AGM Chair Report Nov 2020
This has been an incredibly difficult year for the VHT due to the pandemic. Arguably it has been it’s most
difficult year in the hall’s nearly 100 year old history since to my knowledge, never before have we been
ordered to close by government decree. For an organisation whose sole purpose is to bring people
together, it hits us especially hard.
Before the lockdown in March, we were going great guns. Occupancy in the halls, especially during
weekday evenings, was very good. It was a good year for parties and other functions. Our newer groups
including film nights and drop-in Tuesdays were faring well as were our longer established groups. The café
continues to be very popular; one of the highlights of the year was celebrating the 10th anniversary of the
café at the foyer along with songs from the Singing Ladies. Now that we are temporarily unable to do any of
these things, I am grateful for the times when we could.
All of which was brought to a sudden halt during the first lockdown starting in March, and of course, we are
currently back in that position again . There was a short window of opportunity when it looked like many
groups were poised to make a comeback in September, but we were hit almost straight away with the North
East restrictions. A few groups had managed to meet, working within government guidelines, but nothing
like our normal numbers. We have kept the café going as much as we realistically can, and I am particularly
grateful to the café volunteers who have carried on regardless. So these are very difficult times, but I’m
optimistic that people will want to come back to the halls as and when it feels safe to do so.
All of which makes it sound like nothing much has been happening for the last 7 months. Ironically I have
never been busier. Having just past Remembrance Sunday, I am reminded of the famous poster “Daddy,
what did you do in the Great War?’. The same could be asked of us: ‘what did you do during the coronavirus
pandemic?’. Many had to do the right thing by staying at home. But I am very proud of our part in the
village response to covid-19. From a meeting in March between the Parish Council, the VHT and the
churches, there followed a very intensive period of planning as to how best we could meet the needs of our
residents, both practical and emotional needs, many of whom had to self-isolate because of their
vulnerability to the virus. This evolved largely into the cooked meal service provided by our caterer friend,
Virginia Steer, and prescription collection and deliveries, both of which continue to date. Just as
importantly, accessing those services has provided contact with a friendly person to chat to, perhaps the only
person that resident might have talked to all day. The restrictions have been particularly hard on couples
where one is the main carer for the other due to physical disabilities or ageing. In these situations, small but
regular kindnesses go a long way, not having to worry about visiting the chemists, or planning what to cook,
or just knowing that someone is there for you; this is what community is all about. Nobody asked us to do it,
we did so off our own bat because we felt very strongly that we value our community and are willing to turn
words into action.
I wish to pay particular tribute to Catherine Harrison and Suzanne Barker who have put in
countless hours to make all of this happen, and have done so willingly and cheerfully. Also to Virginia Steer
for her kindness and dedication with the catering for the meals service.
The next major challenge was getting the halls Covid-secure on re-opening. In the government’s Covid
guidelines village halls are described as ‘multi-purpose community buildings’ and it has become clear just
how ‘multi-purpose’ we truly are when I have had to get to grips with what is allowed and what isn’t at any
one time. It would be much easier if we were ‘just’ a café, or ‘just’ a sports hall. In reality we have a huge
variety of widely different activities; but that underscores what a vibrant set of groups the halls play host to.
As we all know, the rules have changed constantly from one day to the next and we have had to keep on top
of them all. Nevertheless, I am satisfied that our halls are as Covid-secure as we can get them. We have
good systems in place, extremely thorough cleaning, and plenty of space in which to socially distance.
Financially we are on a secure footing to ride out the storm. The VHT has been helped enormously with two
grants from the government. I am really grateful for the generosity of the Parish Council who helped us with
additional funding, starting at the beginning of lockdown at a time when we needed it most and when it was
far from clear if government funding would be available to us.
Many, many people have brought their own skills and experience to benefit the VHT in the past. The more
you get to understand the VHT, the more obvious it is that it is the result of a lot of hard work (often unsung)
by a lot of people. As I hand over the reins, I am confident that I leave the VHT in a good place in terms of
its administrative policies and procedures. We live in an ever more complex world when it comes to things
like protecting people’s data and privacy, their health and safety (re Covid and generally), our obligations as
a landlord etc, and it is important that we are now up to speed with our obligations.
Additionally, our protection against the risk of fire is now greatly improved and you have Graham to thank for overseeing that aspect.
On a brighter note, I am delighted that the Charity Commission has approved our application to CIO
(Charitable Incorporated Organisation) status. Following the resolution passed by trustees at our last
trustees meeting to move forwards with this, the application process proved to be straightforward and quick.
A CIO is a relatively new legal structure which has more advantages compared to the old Trust structure. It
will not change what we do, nor how we do it, on a day to day basis. But it does provide some protection to
trustees (who after all, are the people who have stepped up to the plate to look after this organisation) and it
also means that the village hall organisation can do certain legal transactions in its own name rather than in
the names of individual trustees.
If I thanked everyone by name that deserved to be thanked, Zoom would run out of internet bandwidth, so I
hope no one minds if I restrict myself to a few thank you’s in particular:
- the café volunteers for keeping the show on the road throughout this year;
- the garden invaders for keeping the gardens and grounds looking well cared for and beautiful; and
-likewise the maintenance group for tackling those pesky ‘odd jobs’ in and around the halls;
-Colin and Carrie Craig-Gilby for keeping our website and social media presence active, and for letting us
meet via Zoom
-Judy for her sound advice and wealth of experience; and to Graham for keeping the books in good order
and for signing us up to green energy suppliers;
-and the most enormous thank you to Suzanne for her tireless energy, her unwavering commitment not just
to the VHT but to the people of this village, and for her good ideas to take the VHT forwards. It’s not an
understatement to say that I just cannot imagine doing without a manager, and we would be much the poorer
without Suzanne in that role.
Finally, I wish all the very best to the incoming committee members. I can guarantee that you will never be
bored but is a very rewarding role and I hope it is as much fun for you as it has been for me and my
colleagues over the past couple of years.