Friday, 29th September 2017
One cannot travel far in Oxford without coming across a sign with the word BEARD on it. This is not because men in our city tend to be particularly fond of large coverings of facial hair, but because the well known construction firm Beard is engaged in adding to Oxford's already extraordinary array of buildings. Yesterday Hannah and I had the honour of attending a celebration of the 125th Anniversary of the foundation of the company. The celebration was held in one of the City's most recently constructed buildings – in fact it has not yet been officially opened – the Nazrin Shah building on the edge of Worcester College's stunning cricket pitch. The building has been beautifully constructed with an extension of Worcester's remarkable Lake running underneath it. Beard had been the company chosen by Worcester to construct the building and the company's Managing Director, Mark Beard, had asked whether he could hold his firm's 125th birthday celebrations there.
There were actually several reasons why we had been invited. The first was revealed by the tie Mr Beard had decided to wear for the occasion – a CCCS tie – he is an old boy of our school and a very proud one too. And it was very touching that on such an auspicious day he had decided to wear his Christ Church tie. His link to the school was further strengthened a couple of years ago by the fact that he has recently become a governor and he has been a wonderful influence, asking questions which often those of us in the educational world don't tend to ask. It is obvious though from everything that he does and says that his loyalty and support for the school is unwavering, something I find very touching. And finally he had asked that the choristers of Worcester sing at the event, which they did with real flair and effect, the audience being entranced by their efforts. It was a special occasion in another way in that at the centre of the building is a beautiful auditorium and it was there that the choir was to sing. It was the fist time that a choir had ever sung in the building and so everyone was interested to hear how they would sound. The effect was very pleasing indeed.
There were two aspects of the gathering which struck me particularly. Firstly I was very taken by what Mr Beard said in his speech. I always listen carefully to someone who has been able to run a business successfully and I wondered if Mr Beard would suggest what the key to the company's success might be. He talked a bit about the firm's genesis as a family company, always run by a dedicated member of the family – a remarkable family - the founder being in the Guinness Book of Records for retiring at the age of 104, another being honoured by the Queen for his efforts during the war - but the thing which struck me most was the insistence which he had that the firm always tried to meet its promises and deliver its buildings in a way which meant that the client would be satisfied, ensuring that all potential problems were resolved amicably. This surprised me and struck a deep chord. Taking care over customers and the resulting customer satisfaction seemed to be the key to success and taking care really is something that matters.
The second thing that struck me was the building itself – a building which any of you should take the opportunity to visit if you can. Everything about it is constructed to the highest possible standards, in fact an architect friend whom I met there said it was probably the most expensive building per square foot that he had ever been in. The stone is beautiful, the wood sublime, the auditorium meticulously crafted and designed, the detail of carving exquisite. The design itself is remarkably simple and unfussy yet ambitious and arresting, the building seemingly part of the landscape and yet in its own way, very striking. It is, in essence, a building which will last and which future generations will look back on as a building of beauty – another ornament in Oxford's long history of architectural gems.
Of course it costs more to construct such a building and it takes more time and the College could have made do with something simpler and less expensive but I felt very moved that so much care had gone into the construction of a building; I felt that it was a symbol of what is best about Oxford – it seems to me to be a place where the details of a thing are cared about, where often things are done with an eye to posterity rather than to short term gain and a lovely testament to the workmanship and care of a local family firm of builders and its remarkable Managing Director.
I would like to think that at the School we too take such care, that we pay attention to detail and take into consideration the long term effects of our education on those pupils we have the privilege of educating. As the Chairman of Governors at St Edward's used to say every Speech Day, quoting an old Chinese proverb: "If you are planning for a year, sow rice; if you are planning for a decade, plant trees; if you are planning for a lifetime, educate people."