Since its foundation in 1828, Peterhouse Boat Club (PBC) has played an important part in the corporate life of our College, and had added a crucial dimension to what the Master - our President - calls "the Peterhouse experience".
Originally, as readers of Roland Mayer’s History of PBC will know, the Club kept its boats in rented accommodation. A wide ranging appeal enabled the present fine boathouse to be built in 1928, as part of the Centenary commemoration. Then, as now, competition in the CUBC bumps was the main racing activity of the Club, though individual members - especially in recent years - have rowed in or coxed the Blue Boat, Captained CUBC, and even competed internationally.
Tom Askwith was the most notable of these individuals. He won a Blue two years running, and in 1932 won the Grand Challenge Cup at Henley as a member of Leander’s VIII. Then in 1933 he won the Diamond Sculls in Peterhouse colours. PBC continued to flourish, particularly in the 1950s; and in 1955-56 the club built on that success and provided crews which won many rowing trophies, went head of the Lents, and finally, with Tom as coach, won the Ladies’ Challenge Plate at Henley: truly a remarkable achievement, and worthy of commemoration now, 50 years on.
Over his Captaincy year, 1955-56, Brian Oxley became increasingly conscious not only of the importance of good boats and equipment as a basis for enjoyable and successful rowing, but also of the increasing difficulty of persuading the Amalgamated Clubs to provide the occasional large sum of money to buy expensive boats. He therefore encouraged the foundation of Peterhouse Boat Club Fund (PBCF) as an independent charitable trust, to raise money through individual contributions from PBC members in order to purchase equipment to the Club. Since then, PBCF has steadily provided VIIIs, IVs and smaller boats for the Club. (There is a framed list of them in the Boathouse.)
The original intention of the founding trustees of PBCF was to set aside any surplus income, after the purchase of boats, in order to build up a capital sum capable of producing a regular income, independently of fluctuating donations. That capital fund now stands at about £30,000 and it provides a small but useful benefit the Club. However, over most of its existence, PBCF’s income from individual contributions, while matching overall the on-going requirements for expensive new boats, has not produced the element of surplus which could be set aside and added to the capital.
For example, the special appeal which was launched to build, in 1992, the much-needed additional bay of the Boathouse to store IVs and smaller boats, enabled us to put up the building - with the help of an interest-free loan from the College, paid back over five years - without drawing on our capital reserves; but without augmenting them either.
In recent times several factors have combined to promote a general re-thinking among the Trustees about the future role and strategy of PBCF. In the first place, Government support for higher education, while increasing in the UK overall, has significantly dwindled as far as Cambridge University, and particularly its Colleges, are concerned. Students are now graduating in debt; and the increasing personal contributions which individuals must now make in order to join PBC tend to discourage students from rowing. So a potential future use for a strengthened PBCF capital fund, alongside its traditional role of purchasing equipment, could be to help out with PBC subscriptions for needy students.
Another aspect of the PBCF where change became desirable was that, for various practical and technical reasons, it was advantageous for the College itself to become Sole Trustee of PBCF in perpetuity, thereby removing the need to appoint a succession of individual new Trustees from time to time. This move has been successfully accomplished, and the fund is now administered through the College's Development Office, and controlled by a Management Committee appointed annually by the Governing Body. This committee includes, ex-officio, the current Captain and Senior Treasurer of PBC, and the Development Director, in addition to all of the existing, previously independent, Trustees.
At the first meeting of the Management Committee, held in July 2005, a medium-term priority “shopping-list” for boats was agreed. The twin IVs to be named on 23 April 2006 are the first to be bought under this new arrangement - and they have reduced the Fund's current account to a small sum. It was also agreed to initiate a major drive for substantial new funds, with the aim of increasing the capital fund to around £300,000 from contributed income over the next few years, over and above the revenue required for the ongoing purchase of boats according to the agreed priority list.
That is the background to the Spirit of ‘56 Campaign, which we are now launching as a specific element within the College's Development Campaign. Donations to the PBCF will, as now, be separately identified and accounted for, though the fund will - again as now - be invested with the generality of the College's investments so as to gain the benefits of scale. The overall aim is simply to provide solid funding for PBC into an uncertain future, and thus to allow future generations of student members to enjoy those privileges of membership of PBC which we ourselves enjoyed in earlier times.
We are pleased to be able to report that PBC itself continues to flourish, with both Men's and Women's crews doing well. In the past five years, six crews have won their oars. The 2005 Fairbairns Dinner, following successful racing - the Men came third in the coxed IVs, the Women achieve their best results for several years, and the Men and Women novices performed strongly - was the largest for a decade, with over 50 members attending.
So we commend the Spirit of ‘56 Campaign to you at this time; and we urge you to respond generously.
Chairman of PBCF Management Committee, on behalf of PBCF