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The historic date is 12 May 2020, the bicentennial of the birth of Florence Nightingale and International Nurses’ Day during The International Year of the Nurse and Midwife.
Now, this date will be remembered for years to come for an additional reason; the day the Guild of Nurses became a company of the City of London. This marks a milestone in the journey for the nursing profession to join the other noble professions and trades who make up the livery movement.
To help appreciate how the creation of the Worshipful Company of Nurses will help nurses make progress with our charitable and professional development, a little historical background and context may be helpful.
City of London guilds were founded in the Middle Ages under the auspices of the lord mayor to regulate standards of work and to promote their particular professions. The earliest guilds date back to the 12th century when the Weavers were granted their charter in 1155.
Guilds shared a common art or trade and their function was to regulate competition through pricing and the maintenance of high standards. In this way trade was controlled in the City of London. In order to distinguish one guild from another, distinctive clothing or livery was introduced – thus they became known as livery companies.
Mercers, merchant taylors, apothecaries and barbers have been added over the centuries and there are 110 livery companies today. Each faithfully represents their chosen profession and each is fiercely proud of their heritage.
Many have long and rich histories but are not fixed in aspic; there are also modern liveries: with information technologists, airline pilots, Hackney carriage drivers, and security professionals as examples of contemporary additions. Yet, where are the nurses, I hear you ask?
A group of us proposed to the City of London in 2016 that nurses should be recognised as a distinct guild, which is the first step towards becoming a livery company.
“We are open to all trained nurses who are or ever have been on the UK register and to students who are studying to become trained nurses”
Throughout the long and formal process of creating the guild, now transformed into a company, we have received unstinting support and encouragement from the City of London authorities, from other companies and from fellow nurses. The paperwork and processes are now complete, so what exactly is the Company of Nurses?
You no longer have to make hats to be a haberdasher or make shoes to be a cordwainer, but you do have to be a nurse to join this company. As with several other modern liveries, we are entirely profession based. We are open to all trained nurses who are or ever have been on the UK register and to students who are studying to become trained nurses.
All livery companies share an ancient common purpose: to enhance the professional knowledge of their members, and to fund and support charitable and benevolent causes.
The Company of Nurses aims to further the work of nurses who have gone before us, to offer support to nurses where it is needed and to contribute to the professional development of nurses today, leaving a lasting legacy for all generations of nurses to come.
The Company of Nurses Charitable Trust is registered with the Charity Commission and is already making a difference to individual nurses who need help through benevolence and educational grants.
Our charitable trust can also join forces with others in the City to respond to topical challenges. The joint Livery Fund for Grenfell Tower was an immediate call to arms from the City to aid those so desperately in need after that tragedy.
It is poignant, and really rather wonderful, that the Worshipful Company of Bakers, whose heritage gives them experience of great fires in London, led the joint benevolent response to the tragedy.
Today, the NHS Livery Kitchen Initiative has been set up by the Worshipful Company of Drapers and is providing hot meals to staff on the Covid-19 front line. These are examples of ancient and modern coming together for the common good, powered by a desire to support and give aid where and when needed.
How does our new company differ from the existing nursing organisations whose sole purpose is to comment on every aspect of our profession? Many guild nurses are also their members. The Company of Nurses is distinct and different from them.
With the creation of the Company of Nurses, our profession has joined a movement that pre-dates Magna Carta, survived the Crusades, the Great Plague, the marriages of Henry VIII, abolition of the monarchy, restoration of the monarchy, the discovery of America, the loss of America, men voting, women voting, two world wars, men on the moon, 9/11, Brexit, and now Covid-19. The list is endless and is a testimony to livery’s long-term survival.
Who knows what issues will be uppermost in our profession’s thinking in 500 years? The Company of Nurses within the livery movement is non-controversial, non-partisan, fully inclusive and will not comment.
Our freemen, however, will; and they do – loudly. We have members from all over the UK and our freemen have trained in nearly 200 different places of nurse education.
All have opinions and expertise to share. Who can stop free-thinking nurses from taking an intense interest in all things that affect our profession, our patients and the way we carry out our practice? Who would want to dampen such passion?
“It has been a long time in the making and the journey continues”
Building on the success of the guild’s professional development sessions, the company will encourage and facilitate all such active debate.
So why is all this important? This is about acknowledgement of nursing as a venerable profession, worthy of City of London recognition. A moment in history with our modern profession joining an ancient movement.
It has been a long time in the making and the journey continues. A Worshipful Company of Nurses is a step nearer and our aim to leave a lasting legacy for all nurses – past, present and future – is well on its way.
Brenda Griffiths is past foundation master, Guild of Nurses and chair, Company of Nurses Charitable Trust