Minutes of the Annual General Meeting held at Ashville Lodge, Ashville Road, Birkenhead, on Friday, 27th June 2014.
1. OPENING REMARKS
In the absence of the Patron (Professor Ian Grierson) the Chairperson (Sue Hadley) welcomed members to the 24th Annual General Meeting of the Society. She extended a warm welcome, in particular, to our guests, Montse Benitez and Linda Weston, who had kindly agreed to speak about the work of the Montse Benitez Foundation.
Sue reflected on a challenging year which had included a lot of changes, some of which were clearly undesirable but had been dictated by financial considerations. Every effort was being made to attract additional funding so that some of the activities previously provided could be reinstated.
2. ROLL CALL AND APOLOGIES FOR ABSENCE
A total of 34 voting members were present at the meeting. In addition, 3 members had completed proxy nominations.
Present: Susan Hadley (Chairperson), Kit Beauchamp, Diane Berry, John Berry, Jenny Borley, Christine Bowes, Tony Butler, Alan Dodd, Paul Egan, Margie Farrell, Joyce Harrison, Linda Herbert, Teri Holmes, Harry Jones, Sue Kendrick, Edward Lamb, Lyn Martindale, Keith Noonan, Christine Pennock, Paula Price, Paul Regan, Shelley Roberts, Betty Robinson, Keith Ryan, Lynda Sedgwick, Lynne Sedgwick, Christine Sharples, Danny Smith, Karen Stewart, Pat Thew, Gordon Tucker, Betty Turner, Jeanette Wagg and Gill Walters.
Five apologies for absence had been received from Paul Blackburn, Terry Hadley, Tom Herbert, Helen Mather and Neil Mather. Proxy nominations had been completed by Terry Hadley, Helen Mather and Neil Mather.
The minutes of the 2013 Annual General Meeting held on 28th June 2013, were approved as a correct record (proposed by Pat Thew, seconded by Christine Pennock). There were no questions or matters arising from the minutes.
4. ANNUAL REPORT AND FINANCIAL STATEMENT
An abridged version of the Trustees’ annual report and financial statement for the year ended 31st March 2014, having been circulated to members, was approved and adopted (proposed by Lynne Sedgwick, seconded by Sue Kendrick).
Sue Hadley apologised to members who had experienced difficulty in reading the accounts in print or Braille, and explained that staff were still familiarising themselves with the new computer brailler generously funded by the Benitez Foundation.
Through another challenging year the Society had continued to provide services, activities and support to visually impaired people throughout Wirral. However, income had been adversely affected as a result of local authority austerity measures and significant reductions in contractual budgets. Fortunately, support and encouragement had been received from independent funders and statutory bodies, including Children in Need, Wirral Clinical Commissioning Group, Lloyds Bank Foundation, the Wirral University Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust and the European Social Fund.
Total income for the year amounted to £150,554, representing a reduction on that for 2012/13 (£165,033) mainly due to the expiry of a major Lottery grant. Expenditure had amounted to £170,137. Savings on staff salaries had been more than offset by additional payments to session workers and increased costs for utilities, telephones, staff training and repairs and maintenance. The net result of these movements was a deficit for the year of £19,583, which had the effect of reducing the Society’s reserves to £76,316.
There were no questions arising from the financial report and accounts.
The Chairperson (Sue Hadley) drew attention to the extremely competitive funding environment brought about by current economic circumstances. She paid tribute to the support given by members and local community groups and emphasised that the Society’s continued existence and development was dependent upon the generosity of its donors, funders and supporters. She thanked them all for their dedication and continuing commitment.
The Chairperson also thanked the Society’s accountant, Jon Endeacott, and volunteer financial administrator Prakruthi Naik, for their professional support and hard work throughout the year.
6. REPORTS ON THE SOCIETY’S ACTIVITIES
Copies of reports prepared by the Centre Manager, the Development Officer and the Training co-ordinator, covering the Society’s activities in 2013/14 (including a joint report on Vis-Able, the associated community interest company) were circulated to everyone present at the meeting.
There were no questions relating to the staff reports themselves, but the Chairperson advised Kit Beauchamp that the braille classes held at Ashville Lodge were organised by the Social Services Rehab Team and they considered applications from people wishing to attend. The Society had no involvement in the initiative other than to allow the use of its facilities.
7. APPOINTMENT OF DIRECTORS
In the absence of any competing nominations, three retiring directors (Alan Dodd, Harry Jones and Sue Kendrick) were re-elected unopposed to serve for a further three-year term.
There being no competing nominations, the appointment of Edward Lamb, who had been co-opted as a director in October 2013 to fill a vacancy on the board, was confirmed (to serve as a director of the company until 2016).
8. ELECTION OF OFFICERS
On a recommendation made by the directors, the following officers were elected unopposed:
- Chairperson – Sue Hadley
- Vice-Chairperson – Alan Dodd
- Company Secretary – Harry Jones
- Secretary to Directors – Lynda Sedgwick
In response to a query from the floor, the secretary explained that no nomination had been received for the office of Treasurer. For the current year the directors had appointed Lynda Sedgwick to be responsible for financial matters, to liaise closely with the Society’s accountant (Jon Endeacott) and to report regularly to board meetings.
It was agreed that the directors should be authorised to consider and approve written applications from full members to fill any vacancies in the current year.
11. GENERAL QUESTIONS
A member asked if a membership list could be made generally available to assist in deciding on nominations for election at future meetings, but was told that this would contravene data protection legislation.
A number of members advised that they had not been receiving audio versions of the Society’s magazine and it was agreed that this omission should be investigated, and the Chairperson offered to arrange a demonstration for members who were experiencing difficulties with the memory sticks.
Sue Kendrick advised that she provided a voluntary counselling service at Ashville Lodge and any Society member wishing to avail themselves of this service should contact her on 652 8877.
12. THE MONTSE BENITEZ FOUNDATION
Montse Benitez thanked the Society for inviting her to speak about the work of her charity.
Having grown up in a family heavily involved in charity work, and having experienced an African adventure When she worked for the International Red Cross, Montse realised that it was not necessary to travel abroad to help people. When she and her husband moved to Merseyside ten years ago Montse decided to start working for the community and worked for Hoylake Cottage for three years to raise funds for their new building.
Subsequently, having been joined by Linda Weston in the final year with Hoylake Cottage, she realised that, because of the recession, many elderly people and families with children were struggling financially and they decided they would set up their own charity to help deserving causes in their own way. After Linda had completed all the complex formalities, the Foundation was established as a charitable limited company and they began fund-raising and searching for causes to support. They concentrated on small charities in Wirral and Merseyside, including the Wirral Society of the Blind and Partially Sighted. Montse recalled how, when she first heard of the Society, she was really touched by the support that was being provided for people with sight problems to enable them to live independent lives. She had a personal and emotional link through her grandfather, who became blind towards the end of his life and received very little help – he had to devise his own coping strategies.
Montse had been both amazed and impressed with the work being done by the ceramics, pottery and textiles groups, as well as courses offered on cooking and computers, and her Foundation had been pleased to help the Society with the purchase of essential equipment (such as an electric kiln).
The Foundation also supported the Wirral Autistic Society and charities that helped the elderly to make their lives more comfortable. It had become something of an obsession; once she started, she wanted to do even more. She and Linda visited all the charities they supported to enable them to see what was being done with the money they donated. Montse also helped as a volunteer with the Wirral Play Council, which catered for the needs of 25 disabled children. She had often been called a dreamer and a romantic, but she was struck by the way people’s lives could be improved so much with very little effort sometimes.
The Montse Benitez Foundation had minimal running costs. It was managed by a committee of fewer than 10 people, they did not have expensive offices (it operated from hers and Linda’s homes) and all the money raised was used exclusively for the benefit of their chosen charities.
Montse concluded by saying that she undertakes charity work because she is passionate about it and wants to help people.
Jeanette Wagg, who herself ran a small local animal charity, said she had found Montse’s talk truly inspiring, and she would keep it in her mind when times were hard and she was feeling dispirited. The chairperson echoed Jeanette’s comments, and members showed their appreciation with prolonged applause at the end of Montse’s talk.
In response to a question from the floor, Montse explained that the Foundation could be accessed on-line through Rafa’s website but they they were in the process of creating their own website.
13. CLOSING REMARKS
The Chairperson thanked members for attending the meeting. She also thanked the directors, staff and volunteers for the magnificent support they had given throughout the year, and the dedication of our staff, who gave freely of their time outside their normal working hours for the benefit of the Society.
Despite a difficult and challenging year the Society was about to celebrate the 25th anniversary of its formation and appropriate celebrations were planned. She ended with the hope that the next 25 years would be as exciting and rewarding as the first.