This is my first letter, having succeeded Mary Gibbins as Chairman in July last year. Mary is a difficult act to follow: having been associated with the Friends for years and Chairman for nine years, there is very little she doesn’t know about this charity, whereas my knowledge of it is both limited and recent. Her willingness to stay involved as Vice Chairman is very reassuring for me.
This Annual Report gives details of what we have done in 2019 and looks forward to 2020. The highlight of last year was undoubtedly the success of Ride & Stride, which saw a significant increase in the number of churches raising money and of participants and a 24% increase in the amount raised at £140,602, not far off the record year in 2009. This is a splendid achievement of which the Ride & Stride committee and the area organisers can be proud. All of this money will go to churches in the county. It will enable us to increase the level of grants we offer.
We made 33 grant offers in the year totalling £190,000, compared with £125,455 in 2018 and paid out £167,700 on completed schemes (£152,755 in 2018). However, grant offers worth £15,000 made in previous years lapsed or were refused because the schemes have not gone ahead. We had fewer applications for repair grants than in recent years, though applications for grants for facilities increased. Other grant-making bodies such as the National Churches Trust have noted similar trends. The slight decline in repair projects may well be the result of the Lottery Heritage Fund’s closure of its Grants for Places of Worship scheme, requiring churches to apply to its general grant schemes in competition with secular applicants. Also, the Fund has less money to distribute because of a decline in lottery receipts.
Turning to events for members, both lectures – on stained glass in Kent and the Black Death and its consequences – were well attended, as were the Annual General Meeting at Goudhurst in May and the three church tours and visit to Chichester Cathedral and Boxgrove Priory in Sussex which followed. Indeed, the problem on our church tours, at least the ones within Kent, is sometimes that there are almost too many of us rather than too few! That is not a bad problem to have. In all, we visited 13 churches in 2019, a few of them for the first time. There is a full programme of events for 2020 described later in this report.
Richard Latham stood down as Vice Chairman in July but took over from Paul Smallwood as Chairman of the Finance Committee. We are very grateful to both of them; both remain on the Executive Committee. Norman Penny stood down both as a trustee and member of the Executive Committee during the year, but we welcomed two new members of the Committee in Ray Hart and John Lumley, who were co-opted and are for election at the AGM. Norman has, amongst other things, looked after our website for some years and we need to find a successor in that role. If any IT-literate member is willing to help, I should be very pleased to hear from them.