Also in attendance were many local business professionals together with Mary Styth, the Mayor of Carlisle and John Stevenson, Carlisle’s MP.
The Building at Victoria Place was purpose built for Richard Rose students and is absolutely fantastic; it has the latest equipment (35 iMacs and plenty of flat screen TV’s!!) and pods that replace regular classrooms; they have removable walls, providing flexible spaces for learning – something new for Carlisle.
A guided tour of the facilities preceded the supper and was rounded off by an astounding performance from the Richard Rose Choir.
The Master of Ceremonies called order and asked us to take our seats for pre-dinner speeches. Mike Gibbons gave us an insight into the life of Robert Burns. Born in Alloway, Ayrshire, in 1759 to William Burness, a poor tenant farmer, and Agnes Broun, Robert Burns was the eldest of seven. At 15 Robert was the principal worker on the farm and this prompted him to start writing in an attempt to find “some kind of counterpoise for his circumstances.” It was at this tender age that Burns penned his first verse, “My Handsome Nell”, which was an ode to the other subjects that dominated his life, namely scotch and women.
Burns Suppers have been part of Scottish culture for about 200 years as a means of commemorating the best loved bard. And when Burns immortalised haggis in verse he created a central link that is maintained to this day. The ritual was started by close friends of Burns a few years after his death in 1796 as a tribute to his memory. The basic format for the evening has remained unchanged since that time and begins when the chairman invites the company to receive the haggis. We were asked to stand to receive the haggis.
A piper then led the chef, carrying the haggis around the tables, while the guests accompany them with a slow handclap. The chairman recited Burns’ famous poem To A Haggis, with great enthusiasm. When he reached the line ‘an cut you up wi’ ready slight’, he cuts open the haggis with a sharp knife. The haggis was different – definitely an acquired taste.
After dinner Alistair Grant provided some humour (some of which was a little inappropriate for the ears of the attending ladies) and gave us an insight into what Robert Burn’s work meant to him.
All in all it was a great night. The quality of the building is truly outstanding – it’s clear to see that the investment has created a fantastic opportunity for young people in Carlisle and the surrounding area.