Helen Esmonde will be formally voted in as master of The Worshipful Company of Stationers and Newspaper Makers on Tuesday.
Speaking this morning at a press briefing at the Stationers' Hall in the City of London, she said her focus would be on education and working towards “a more balanced membership in terms of gender age, ethnicity and location”.
Esmonde added that like the 30 or so women masters who have gone before her at various Livery Companies, she wishes to retain the historic title rather than feminise it. However, as the first female master in the Stationers’ Company in 612 year history, Esmonde said there would be “a little breaking of glass ceilings”.
“It’s an undertaking that I don’t take lightly but it gives me great joy as well.
“Interestingly the first woman members came when the Newspaper Makers joined us in 1933. It is taken us time to have our first Lady Master but I hope that the momentum of more women in the Stationers Company will continue and it looks like it will. We’ve got some excellent women coming through.”
Esmonde said the company had a “strong membership” of just under 900 members, around 18% of which are women, but she said it was too London-centric.
“Our industry is spread across the country and we do want to be aware of that. We want to reach out.”
This was echoed by Clerk William Alden: “We’re too old, we’re too male and we’re too white”. He outlined plans to set up a New York chapter and a live broadcast in New York of the company’s annual lecture in London.
Esmonde, a former teacher and now publishing director of Sussex-based Esmonde Publishing, spoke of her desire to support the Stationers’ Crown Woods Academy in south London. A working party, which includes corporate members from educational publisher Pearsons, is drawing up a digital media curriculum, due to start in September.
She said that members would also like to increase 15 annual bursaries it awards to post-graduates in journalism, publishing and printing to 150 – if it can raise enough money to do so.
Stationers' also funds three Saturday schools that help primary school children with reading and, in connection with its support of the Marines and Marine Cadets, the Wiltshire Barn Project, which helps ease trauma in former members of the armed services through therapeutic book binding courses, something Esmonde said “was absolutely tremendous”.
The veterans also gain City and Guilds book binding qualifications which they can use to launch a second career.
Esmonde also hoped that the now completed project to digitise the company’s archive would become available commercially this year.
Alden said that unlike the Mercers [Company], which has £6m annual charity fund fed by significant income from assets, the Stationers’ had to raise the money it donates, primarily from its 342-year-old hall, and wanted to increase it from the current £250,000 annual pot.
The company is also keen to become more visible.
"It never ceases to amaze me how much ignorance there is out there about the Worshipful Companies. When you work for a livery company the first question is where do you deliver because they mishear you. Or they think you do something with horses,” Alden said. But he also said members understood little about the company’s work outside the “bubble of the City”.
A marketing intern, Iqraa Hassan, is due to start next month to raise the company’s profile, especially on social media.