagement on Social Media. That's not to say they are (or should be) a loose cannon, but these times call for agility of thinking and action... not dogmatic application of the Livery hierarchy and decision making process. Set out a clear goal, some simple guidelines and let the enthusiastic volunteer get on with it. You'll be amazed what people will achieve when you trust them and let them bring their talents to the fore.

Do still get out (safely). The tools and tips I have provided can help you get started to virtualise Livery Company meetings, events and communications, but keep these balanced with the need to get out in the garden, take the dog for a walk, go cycling, phone your friends and relatives... keep as much normality as you can sustain while heading the advice of the Chief Medical Officer.

This blog is in itself an example of virtualising the Livery.

Still not convinced?

On 10th and again on 17th April I am hosting a live, web-based lecture, presentation and Q&A event entitled Treasures of the Livery Halls. This will be my first public lecture about the Livery on a popular topic. I am already using Twitter to promote the event, I will broadcast using Webex and will write up a blog afterwards using Blogger. If you'd like to join me to get a feel of how a web-based event works sign up at

My first public web-based lecture will be on 10th April and again on 17th April (6-7.30pm UK time)

Want to learn more about the Livery Companies?

The City of London Freeman's Guide is the definitive concise guide to the City of London and its ancient and modern Livery Companies, their customs, traditions, officers, events and landmarks. Available in full colour hardback and eBook formats and now in its fourth or Masterpiece edition. The guide is available online from Apple (as an eBook), Amazon (in hardback or eBook) Payhip (in ePub format) or Etsy (in hardback or hardback with the author's seal attached). Also available from all major City of London tourist outlets and bookstores.

The City of London Freeman's Guide is available in all major City retail outlets and online

I welcome polite feedback and constructive comment on all my blog articles. If you spot and error or omission, please do let me know (please illustrate with verifiable facts linked to an authoritative source where appropriate).

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