Strong Foundations

Since joining in December 2017, Diana has addressed many of the structural issues at ROSL, both physical and organisational, to put it on a solid footing for the future. She tells Mark Brierley what she has enjoyed most about her time as Director-General, her biggest challenges, and what her plans are post-ROSL

Strong Foundations

Since joining in December 2017, Diana has addressed many of the structural issues at ROSL, both physical and organisational, to put it on a solid footing for the future. She tells Mark Brierley what she has enjoyed most about her time as Director-General, her biggest challenges, and what her plans are post-ROSL

After a career spent in the not-for-profit sector at the National Trust, and latterly ten years as the CEO of the global charity, the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust in Stratford-Upon-Avon, Diana came to ROSL with a wealth of experience and knowledge, but what was it that initially attracted her to ROSL?

“Ahead of my interview, I read through back issues of Overseas and that made me think this is a really interesting organisation; all the articles demonstrated that music and arts, and education projects are a way for people to come together, and that idea of international friendship and being a worldwide organisation” explains Diana.

“I could see that this is an organisation that has a lot going for it, in terms of what it stands for and what it is trying to achieve. The bit that I hadn’t really explored, or had much involvement with before, was the whole idea of the Commonwealth. When you’re not in that world, it’s not so apparent that there is a Commonwealth family, and that member states are still very active in getting together. It was very interesting.”

Diana joins staff in Green Park for the annual summer party with games and refreshments.

A difficult start

Suitably intrigued, was the job what she had expected?

“In many ways, it was quite similar to the roles I’d done previously, which had very broad remits; covering everything from Grade I-listed buildings, to education and culture, to visitors and members, to scones, to lavatories, to the public. Everything.”

With such scope in the role, of course, there was always going to be surprises. The decision, taken just a week before Diana joined, to close the Edinburgh clubhouse was ‘a huge disappointment’, one shared by many members at the time. The fallout from that decision became all encompassing for the first few months of her tenure, but eventually the focus had to turn to matters closer to home.

“I think I probably hadn’t appreciated the dilapidated state of the London clubhouse; that worried me the most, speaking as a former operational manager in the National Trust. The less than perfect electrical, fire, heating systems. That did give me sleepless nights. At one point, I was thinking we might have to close the London clubhouse if we couldn’t get on top of it quickly.

“The first winter in London, the boilers packed up and we had no heating, and there was water everywhere. I remember going down into the main kitchen and there was just water pouring out of the wall through the tiles. We couldn’t find where it was coming from, we couldn’t trace the pipe, we didn’t have any records of where the pipes went, we didn’t know where the stopcock was. It was just such a mess. But then we couldn’t do very much because we had asbestos everywhere, so then it became this very long protracted process to get on top of the issues in the building to make it safe for everybody.”

Building and leading

That process became one of the two largest undertakings while Diana has been at the helm; addressing the dual issues of governance and compliance, within the management structure of ROSL and at the clubhouse, respectively. The aim of both the resulting Governance Review and Master Buildings Strategy have been to move ROSL on to firmer foundations, so that the clubhouse can be enjoyed for generations to come and that the Central Council and management team have the flexibility to take proactive action to ensure ROSL is well managed whatever the world throws at it.

The governance side of the equation is almost complete, with members agreeing to changes to the Bye-Laws and Royal Charter at last month’s AGM that will allow ROSL to be much more flexible in its decision-making and improve risk management. With next week’s EGM slated to ratify these changes, much of the work will be done before Diana’s departure, save for approval from the Privy Council.

The Master Buildings Strategy is a longer ongoing process, as is the maintenance of any historically significant building.

“I’m really pleased that we found Martin Ashley (the architect responsible for the Master Building Strategy), I think he is the right architect for us” explains Diana. “His advice and approach will be absolutely invaluable going forwards. I just hope we give ourselves the time to listen to him in terms of how we approach the refurbishments and building works at ROSL. We haven’t done that in the past and not properly respected the heritage of the building. To be informed by that heritage, and guided by the skill and knowledge of a conservation architect like Martin, it’ll mean that the standard of the work we do will be so much higher; befitting the Grade I-listing of the buildings.”

With his guidance, the compliance and renovation works can continue, making the home from home that members cherish better than ever.

Diana meets pianist Joseph Havlat backstage at the Annual Music Competition Gold Medal Final, alongside Chairman Alexander Downer.

Cherished memories

While crucial, neither of these projects have been particularly glamorous. Does her concentration on these ‘out of sight’ aspects of the organisation mean that she’s not been able to enjoy some of the parts of club life that initially attracted her to the job?

“I suppose I thought I would have more time to spend on cultural activities,” says Diana ruefully, “but my focus initially had to be on Edinburgh and all of the ramifications of that decision, and then trying to get the London clubhouse up to scratch.

“That doesn’t mean there haven’t been highlights. Undoubtedly, the music and visual arts programmes – especially the Annual Music Competition, the wonderful exhibitions in our clubhouse, and our Edinburgh Fringe programme. I’ve also loved our staff gatherings in Green Park and sitting in the garden on a summer’s evening – oh, and the view from my office window all year round.”

All these memories are made by the people that were a part of them; the members, the staff and those artists, musicians and young people ROSL has supported.

“It’s the people you miss; colleagues and members. I love chatting to people, I really enjoy the social side of ROSL, most obviously through our wonderful events programme, I will miss that. The music and the exhibitions are of extraordinary quality.

“Musicians and artists have been so great in supporting ROSL. For example, pianist Ashley Fripp, I’ve seen him perform in London, in Edinburgh, in the Lake District. You see these people regularly and they’re all such wonderful supporters of ROSL, it gives a warm glow to the heart!”

Some events will stick long in the memory, especially the concert celebrating 20 years of ROSL’s involvement in the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, which featured the Marmen Quartet, cellist John Myerscough, guitarist Sean Shibe, soprano Jennifer Witton and pianist Simon Lepper, all past prizewinners.

“I absolutely loved that gala concert; it was one of the most extraordinary musical experiences I think I’ve ever had. The whole hour went in a flash, it was so wonderful. I had the feeling it was something very special I was seeing that night.”

The future

With less than a month to go before her successor takes the reins, what will be her abiding memory of her time spent at ROSL?

“The thing that has struck me, between ROSL being a membership organisation, and other charities or similar clubs, is the friendship that there is amongst members. The members I meet are helpful and supportive and have made a decision to be at ROSL, rather than somewhere else, and what they like about ROSL, and what I like about ROSL, is its inclusivity. Everyone’s welcome. We’re not stuffy and we don’t stand on ceremony. We don’t judge people by their clothes or their ethnicity or their gender or anything else, and we try to treat everyone equally. That, for me, really stands out. That’s the language of ROSL, that equality.”

With that, it’s time to draw the Zoom call to a close, and for Diana to get back to the task at hand, steering the ROSL ship through the uncharted waters of the COVID-19 pandemic. Given the other problems she has already dealt with, ROSL should come out of the other side fighting fit and ready for her successor to take on the mantle.

Dr Annette Prandzioch

Dr Annette Prandzioch will take up her role as ROSL’s new Director-General on Monday 29 June.

Annette brings to ROSL extensive experience and significant networks both in and beyond the Commonwealth. A Barrister for 18 years by profession, Annette specialised in commercial and property law, and brings strong advocacy and analytical skills, as well as an understanding of negotiation and dispute resolution. She gained management experience in her chambers as a member of the board of directors and remains a door tenant.

Annette subsequently left legal practice to take up the position of Chief Operating Officer of the Royal Commonwealth Society where she was responsible for leading the team, ensuring the smooth running of the organisation and managing external partnerships. In this role, she strengthened collaborations with High Commissioners and created new stakeholder relationships. In her current external relations and business development role at the International School for Government at King’s College London, Annette has worked on charting the strategic direction of this newly established school, from its formal launch to acting as its ambassador and building from scratch a network of global relationships.

In 2018, Annette was elected a governing Master of the Bench of the Honourable Society of the Inner Temple, an Inn of Court with a worldwide membership, where she sits on committees making strategic decisions that encompass broad-ranging issues including international engagement and renovation projects.