Ortus … the Great Defenders of British Culture?
Many years ago in Sydney I went to a presentation by Peter Sheahan, the author of the book Generation Y. The only thing I remember from his hour long speech was one message: “Describe what you do instead of what you are.” He said it was the best way of conveying the value of your job … and he was sort of right.
For example, which sounds better: “I keep the roads clear for emergency services” or “I’m a traffic warden”? Perhaps not the best example … but you get the point.
The difficulty for me is that, as a lender, I fall into the traffic warden category and I’ve tended to veer away from discussing my job. Indeed, I recall a conversation with a friend who curates for a gallery going to town over the notion that she preserves Britain’s cultural heritage whereas I just try and make money.
However, I read an article in the Telegraph last week which gave me food for thought.
It was about a small pub in Cambridgeshire called the Blue Ball. It happens to be a short distance from where I live and I spent New Year’s Eve there in 2007. The pub opened in 1767 and ticks all the traditional British boxes: Eclectic mix of customers, quality ales and a very grumpy landlord. Indeed, there is a legend that the last customer who ordered a decaf latte received in reply: “this is a PUB!”
The article suggested that traditional pubs like the Blue Ball are culturally important to Britain and, in this sense, are more than just businesses. They are a focus point for a community, a place where people exchange ideas and form friendships.
It went onto to cite the recent statistics that 28 British pubs are closing every week and lamented the impact of these closures on communities.
This theme has been picked up in other areas, not least in Parliament where questions have been tabled about the crippling effect of beer duties and the need to ensure pubs are given a chance to succeed. There has also been talk of the need to protect tied pubs which are often driven under by the high prices they are forced to pay for beer.
Almost everyone I have spoken to has been quick to recognise the importance of the traditional British pub. Not all of them frequent pubs in the same way I don’t frequent galleries, but all agree Britain would be a lesser place without them.
It got me thinking about the countless traditional pubs – just like the Blue Ball – we have supported. Indeed, in many cases our loan facility has been the only way for them to escape their ties, become independent and reduce their beer costs. It’s been the difference between going bust and surviving to prosper.
We view these pubs as great businesses run by quality people, which in our view leads to a good risk profile. However, it’s also clear that most people view pubs as more than just businesses and in fact hold them in the kind of affection you might expect for a museum or gallery. It’s easy to see why.
So, at Ortus we’ve had a pleasant week reflecting on the fact that, in a small way, our products are helping an industry which is culturally important to Britain. Indeed, we’re almost looking forward to the next time someone asks what we do for a living. Maybe we’ll reply “we work to preserve Britain’s cultural heritage.” Or maybe not.