Nicholas Jones - Blog and Archive Website

A unanimous vote by the trustees to close our care home was a gut-wrenching moment, given my 17-year association with the admirable work of the Journalists’ Charity in housing and assisting retired and needy journalists.

For generations of reporters and sub-editors, in newsrooms up and down the country, there was always the re-assurance that if they fell off their perch and hit hard times in old age, there would be a place for them at the Newspaper Press Fund’s residential home in Dorking.

Sadly, that particular safety net is no more. Pickering House, opened by the Countess of Wessex in September 2007 –  as a replacement for the charity’s original care home, Sandy Cross – closed its doors in June when the last of the residents moved out to alternative homes. The buildings and spacious gardens are up for sale.

Just a short walk away is the charity’s estate of 23 bungalows and flats at Ribblesdale, which is unaffected by closure, and continues to offer retirement homes, but the days when veterans of the trade lived together as a community in a care home, sat around yarning, having the odd drink, are just a memory.

Two pressing concerns for journalists were addressed head on by the Home Secretary, Mrs Theresa May, in a speech at the Journalists’ Charity’s annual reception at the Embassy of Ireland in London.

She gave an assurance that action was being taken to guard against the identification of journalists’ sources, and that there would be new safeguards on the length of time accused people could be held on pre-trial bail without charge.

Mrs May, welcomed by the Ambassador of Ireland Mr Dan Mulhall, was on fine form, complementing the charity on all the work it did to look after journalists who had fallen on hard times or were in need of help.

MPs at Westminster recognised the problem, and the House of Commons shared the concept of helping colleagues in distress, “but we just call it the House of Lords”.

She raised another laugh when describing how gripped she had been by Sunday television viewing on the BBC, “watching all those characters in War and Peace coming out in support of Mother Russia, and not least of all, Andrew Marr interviewing the Labour leader”.

Few occupations can claim to have had a greater impact on the daily life of the royal family than that of news reporter, and the presence of the Queen at the 150th anniversary reception of the Journalists’ Charity was an occasion to celebrate an enduring relationship.

The Queen, accompanied by the Duke of Edinburgh, met young journalists from across the country together with editors, press proprietors, broadcasters and also the trustees and supporters of a charity that over the decades has helped tens of thousands of journalists in need.

Stationers’ Hall, midway between Fleet Street and St Paul’s Cathedral, was the imposing venue for an event that once again highlighted the strength of the industry’s charitable tradition and its historic links with royalty.

Successive monarchs have been patron of the charity, a role that dates back to the reign of Queen Victoria who in 1890 granted a royal charter to what was then the Newspaper Press Fund.

Guests attending the 150th anniversary assembled in the main reception room of the Worshipful Company of Stationers and Newspaper Makers to greet the Queen and Prince Philip.

A tribute to Charles Dickens’ invaluable contribution in helping to establish the Newspaper Press Fund was one of the highlights of a thanksgiving service at St Bride’s Church, Fleet Street, when media executives, editors, reporters and their guests gathered to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the Journalists’ Charity.

Dickens, a former Parliamentary reporter, was one of the Fund’s earliest supporters and the author’s love of journalism was captured by the actor Simon Callow.

For the fifth reading at the service, Callow took an extract from Dickens’ address to the NPF’s second annual festival in May 1865. Dickens was in the chair at the festival dinner, held in the Freemasons’ Tavern in Queen Street, just off Fleet Street.

The thanksgiving service (20.2.2014) was a key event at the start of the charity’s 150th anniversary year and the chairman of the trustees, Laurie Upshon, thanked St Bride’s and Nokia, the sponsors of the service, for helping to organise such an appropriate service in “the Cathedral of Fleet Street, the Street of Dreams”.

The four readings which preceded Simon Callow’s extract from Dickens’ speech were also from the works of celebrated journalists of the past – and they were delivered by some equally powerful figures from the media world of today.

Shop stewards are few and far between in the upper reaches of the Conservative Party and mothers of the chapel are even rarer but her roots in local journalism are a badge of honour for defence minister Anna Soubry, chief guest at the Journalists’ Charity’s annual reception at the Embassy of Ireland.

She regaled members, supporters and friends with tales of her early days as a trainee reporter on the bi-weekly Alloa and Hillfoots Advertiser and Journal in Stirling.

There was even more amusement when she chided the charity’s chairman, Laurie Upshon, her former boss at Central Television, where she was a journalist and presenter and became mother of the chapel for the National Union of Journalists.

Ms Soubry was welcomed by the Ambassador of Ireland, Dan Mulhall, who spent eight years as a press spokesman for the Irish government and who said he was delighted to welcome guests at an event in the London embassy (30.1.2014) that brought together so many British and Irish journalists and their friends.

He said the Embassy of Ireland was proud to host an annual reception that celebrated the many close connections within the British and Irish media world.

Ms Soubry, MP for Broxtowe and Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State at the Ministry of Defence, described her initial training as a journalist as one of the happiest years of her life. The Alloa and Hillfoots Advertiser and Journal had two reporters and a couple of sub-editors.