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50th Anniversary Speech by Guy Goodwin CEO

Delivered at NatCen’s 50th Anniversary Reception, House of Lords

Guy Goodwin

30 April 2019

I would like to welcome you - the National Centre’s extended family - to the House of Lords: our commissioners, funders, many partners and stakeholders; our former colleagues, families and friends, including of Gerald and Roger; my trustees, leadership team and wonderful staff that, to every woman and man, have worked tirelessly to refocus and re-energise this organisation for our future over the last three years. I want to acknowledge my two colleagues, Margaret and Wendy (interviewer number four), who joined us in 1969 and are still working with us fifty years on.

Since May 2016, it has felt a privilege, every day, to be the third Chief Executive after Roger and Gerald’s time with us - the other two were Norman Glass and Penny Young, who is with us tonight - in leading this charity during a period of what is proving to be significant growth (our research revenues will be up another 5 to 10% this year) and increasing impact.

It has been a pleasure:

  • Seeing our diversification into web surveys and our researchers grappling with the many practical and methodological issues;
  • Seeing Hannah and Curtis getting the “gong of gongs” at the Market Research Society Awards for our development of the unique web/telephone NatCen Panel;
  • The return of Gerry Nicolaas, I sometimes think like a prodigal daughter after going astray down somewhere near the Tower of London, to lead our new Methodology and Innovation Hub, putting NatCen back at the heart of methods work;
  • The strategic partnership with Sussex University - it’s great to see Gordon [Professor Gordon Harold] here tonight - looking at testing new boundaries for research and collaborations;
  • The announcement that John Curtice, apparently the winner of the last general election but certainly an author on the very first British Social Attitudes Survey, was now Sir John. John’s contribution to life at our Scottish Centre (ScotCen) has been exemplary. ScotCen is becoming more autonomous over time and widening and diversifying its work in line with the changing landscape in Scotland;
  • The commissioning of us to do the next Wave of the National Child Development Study - so excited about that - the wonderful longitudinal study hosted at CLS that has just celebrated its 60th birthday and which I studied as a student at the London School of Economics;
  • The most recent announcement this year of us being part of the consortium for the next wave of the National Sexual Attitudes and Lifestyles Survey (NatSal), the survey Margaret Thatcher tried to stop and has a whole history of its own;
  • The growth in our evaluation work and in our extraordinary qualitative research - we are again updating the qualitative research “bible”, as well as nowadays teaching researchers as far away as the US. Our ability to interview anyone on the most sensitive of subjects.

But perhaps most of all, the privilege of watching first-hand the next generation of our social research leaders, of which the NatCen cadre is extraordinary, grow daily and develop in their own careers as I work in the final decade of my own. Most, like our leadership team - two thirds - are today women of course.

How lucky I am. And yet, on my recent holiday in Blackpool, I reflected, sat on a bench eating an ice cream: in front of me was the sea; behind me were the raft of so-called junk food retail outlets as I watched the empty trams go by. How can we rest as an organisation? There’s still so much to do as our hard-working politicians, policy makers and influencers visibly struggle to make sense of societal changes from Brexit to #MeToo to climate change.

Our towns, our high streets, our schools - struggling with handling the symptoms of gangs and knife crime, poverty and our poorer mental health. The issues with communicating the health impacts of obesity without “fat shaming”. Problem gambling. Our remarkable figures on mental health with young women a high-risk group. Inequalities, as some of us baby boom generation come home from our fourth or fifth holiday of the year to leave tins of baked beans and sanitary products down the food bank at Christmas. And still the best determinants of a child’s life chances relate to the wealth and education of their parents.

No, we can’t rest. Politicians and policy makers need our full support, whatever political colour, to get at the causes as well as the symptoms of change.

We must be bold as social researchers, we must come again, redouble our efforts, reach out wider and further, work in new partnerships, united in our common belief, instilled ladies and gentlemen by our founders and predecessors, that social research has the power to make life better.

On behalf of everyone at the National and Scottish Centres, thank you for all of your encouragement, help and support in making the National Centre the national treasure it is today. Today, I sense we celebrate the end of the beginning, our first phase, the creation of SCPR and our growth and establishment firmly as the National Centre for Social Research.

Half time, if you like, on 100 years of shaping social change.

Thank you all so much.