Chair’s address at the AGM May 24th 2017

Chairman’s introduction to the Society’s Annual Report May 24th, 2017

First, thank you all for coming here this evening for the AGM, this is an important event in the Society’s year. We are here to look back on 2016, to receive and consider the Society’s accounts and our Annual Report; and to elect some new Trustees and the officers. I thought that it would be appropriate briefly to reflect on the last year and on recent developments. My review of the year is published as part of the Annual Report so I’ll be brief because we’d like to complete the business expeditiously – we have Will Palin at 8 o’clock who is speaking on Greenwich, the Battle of the Medway and the Sheerness Dockyard Church: an Historic Journey through Maritime Heritage to Faversham.

Our President Richard Oldfield, who sadly can’t be with us this evening, has commented on this year’s annual report. I quote his words: the “report is excellent – bulging with information and achievement. Many congratulations to you and the trustees and officers, all who take part in the work of the Society.” Many volunteers have contributed to the report. A new member and volunteer, Norma Beechey, has brought a fresh eye to the Annual Report and put it together for us. Norma has also taken on the task of minuting the Board meetings. Responsibility for the content of the Annual Report rests with the Board and those who wrote the various sections of it. There have been some omissions and on behalf of the Board, I apologise for that. There will be opportunity shortly to comment on the Society’s report and to ask any questions.

The Society employs no staff, we can only do what our volunteers are able and willing to do. Over the last few years, there have been fewer talks and social events – I would like to see more of both, but to deliver talks and events we need volunteers to organise them. What the Society does reflects the interests and enthusiasms of its active volunteers. The maintenance of the Society’s buildings and the activities which take place in them absorbs a great deal of voluntary effort. I’d like to thank the Board and the scores of volunteers for their work and to thank in particular Jan West and Brian Wintle-Smith who so often pick up the pieces with good humour.

Understandably our volunteers are committed to the team they work with, and the pressure on our volunteers’ time gets greater every year. We have many opportunities for volunteers, there are many more valuable things we could achieve if we had more volunteers interested in helping and giving up some of their time – your time – to make things happen.

There is more that could be done on listed buildings, organising events and visits, and sitting on the planning and environment committees. We would like to undertake some co-ordinated interpretation of the water course from the Westbrook to the Swale. We had a very successful meeting with local groups in the Fleur Hall about this, but we don’t have a volunteer to take it on. We need someone to work with the Bookshop to sell second-hand books online and we need additional volunteers to work with the Open House and Open Gardens teams.

The Trustees and all our Board members are volunteers too, willing to take collective responsibility for the Society – we need a range of skills on the Board to oversee the work of the Society, the built environment is particularly important to the town and to our Open Houses, Open Gardens and Town Walks work. At the beginning of the year Jonathan Carey kindly accepted co-option to the Board to strengthen our capability on historic buildings but unfortunately, he can’t be with us this evening as he has been in New Zealand for a few weeks.

The Society has been active in pursuit of its objects for 55 years: promoting high standards of planning and architecture, educating the public about the history, architecture, geography and natural history of the area and seeking to secure the preservation, protection and improvement of features of historic or public interest in Faversham and its rural hinterland. During those 55 years, the balance of our activities has reflected the interests of those active in the Society – in recent years we have been unable to sustain a regular talks programme and we have not had the capacity to organise any day trips or social events. I for one regret this but, as I have already said, we can only do what our volunteers are willing and able to do – our activities reflect the interests and enthusiasms of our volunteers. Our Open Gardens and Open House programmes are great examples of what our volunteers can achieve and we thank them for it.

We are celebrating the 55th anniversary of the Society’s founding in 1962 with a Tea Party on 18 June here in the Alexander Centre, we know it’s Father’s Day bring him along! We hope that you will join us to celebrate the work of the Society over the last 55 years, to enjoy a festive afternoon tea with our volunteers and members and to launch, with our President Richard Oldfield, the Arthur Percival Memorial Fund. The Fund will enable us to recreate online Arthur’s lecture series with his original slides and based on his notes. These will be freely available on the internet and a fitting tribute to Arthur’s contribution to Faversham. I hope that you will want to support this initiative. Jan is selling tickets – please buy yours tonight.

When the Society reaches out with market or festival stalls, to local organisations like the Faversham and District Camera Club and St Mary of Charity, as we did when we jointly organised the Paul Binski lecture last autumn of the wall paintings, we get an enthusiastic response – we are now working more closely with the Town Council and other heritage groups in Swale. As I outline in our Annual Report we re-organised our committees and formalised delegated powers to enable the Board to spend more time on strategic issues. Our financial position is now stronger and we have a premises fund which will enable us to undertake a programme of planned maintenance. We have made some progress in improving two-way communications both with our members and those with an interest in the town. The Board is committed to reviewing our communications strategy shortly.

I can’t conclude without saying thank you to all those who contributed to the Creek Neighbourhood Plan. The Society encouraged its members and the residents of Faversham to vote yes in the May 4th referendum. On a turnout of 42.28%, very nearly as many votes as were cast for our representatives on KCC, 5,418 voted for the Neighbourhood Plan and just 706 against. The Society joined with the Faversham Creek Trust with a stall in the Market Place on the Saturday preceding the vote to explain the Society’s thinking on the Plan, the referendum and the critical link with the Swing Bridge which should now go ahead.

The Society is pleased that the residents of Faversham voted in such large numbers in support of the Neighbourhood Plan. The Plan is a compromise between many competing interests and the Inspector made some major changes too. We are keen to see initiatives which create employment for local people and to secure a great deal more affordable housing for residents and their children. The planning policies in the Neighbourhood Plan will also assist the Society in making its case for the conservation of our heritage and providing leisure and recreational access for residents and visitors. We shall doubtless have to continue to campaign in responding to planning applications – the Neighbourhood Plan will provide some support for the Society in making those arguments for conservation, for our maritime heritage, for leisure and recreation for residents and visitors, for affordable housing and employment creation.

With the opening of so many new museums, including the Police Museum and 12 Market Place, the plans for the wall paintings in St Mary of Charity and the continuing success of the Best of Faversham Market, Faversham is attracting more and more visitors. Much of what they come to see is in the public realm, the historic fabric of our town. The Society and its members have done a great deal of work over the last 55 years to protect, interpret and present our heritage for the enjoyment of local residents and visitors. It is however critical that we engage with the next generations, if we fail to do this then our heritage is not safe. We need to redouble our efforts – working with conservation architects, archaeologists, conservationists, historians and planners to continue the work of our forebears – cherishing the past, adorning the present and creating the future. The future will be what we make it.

I’d like now to hear from you and to take questions…

There is a great deal more about the Society’s work in 2016 in the Annual Report http://www.favershamsociety.org/img/Annual_Report_2016.pdf