IT gets a Royal seal of approval

By Rebecca Marston
Business reporter, BBC News

Image caption,
WCIT's Master, Charles Hughes in full regalia - the neck chain' s pendant contains deep symbolism

The information technology industry was granted a rare Royal Charter at a full-blown ceremony at St Paul's Cathedral on Thursday.

The Charter represents a final seal of approval for the activities of the industry's guild, the Worshipful Company of Information Technologists (WCIT).

It is one of only 1,000 ever granted.

The first was awarded almost the same number of years ago to the Worshipful Company of Weavers in 1155.

Ritual robes

The ceremony had pageantry like that of a scaled-down Trooping of the Colour - attendees were garbed in the kind of robes only seen in rituals that stretch back centuries.

Worshipful livery companies are an offshoot of the earliest of trade organisations - guilds - that began before the Norman Conquest.

The guilds (from the Saxon "gildan", meaning "to pay") were formed to protect the interests of their members, including setting proper wages.

The WCIT stands alongside more than 100 other livery companies including the Worshipful Company of Pikemen, of Bowyers (longbow makers) and of Lorimers (harness makers).

Image caption,
Ancient but modern - the WCIT emblem is full of IT symbolism

Ancient and modern companies have much in common, according to the WCIT's Master, Charles Hughes.

Formally dressed for the event, he was adorned with a kind of mayoral chain, on which hung a pendant with the WCIT's emblem.

He said the main link was charity work.

"Livery companies are a great way of channelling good works. They have been doing this kind of activity for about 1000 years and it's very nice to adopt principles that have been in operation for such a long time. They ensure that whatever we fund has longevity."

One of the WCIT's most significant achievements in this field is its work in developing a communication system for terminally ill children which it has now put in place in over 40 children's hospices around the country.

Education is another issue that has always been at the centre of the livery companies' activities.

There are now more than 100 such organisations in the City of London and it was the first such, the Mercers, that founded the famous St Paul's schools.

Fitting then, that the other main charitable enterprise for the WCIT is building a school at Hammersmith in west London - a project it is undertaking with the Mercers.

The school will open in 2011 and will have a specific focus on digital media, both as a subject area and as an education tool.

Less grandiose is its work with what was the worst-performing school in London, Lilian Baylis in south London. Results there have since gone from 11% of A-C GCSE passes in 2006 to 44% last year.

Charles Hughes says there are 20 different WCIT panels running activities and charitable work is a huge percentage of what it does.

What it no longer does is get involved with protecting wages, and with Bill Gates among its 720 members that would be a difficult thing indeed to benchmark.

At the granting of the Royal Charter at an Evensong service St Paul's, the representatives of the WCIT turned out in their finest full white tie dress with their blue and yellow Livery sashes.

The Reverend Canon, who gave the sermon, embraced the church's ambivalent stance on IT.

Pointing out that the technology that enabled William Tyndall to print the bible in English was undeniably a good thing, he asked whether Twitter - which was used to convey the service - was a blessing or something that chained people to the treadmill.

That question, he said, he would leave for the newly Royally Chartered Worshipful Company of Information Technologists to ponder.

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