Annual Parish Meeting for Abbots Morton held on
Thursday 27thMay 2021 at 7:30PM in Abbots Morton Village Hall
Present: Martin Willingale (Parish Council Chairman), David Hunter-Miller (Parish Council Clerk), Noel Fowler (Footpaths Officer), Laura Gretton (County Councillor), Richard Whitlow (Parish Councillor), Nick Humphries (Parish Councillor)
1. Introduction and welcome
Martin Willingale opened the meeting and welcomed attendees.
In view of prevailing coronavirus restrictions apologies were received from David Wilkinson (District Councillor), Audrey Steel (District Councillor), Colin Pemberton (Parochial Church Council), Lynne Pemberton (Village Hall Committee), Karen Brighton (Neighbourhood Watch).
3. To approve the minutes of the Annual Parish Meeting held on 28th May 2020
It was resolved to adopt the minutes as a true record and they were duly signed by the Chairman.
4. Matters arising from those minutes (if any)
There were no matters arising.
5. To receive a report from the District Councillors
At this time of year we would normally be advising the Parish of annual progress with the day-to-day business of the District Council, including its financial situation, council tax, and performance in core activities including refuse collection/recycling, grass cutting, etc. But for the second year running the year’s activities have been hugely overshadowed by one issue –Covid-19.
The Council has been able to maintain vital activities such as refuse collection, but a large part of its resources has inevitably been concentrated on the response to the pandemic, with various support measures available to individuals and to businesses.
Many Council staff have been working from home, Council meetings have been held by video link, and site visits for planning and enforcement purposes have largely been suspended except for urgent cases.
That situation changed somewhat in early May, with public meetings such as Planning Committee and Full Council reverting to ‘in person’ meetings from 7th May and some relaxation of restrictions from 17th May. From 21st June, Council staff will be permitted no more than 60% of their time working from home.
The 7-day rolling rate of Covid-19 cases recorded in Wychavon is currently 9, which is well below the national average.
The latest figures showed that roughly 83,000 people in Wychavon have received at least one vaccination dose, which is 72% of over-16s.
There is hope that we are finally nearing the end of the lock-down, although members will be aware that the recent rise in cases in some areas, albeit from a very low base, has the potential to derail the further relaxations of restrictions, due to take place on21st June, and social distancing remains important.
As always, if any Parish member has any issues or problems, particularly at this difficult time, we will be pleased to help where possible.
6. To receive a report from the County Councillor
Laura Gretton was in attendance to introduce herself as the new County Councillor for the Harvington Division and to answer questions.
7. To receive a report from the Police
No report was available.
8. To receive a report from the Residents’ Association
No matters were reported.
9. To receive a report from the Parochial Church Council
Like every other aspect of life, I am afraid the dominating influence throughout the year has been Covid-19.
The church was first forced to close on 17th March 2020, instantly halting the use of the church building for services and prayers and bringing the cancellation of key fundraising events such as the Flower Festival Lunch in June and the Harvest Supper in October.
We had to call off our annual Christmas Carols on the Green, which always raised cash for our Flower Fund to buy bouquets for those who have been hospitalised.
We could not sing at all during church services…services which were able to be held under strict Covid rules and with mitigating measures in place.
Social distancing meant we had to put certain chairs out of bounds to spread people around the building. Churchgoers sat on strategically placed A4 sheets of paper which were then disposed of, avoiding the need to disinfect the chairs themselves.
Services were only held every other Sunday, but in January this year, during the third Lockdown and with infection rates surging, the PCC decided …along with virtually every church in the Worcester Diocese… to halt services.
St Peter’s has, however, remained open every Sunday and Wednesday for private prayer, with strict Covid measures in force.
To the great credit of so many across the North Avon Group, services have continued on the Internet and have been much viewed and much appreciated. Clergy and lay people have led and contributed to services making recordings at home that have been sent digitally to Brian Telford in Inkberrow who has edited them together and uploaded them to YouTube. Brian has also been the cameraman for recorded links made in all the churches across the Group. Enormous thanks to Brian and to all.
The internet has also enabled regular “Mid-week reflections” and live involvement in virtual morning services and the Lent Course took place by Zoom.
The financial impact of the pandemic has been huge. With no services, there were no collections in the offertory plate. As mentioned earlier, there was no income from Harvest Supper and Flower Festival lunch, and it is quite likely that the Flower Festival Lunch will not take place again this year. Harvest Supper 2021 depends on progress in the fight against Covid; a date has been set for Friday 8th October.
For the first time anyone can remember, we have not been able to pay to the Diocese the Parish Share… our contribution to the costs of clergy. We normally pay around £9,000 but this year we only been able to afford less than £2,000.
On top of that, to our dismay, substantial cracks were noticed in the interior and exterior walls of the vestry. A Structural Engineer was engaged, at some cost, to determine the reasons and assess what repairs would be needed. It was principally rainwater running off into the grassed ground instead of into our new French drain soakaways. The cost of putting it right will substantial.
Those remedial works on the vestry may have to supersede the replacement of the stone steps of the church which have been put on hold through Covid. That project will cost at least £8,000.
To try to bridge some of the shortfall in income our Rector, Reverend Canon Richard Thorniley issued an appeal to parishioners for donations which raised an invaluable £600.
We have also changed the way people can make regular donations, bringing in a Parish Giving Scheme. It replaces Covenants made by Standing Order and enables people to make donations by Direct Debit and take advantage of Gift Aid. There has been a very encouraging response to the scheme, and we hope that more and more will join in.
An e-mail to the Rector at firstname.lastname@example.org would be gladly received and you would get all the details by return.
The good news is that the new French Drain system around the church and the replacement of old guttering and pipes has seen dramatic results in stemming the rising damp which was affecting the North Wall in particular.
We were also pleased that our Christmas gifts collection for needy children was able to go ahead even though we could not hold an actual service. Action for Children was enormously grateful for the very large number of gifts which people in our community generously gave.
The Christmas Eve service was held, with a much reduced number of attendees. As always, we are grateful to those who set up a Christmas Tree and dismantled it afterwards.
The Year Ahead
Everything hangs on the coronavirus, but we do hope we will get back on the road to normality.
10. To receive a report from the Village Hall Committee
I’m delighted to be presenting this Annual Report as the new Chair of the Village Hall Committee. At our AGM on March 18th, Melanie Clarke announced that she was stepping down after five years in the chair and was leaving the committee altogether because of pressures of work and other commitments.
We are extremely grateful to have had Melanie at the helm, taking on the role at a pivotal time in the hall’s history. She led the committee through a time of renewal which has put us on a viable, financial footing and created a hall with modern attractive facilities which we are very proud of. A huge “thank you”, Mel.
Pat Willingale has taken over as Secretary and her husband Martin, the Parish Council representative, is doing a great job. I must also pay tribute to our Treasurer Sarah Dykes and to our Auditor Tim Jones. for sterling work on keeping control of the accounts and to our Bookings Officer, Colin Pemberton, who’s been keeping in close contact with our regular hirers through all the ups and downs of lockdowns and drawing up countless Risk Assessments.
I now lead a small but wonderful team of Trustees who have worked hard to ensure we are a Covid-secure venue and we hope to develop the hall here into an irresistible space for all of us to enjoy. More of that later.
The year 2020/2021 has been a challenging year all round, but Abbots Morton Village Hall has survived with thanks to an extremely hard working and positive team. As the country is opening up, so are we, secure in our COVID measures and financial stability, and confident of future bookings and ongoing commitment from established hirers.
Events & Usage
The expression to use would be ‘somewhat limited’. Due to the pandemic restrictions most events and users had to be cancelled or rescheduled.
After the lockdown imposed in January this year, the village hall was open for business under Step 2 of the Government’s Roadmap, allowing organised indoor fitness classes for children. But sadly, our longest established regular user, the JUMP ballet class, became a casualty of the pandemic. The organiser, Helena Mitchell, was forced by the lockdowns to take on other employment meaning she could no longer do ballet classes during the day. We say a big thank you to Helena for her loyal use of our hall for the past five years.
Now, with light at the end of the Covid tunnel we are beginning to re-establish events and regular bookings.
Two yoga classes returned from May 17th, under the Roadmap Step 3. Indeed, Hay Yoga has extended its classes, which are now held on Monday mornings as well as Thursday mornings, and Hatha Yoga has booked for a full summer term on Tuesday evenings.
Last year, after the first lockdown, we had a short period of partial reopening for the summer and we did host a wedding reception in December 2020 at a time when numbers were restricted to 15. The hall was laid out in a Covid-secure way and all wore masks when not actually eating or drinking.
The hall is now proving very attractive for wedding receptions. We have four weekend bookings in July, August and October and two potential bookings for 2022. All the couples are aware that we remain in the hands of progress in the fight against Covid 19 as to what shape their receptions take.
With the prospect of restrictions being eased completely on June 21st we have already taken a booking for Sunday June 27th …billed as an Indoor Picnic, which is an opportunity for the first time in 17 months for people in our community to meet each other in the way we used to . We remain Covid aware and numbers will be restricted to 50 people, each bringing their own food and drink, crockery and cutlery to minimise the use of communal food and utensils. We would love people to come along. Please book your place through me so we can be sure there is a place for those wishing to come and so that we have contact details should they be needed. My number and e-mail address is at the end of this report.
A new initiative is what we are calling Walk-in Wednesday whereby every Wednesday morning from 7th July the hall will be open to anyone to drop in to meet and chat over a cup of tea or coffee and a cake and biscuits.
The other good news is, of course, that in-person Parish Council meetings return from tonight and although this Annual Parish Meeting is not a traditional one, it’s hoped that by next year it will take the familiar form.
The Trustees shut the hall with immediate effect on 23rd March 2020 and all hirers who lost their bookings were refunded or given credit towards their next booking.
The hall now looks a little different. Your Trustees set about the task of making changes, inside and out, to ensure the hall is safe and secure against the Coronavirus,
We had to minimise the risk of transmission of the virus to anyone using our hall and to comply with all Government guidelines and regulations. The one-way system is still in operation for the time being and good ventilation for any indoor gathering is required.
We keep a close eye on Government’s changing guidelines and I would like to thank the village halls umbrella organisation, Community First, for all their good advice and guidance throughout the pandemic. Zoom meetings bringing together scores of village hall to share knowledge and experience were particularly useful.
Maintenance & improvements have continued. We continue to look at changes and upgrades to help reduce running cost and create a greener environment. Currently we are researching a new heating system.
Our thanks go to the Farmiloe family for continuing to keep the external hedge to the road and we are now employing the talents of villager Martyn Walton to keep the grounds in good order.
Equipment & Furnishings
All equipment in the hall has continued to be maintained. Fire extinguishers and electrical appliances are given their legally-required checks and replaced where necessary. We are investing in a new urn and kettle in the kitchen.
Most purchases this year revolve around making the hall COVID secure, with warning posters, information stickers and hand sanitizing facilities.
Thank you to Tim Jones for auditing our finances,
As at 31st December 2020 the Treasurer’s Account stood at £8,509 and the Deposit Account at £719. Total: £9,228
We have been extremely fortunate to have received, along with all village halls in the UK, substantial Government grants to help with loss of earnings over the pandemic period. The first grant last summer was of £10,000 given through their Retail, Hospitality and Leisure Grant, administered via Wychavon District Council. In February this year four more grants totalling £8,435 were given. A further Covid grant of £2,096 was received this month and, in May, the Government added a Restart grant of £8,000.
Altogether that’s a total of £28,531 which means the hall will be financially secure throughout the pandemic and our account now stands at £26,328. The committee incurred costs of £2,000 to make the hall Covid-secure and there are ongoing costs such as extra heating to compensate for open windows needed to provide proper ventilation during indoor yoga classes and other events.
Easy fundraising continues to provide a source of income for AMVH. We now have 23 contributors and have raised £732.00 so far. Another method of contributing while you shop (at no extra charge to you) is using Amazon Smile. AmazonSmile customers have also raised £53.92 for our funds. Details of how to join are in your Village Hall newsletter which we produce every quarter.
We continue to ask residents that if you wish to use the village hall car park to please check in advance with the Bookings Officer (07766 524833) or Secretary so we can make sure it’s not being used by people hiring the hall. Some rambling groups do ask our permission in advance and they make a financial donation for the privilege.
We have an exciting vision for the future and are able to use some of the money granted by the Government, designated as a Restart Grant. The exterior of the building is to get a repaint in the same colour. It was last done six years ago and it’s important to keep it looking good and protected from the elements. The interior will be repainted when we’ve completed the installation of a new heating system.
We will soon be erecting a secure storage unit at the rear of the hall to enable us to move equipment such as the table tennis and pool tables out of the second room which we can then use more effectively for the community and for hirers. To accommodate it, the beacon brazier will be brought out from the rear to the right hand corner of the car park with the intention of using it for a floral decoration. We have also bought three planter tubs for flowers at either side of the front of the hall.
The Trustees will continue to fulfill their aim: To maintain the hall to a good standard to preserve it for the future and to continue to be the community building within the village, a facility for all its residents to use & to meet others in.
To conclude I would like to thank all the members of the committee who have continued to work tirelessly in ensuring the village hall has survived the global pandemic, to be a hub for community spirit as the nation reopens.
We do hope that the community will use the village hall and if they have any ideas they bring them forward to the committee… or even come and serve with us!
11. To receive a report from the Neighbourhood Watch
Neighbourhood Watch continues to be active via social media with regular updates and campaign posts on Facebook/Twitter/Instagram and Linkedin (as well as the main website www.ourwatch.org.uk); and Neighbourhood Alert (the systems side of NW) communicates via email to registered members, usually newsletters and promoting new campaigns.
The current campaign ‘Protect Your Pooch’, a dog theft campaign, is running at present until 30th May.
There are online ‘webinars’ to support these campaigns led by the Neighbourhood Watch Network and speakers from the police and Crimestoppers.
The Abbots Morton community Facebook page along with ‘Nextdoor’ (registration via app on phone to receive regular notifications) seem to work well closer to home as communication vehicles to report any local crime and activities.
The only crime reported, via the village Facebook page, has been gypsies again, a couple of weeks ago in the night, trying car door handles, disturbed by a local resident.
Finally, we have a few new residents who have moved into the village and so it would make sense to drop a letter through their doors re membership to the village NWatch scheme. We hold a letter on file, the door drop flyer that was produced and sent out a couple of years ago. We could also do a reminder post, seeking new registrations, on the village Facebook page and Nextdoor.
Neighbourhood Watch Coordinator
12. To receive a report from the Footpaths Officer
This report details the activities I have undertaken as Parish Path Warden for Abbots Morton from Jan 1st 2020 until April 30th 2021. It should be read in conjunction with the attached table.
This time has been particularly challenging for everyone. The public rights of way network has been very busy, providing people an opportunity to exercise and playing an important part in their wellbeing. It’s great to so see this increased use and to know that our work has contributed to keeping people well. The increase in level of use has though, in some areas, caused much anxiety and problems for landowners. There has also unfortunately been quite an increase in paths being deliberately blocked.
There are a number of easy steps that can be taken to ensure people stay on the public footpath network. Firstly ensure that the paths are marked clearly, I have plenty of yellow arrow markers and am happy to put them up if I am told where they are needed. If finger posts or other footpath signs have been lost then I can report them and get them in the system for replacement.
Secondly ensure that paths are not blocked, walkers can reasonably take an alternative route if their way is blocked which will often be in to adjacent fields.
Monitoring the footpaths
I have monitored all 58 footpaths on at least one occasion apart from those on land associated with an investigation into a report of an aggressive dog which I was advised to avoid. In total I have carried out 130 visits to individual footpaths on more than 30 different days, representing over 48km travelled. For the most part the footpaths were well maintained and easily passable. The table shows 3 paths where there are ongoing issues that were not resolved on the last occasion I monitored the path.
1. particularly high stiles have been installed on 500.
2. the fence between 504 and 505 is particularly difficult to climb over.
3. the stile at the bottom of the first field of 525 has been replaced by a chest high fence, making it difficult to climb. This has been reported by a member of the public.
In addition, the steep hill down from Cowleys Wood on 522 is very risky especially in wet weather.
Finally, I can report that the fallen tree at the footbridge in the middle of 530 has been completely cleared making it possible to pass and the bridge on 543 has been repaired.
During the year I cleared vegetation using handtools provided by Worcestershire CC at various points. These included parts of 512, 514 and 550. I also replaced arrow signs on 515, 519, 527 and 547. Some of this work was prompted by David Hunter-Miller who received communication from members of the public. I was also asked by Fiona Argyle (Senior Public Rights of way Officer) to check 558 arising from a report from a member of the public.
I made sure that reports were made where work was required beyond my remit, for example replacing/repairing stiles and footbridges.
Work carried out by Worcestershire CC
In addition to the minor work that I was able to carry out, WCC replaced the bridge at roadside on 534 and cleared part of 500, and all of 512/513.
13. To receive the Annual Report of the Parish Council by the Chairman
It was another relatively quiet year for Abbots Morton, overshadowed, of course, by Covid-19. This time last year we were all hoping that the worst had passed after Lockdown number 1. Following another two lockdowns and an amazing number of vaccinations, we are now slowly beginning to emerge to some semblance of a new normality, as witnessed by the Parish Council’s return to ‘in person’ meetings, the first in over a year.
The Council has continued its business throughout the year with meetings held via Zoom video conferencing. Our large array of footpaths and bridleways saw an increase in usage as people sought to take some permitted exercise away from towns and cities, thus resulting in maintenance and repairs needed to keep them safe and accessible. Of course, there were the usual planning applications to be considered.
Despite the lack of community events at the Village Hall, our rural location has, on the whole, been an asset throughout the pandemic, with many residents reaching out to the community in various ways to offer assistance if needed. It was encouraging to see so many residents join in the Thursday NHS clap, which also gave us a chance to catch up with our neighbours, socially distanced, of course.
Some of our residents took part in the Wychavon litter pick up scheme – thanks to Sarah Dykes who took the initiative on this and all those who helped clear up the litter.
Further thanks to Graham Hobbs for maintaining the flowers in the planters around the village and to Martyn Walton for brightening up many areas with the planting of bulbs, as well as the other maintenance work that he does. I understand that Abbots Morton was once known as ‘Mucky Morton’ before the village road was tarmacked, it has certainly come a long way since then! I hope that the lockdowns have enabled us to look more closely at our local environment and encouraged us to appreciate and make the most of what we have here.
We are working towards having a Christmas Tree erected on the village green this year and hope this will add a festive backdrop to the ‘Carols on the Green’, Covid allowing. We are currently fighting through all the paperwork that this entails. Our thanks again to Martyn Walton for the original suggestion and his offer of assistance in making it happen.
We were sorry to see Anthony Hopkins deciding not to stand for re-election as a County Councillor. He has been of great assistance to the Parish during his tenure and will be sorely missed. The Parish Council very much look forward to working with newly elected County Councillor Laura Gretton. We do, of course, continue to benefit from the experience and knowledge of our Wychavon Councillors, Audrey Steel and David Wilkinson. Wychavon District Council is a very progressive organisation who are supportive of their rural communities.
The finances of the Parish are comparatively small but are in good shape with no significant projects planned at this time, thus avoiding any increase in the precept this year.
This has been my first year as Chairman and I appreciate the help and support of the rest of the team, Karen Brighton, Nick Humphries, Alan Shepherd and Richard Whitlow, and our super-efficient clerk, David Hunter-Miller. There are still two vacancies on the Parish Council. A representative from Morton Spiert or The Low would be a great addition, but anyone interested would be most welcome. It is not an onerous task, we usually have just six meetings a year.
The last year has been a challenging time for us all but we must look forward to the future as a community, whatever it may bring.
Parish Council Chairman
14. To receive a report on the Parish Council’s finances
The Parish Council’s 2020/21 accounts and audit paperwork would be published online shortly. A summary of the figures is as follows:
Opening balance 01/04/20: £11,685.43
Receipts for period 01/04/20 to 31/03/21: £5,946.50
Payments for period 01/04/20 to 31/03/21: £5,343.09
Closing balance 31/03/21: £12,288.84
VAT recoverable 01/04/20 to 31/03/21: £39.02
15. To invite the public to raise any matters of interest
No matters were reported.
The meeting closed at 7:58PM.