Stationers elect first lady master

The Worshipful company of Stationers and newspaper makers has made history today by electing the first female master, Helen Esmonde, in its 612 year history. Speaking a few days earlier, she said that it would be “a huge honour for me to take on that mantle”.

Helen Esmonde, the first lady master of the Stationers Company.
Helen Esmonde, the first lady master of the Stationers Company.

Esmonde is well aware that she is breaking a glass ceiling. The first women members joined the organisation when the Stationers’ Company merged with the Newspaper Makers back in 1933. Women now make up some 18 percent of the roughly 900 members.

Esmonde herself began her career as a teacher before moving into educational publishing. In 1982 she set up her own venture, Esmonde Publishing, which became the Stationery division of the GMC publishing Group in 2012, which she still runs. Esmonde Publishing specialises in bespoke stationery and gift products for companies such as Paperchase and Dunhill as well as the National Trust.

Esmonde said that she hoped her election would encourage more women to join and added that the Stationers were also actively seeking more ethnic members. This theme was echoed by William Alden, clerk to the Stationer’s company who spoke of the “constant battle to keep the Stationer’s Company alive”, and of the need to modernise, saying: “We are too old, too male and we are too white.”

The organisation now counts a number of journalists as well as publishers and is reaching out to the packaging sector. It is also expanding geographically, with members in Europe and Scandinavia. Walden adds: “We are now actively considering a New York chapter.” The organisation is aiming to broadcast its annual lecture live to New York.

Unlike many of the livery companies, the Stationers and Newspaper Makers has retained strong links with its associated industries, with over 95 percent of its members active in those professions. Esmonde commented: “We represent a broad sweep of our industries and we want to be a central platform in supporting our industries.”

She continued: “Livery companies are often misunderstood and I think that many people are unaware of the huge contribution that we make to charities and education. Giving is at the heart of our livery.” She pledged to continue this support, saying: “Education is something that is a particular interest to me in this year.”

The Stationers’ Company support a number of educational initiatives, including bursaries for MAs in related areas such as journalism. Alden said: “It’s a life saver for people who can’t get a grant. We are helping young people to come into our industry but also creating cohorts of new, young Stationers.”

The Stationers’ Company also sponsors the Crown Woods Academy and is helping to develop a new digital media curriculum that should start this September. This curriculum, which includes IT skills and creative writing, will also be available to other schools. Alden points out: “We are particularly lucky that we have a number of members such as Pearson’s with a great deal of experience in this area.”

Esmonde herself helped set up the three Stationers’ Saturday schools, which aim to improve literacy in London.

Helen Esmonde, Master, and William Alden, Clerk, share a joke in the garden at the Stationers Hall.
Helen Esmonde, Master, and William Alden, Clerk, share a joke in the garden at the Stationers Hall.

However, Alden pointed out that the Stationer’s Foundation is itself underfunded in comparison with other livery companies, saying: “So we have to raise funds in order to support things like the Stationer’s Academy.”

The Foundation budget is around £250,000 annually, half of which it generates itself, with the rest coming through fund raising. Esmonde added: “It’s our ambition to increase that sum quite considerably.”

One of the major assets of the Stationer’s company is the building itself, which frequently hosts corporate events, conferences, weddings and so on. The company is actively investigating how to better use the space so as to raise more income in this way. The Stationers’ Company also maintains a unique archive that can trace the history of book printing. This includes Shakespeare’s first folio and Milton’s Paradise Lost. But the organization is also looking to digital media to increase people’s access to this archive.

Stationers' hall, London.
Stationers’ hall, London.

Alden notes that the Stationer’s company has proven itself adept at welcoming new ideas, pointing out its willingness to bring the first printers into the fold when so many other industries sought to protect their members by rejecting new technology. Esmonde concludes: “And we want to keep on to set the pace, which is why we have the digital media debates so that we are looking towards the future.”

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