The Hall as a centre of the community
Our financial year ended on June 30, 2020, and it was definitely a year of two halves! The year got off to a really good start with all the clubs, classes, weddings and parties. We had seven monthly socials with delicious meals provided by villagers. Beech Gardeners held a successful village show attracting a wide range of entries. The October quiz was popular, run for the first time without a meal. Sadly, the weather was too bad for the annual Bonfire Night; the high winds and lashing rain made it too dangerous.
The Christmas Fair marked the start of Christmas with a great array of goods, children singing carols, and refreshments to tempt everyone. “Strictly” was the theme for the Christmas party, a great gathering of villagers with a super Christmas meal. In February, Caviste ran an enjoyable and informative Cheese and Wine evening based on wines from Italy.
The Covid-19 crisis hits
Then the coronavirus pandemic struck, and following some initial restrictions, we were plunged into lockdown towards the end of March. The full lockdown meant that the Hall had to be closed; suddenly, there were no classes, weddings or parties. Our social plans for an Easter Egg Hunt, a Spring Quiz and Jazz on the Green were abandoned.
Instead, Stella Charman quickly set up a Coronavirus Support Group, each member having an allocation of Beech residents to keep in touch with, collect shopping and prescriptions, and have a chat. We ran our first online quiz on May 8, with 32 households taking part.
We subscribed to Zoom so that villagers could hold virtual get-togethers with family and friends. This was used by 652 participants, who had 76 meetings lasting a total of over 670 hours!
In short, Beech did what Beech does best, and that is to look after each other.
We moved to Facebook for our 100 Club draws. So far, we have held eight online draws, which have been available live and as recordings, with an average of 130 views per draw. These have been hosted by the sitcom duo Stella and Nick Charman and Unhinged and Bracket (Jo Schneider and Jane Short).
Improvements to the Hall
We took the opportunity of the Hall being empty to decorate it throughout and refurbish the kitchen, with a new range, taps and cupboards. Many thanks to Simon Hodgson, who decorated the Hall, Anne Whitaker, who project managed the kitchen refurbishment and researched and acquired the range online, and Dan Schneider, who did the work for a really low price, and provided materials at cost. Nick Sorby installed an auto-irrigation system to save people having to water the plants around the Hall regularly.
As lockdown continued, work started to plan for reopening the Hall in a Covid-secure way. Peter Cox, Richard Whitaker and Nick Sorby prepared the Hall to comply with the rapidly changing regulations and guidance, with a one-way system to minimise contact, guidelines for hirers and users of the hall to ensure their safety, and provision of anti-viral hand gel for regular use. As a result, we were able to reopen the Hall for a number of regular classes and private groups starting in July, and a Covid-secure wedding celebration was held. Plans are in place for larger, Covid-secure events when they become possible.
Developments since June
The annual Bonfire Night was re-planned in a Covid-secure way, but despite submitting proposals to the relevant bodies it was felt that it was too risky to run it in the face of clear discouragement from Hampshire County Council. Our next proposal was to offer the fireworks to villagers in return for a donation to the Village Hall. These were to be let off during a narrow time window on November 7, but a significant minority of villagers were uncomfortable about this so we decided to cancel this idea. The fireworks will be stored carefully to be used at next years’ annual bonfire following full consultation, so as to make this an event which allows people to be as comfortable as possible.
The telephone box
For several years, the old telephone box has lain unused and unloved until one of the young villagers, Katie Smallman, suggested “doing it up” as a book exchange. Nick Sorby managed this project with a band of able volunteers. The kiosk is now looking fabulous and will soon be ready to use. This outdoor Covid-safe activity has provided a bit of fun and community spirit. We have issued an appeal for donations to help cover the cost of materials; see Beech News and our Website for details.
Sadly, like many areas of the country we have been hit by ash dieback, which affects a tree on the Green and many trees on the recreation ground. Again, Nick Sorby has come to the rescue, investigating the extent of the problem and the possible solutions. He carried out an extensive consultation with villagers and the conclusion was to tackle all the affected trees, about 30, as soon as possible, and then take the opportunity to rejuvenate the copse on the Rec. Nick has obtained tenders for this project and our chosen tree surgeon started work on November 13. After the felling work is done, Nick will coordinate the repairing and replanting of the copse, and he is hoping for a lot of help from villagers from January onwards. We are applying for grants to help cover the cost.
In talking about the recreation ground, thanks to Nick we also have some beautiful wild-flower areas that are becoming well established.
We plan to introduce an online booking system for Hall hirers from January. Kim Eakers and Peter Cox have been working on this project. It is already possible to see a “live” view of existing hall bookings and check for availability on the Website. From January, those who wish to hire the hall for classes or parties will be able to make a booking request via the Website, and the information potential hirers need will have been substantially improved.
We have endeavoured to engage with the whole community as much as we can. Pre-Covid, we started with the AGM last October, an advisory sub-committee to consider the kitchen refurbishment, and of course the various social events. Post-Covid, we have garnered views on how to deal with the Ash Dieback problem on the Rec and what to do with the telephone kiosk, as well as the fireworks. Lockdown has pushed us into more considered engagement, and has given a solid model for the way forward.
In the first half of the financial year, the benefits we provided to residents of Beech took their usual form – the monthly socials, the village show, the October quiz, the Christmas Fair, the Christmas party, and the Cheese and Wine evening. During the Covid crisis, we have addressed villagers’ needs for support and entertainment through the Coronavirus Support Group, the VE Day scarecrows, the online quiz, the Zoom subscription, and the online 100 Club draws. The new, free Beech Book Exchange will be ready soon. We have turned the ash dieback problem into an opportunity to turn the underused copse on the Rec into a much-improved amenity for villagers, although this will of course take time to develop.
The Management Committee and Trustees
During the year we have welcomed Richard Whitaker and Ingrid McCormack onto the committee, while Ruth Dewing resigned due to time pressures. Richard and Ingrid have both made a fantastic contribution already, with Richard looking after communications and working on the Hall reopening, and Ingrid managing the meetings and working with Stella Charman on revamping our policy documents.
I have to report that for more than a year, the Management Committee has been involved with a dispute with a resident of Beech, after his unsolicited offer to chair our Social Sub-Committee was declined in mid 2019. The members of both committees received a lengthy series of emails, many of which were unpleasant. A number of personal meetings were held and mediation was offered but declined. This matter would have remained private, but in July the villager concerned took this matter into the public arena by making a number of allegations on social media. This matter has been reported and accepted by the Charity Commission as a serious incident.
Your Management Committee has published our Constitution and management policies on the village Website, including policies on discrimination, purchasing, disputes, and our zero-tolerance policy on abusive behaviour. If anyone in Beech has any concerns about how we are running your Charity, we will be very happy to listen and address them, either during the AGM, or privately afterwards.
We are suffering again under further restrictions, and more may follow, but we have proved that we can bounce back, with strong demand for regular fitness/dance classes and weddings. Bridge, Rustlers and family parties will take longer. We have turned many potential hirers away, some because they did not comply with legislation or government advice, others because the times they wanted were not available. The Social committee are ready with plans for social events, which may have to be a little different to those in the past. We just have to wait until we can make them both safe and enjoyable.
There are financial pressures. Thanks to judicious saving, our bank balance can sustain us for a while but the money reserved for capital projects, such as the redevelopment of the Annexe, is being eroded. We have therefore begun fundraising to support required actions (such as ash dieback) and we continue to appeal for support through the 100 Club and donations. We are now using “Donate” buttons on the website to make this easier.
Our primary aim is to make sure the Hall survives the current crisis so that we can start our popular programme of social events, quizzes and parties as soon as possible. Meanwhile, we will continue to foster community spirit in any way we can.
It has been an interesting first year as Chair – not without its challenges! I have been blessed with a wonderful Management Committee and Social Committee who come together as a strong and supportive team. Thank you to them and to the many villagers who have also given so much. Thank you to our team of employees who help us run the Hall and Rec – Simon Hodgson, Max Laney, Lucy Loosemore and Lynda West.
Last but not least, a big welcome to all our new villagers and we look forward to meeting you all at socials next year.
Dr Jane Short
Trustee and Chair, Beech Village Hall & Recreation Ground Management Committee
November 19, 2020