Certainly the KHA has been in decline for many years for a number of reasons but I believe the main ones are these:
1. The standing membership is aging, and naturally people's involvement drops off as they reach their twilight years, and ultimately pass away. Not only has this gradually reduced potential and real active membership, it has also gradually reduced and stagnated the pool of individuals willing to step forward and put some effort into the actual running of the association. I would actually have been quite happy to step down from the chair this year if only there had been somebody with the right attributes, experience and the necessary willingness to take over.
2. New membership, from the younger generations – typically those leaving the school after around 1980 – has not grown as one would hope; there are several reasons for this, but mainly it's down to a change in the nature of the school, away from being the "first home" of the boys it had essentially rescued to being a more "normal" public school, exacerbated by the school itself failing to encourage departing pupils to join what was then the KHOBA, and failing to provide their contact details for the association to use.
3. The relationship between the association and the school has waxed and waned quite significantly over the last couple of decades, swinging repeatedly back and forth between encouragement and keen involvement of the school through a neutral point of polite indifference all the way to mild hostility. The resulting damage from this has been in various association functions being taken over by the school in fits of enthusiasm only to be dropped a few years later after the association's own capability for them has disappeared.
Right now KHA is weakened by these various issues, and can reasonably be accused of failing to adequately cater for its own membership. Probably our most important function these days is to manage the funds gifted into the KHA Centenary Trust Fund with which we try to continue the Founder's work in providing bursaries for children who need to go to somewhere like Kingham Hill School but whose parents or guardian's don't have the financial means to do so alone.
The school meanwhile currently has a new burst of enthusiasm for ex-pupils issues. It must be noted that at least part of this enthusiasm is due to a belief that ex-pupils are a useful source of charitable giving, which the school would like to tap directly rather than via the association and its trust fund. This latest burst of enthusiasm has the school – led by the current Headmaster, directed by the new Chair of Governors – wishing to take over the whole business of catering for ex-pupils. Simply put, if the Kingham Hill Association offered to be assimilated entirely into the school's internal structure, the school would willingly accept.
There is a third party, however. Many of you – all of you I would hope – will be familiar with the Kingham Hill Schooldays website, started up originally by John Timmins and now developed into a really quite impressive site by the site owner Simon Howlett, who is also a committee member. Schooldays was always sort of independent of KHA, and is now a separate but friendly presence alongside the association, and one which also values its own independence.
So essentially there are three organisations vying for the attention of a population of ex-pupils who are not known for being keen to get involved in their old school, either because of their advancing years or because they are younger and so busy making a life for themselves, and have less attachment to what was to them simply a school, rather than a home. So what should be done?
Clearly in principle it would be better to work together rather than risk competing and overlapping our activities – united we stand and all that. However, there are issues: as you may have gathered from what I've said thus far, in the light of the schools relationship and activities with KHA over the last 15 to 20 years, the committee, whilst admitting that the association is in the doldrums, are not yet convinced that the school's enthusiasm will last; we are also not convinced that the school's ability to do a much better job than us is quite what they think it is. There is also some concern and scepticism around the level of interest in money that the school clearly has in its ex-pupils. So for the moment we do not think it would be prudent to simply acquiesce to the school's desire to take over all things regarding ex-pupils; in any case, we believe the wishes expressed by the various donors of funds to the Centenary Trust Fund would prohibit us morally, perhaps also legally, from simply handing over those funds to the school.
Our relationship with the Schooldays website is far more cordial, and some kind of closer union between the two may be more of an immediate possibility, but we need establish terms that the website owner, Simon Howlett, can accept.
It may be that all this is something to which many of you feel indifferent, but then again maybe not. In any case, I felt it was only right that I should outline the situation to as many ex-pupils as turned up today, so that at least you knew and if you did have strong feeling about it then you could express them to the committee either in discussion now or later by whatever other means you prefer.
Having said all that about the organisational side of things, I feel it's necessary once again to make a point I made last year, and have probably made several times before:
We need to encourage anyone connected with KHA with even the slightest interest to get involved and see what they can contribute. The KHA committee is basically a collection of folk who, though committed, are either retired, and thus on the wane in terms of available energy, or else employed and thus short on available time! I'm afraid therefore that there are fairly limited efforts available from the committee itself, so it's absolutely vital that others get involved whether on a regular basis, an occasional basis or simply for a one-off matter. As I've said before, Teddy Cooper used to repeatedly tell us: "What ya dinna put in, ya dinna get oot!" If you want the KHA to become something better than what it currently is then you need to get involved and make a positive contribution, and if you don't and it doesn't then it'll be nobody's fault but your own.
Some positives remain to brighten things up:
• The Schooldays website continues to grow in quality and quantity – so once again we should express our thanks to all involved.
• Although our funds are gradually depleting, the KHA Centenary Fund still provides much needed bursaries for several pupils whose personal circumstances make their place at KHS a requirement rather than simply a preference. In our relatively small way, this is the KHA's continuation of the great work set in motion by the founder. If only we could do more, but for that we need more donations.
• Once again thanks to Ed and Tom Wormington for getting together an Old Boys & Girls Cricket team, and organising a match which used to be an annual fixture for the summer reunion day – hopefully it's becoming that way once more. It's a shame that it couldn't be today as originally planned, but for those who make it on the 30th I trust you'll all have a nice afternoon pretending to watch the match intently whilst actually mostly just drinking and basking in the sun ...!
Whilst most of this address has been about the problems and dilemmas we face, there's still a lot to be grateful for related to the school and its ex-pupils – let's not only pray for, but also do our best to be a part of the positive progress which I'm sure we all hope for both KHS and the KHA.
Monty, 23rd June 2012