The pandemic year has affected us all in different ways. We’ve missed loved ones, lost loved ones, had our freedoms curtailed and have had to learn to keep our distance from each other. It has been a very hard year, but running through it all has been the dependable strength of community – keeping each other safe, helping neighbours, taking the time to stop for a “distanced” chat on the daily walk or calling an acquaintance for a restorative catch up. We are also so fortunate to be surrounded by beautiful countryside and the power of nature has helped us all to keep sane.
Throughout the year the Parish Council carried out its work wherever possible. During the first lockdown our meetings had to be held via email, but later legislation allowed us to hold zoom meetings. That legislation is due to expire this week so all future meetings will need to return to the village hall, but a zoom element will still be available. The zoom link to these future meetings will always be displayed with the agenda, so we hope you will take the time to join in, even if you can’t make it in person.
The village hall was closed for much of the year. When it could reopen for short periods our costs increased, due to extra Covid deep cleaning and the need to keep a well ventilated but heated interior. As we look to re-opening activities in the hall we have agreed to keep hiring costs low in an effort to encourage a good re-start programme. Our booking secretary, Samantha Mason retired from her post in the autumn due to pressure of her own online business.We thank her for her dedication over the years. It made sense for us to combine the work of booking secretary with the cleaning of the hall, and Julia Heathcote has taken up this position with gusto.
In late March we were invited by BDC to apply for Local Support Grants, as our hall had been closed by the pandemic. We did not appreciate that BDC treated village halls as leisure centres, so we only had a few days to make the application before funding closed. Our application was successful and we have received a total of £18850. ( It was not means tested but calculated on rateable values ) The impact of that grant and how it will be spent will fuel future debates within the Council and the community. We will need your feedback to inform our decisions.
Throughout the year we replaced all the wooden picnic benches on the Meadows, with those made from recycled plastic bottles. They were expensive and very heavy items, but they need little or no maintenance, so a good environmentally friendly and future proof purchase. Also on the Meadows we paid for the pond to be dredged by hand rather then involving a heavy vehicle which would have damaged flora and fauna. I know from the many messages I received that many of you appreciated the end result and we hope to keep the pond under control in the future.
A major event in the year was the retirement of our Clerk, David Williams. David worked for the village for 16 years and it was a great wrench to say thank you and farewell to him. This was made all the more poignant as we had to hold a zoom retirement party rather than have a lovely social event in our hall. Before David’s retirement we set about the task of finding and interviewing a new Clerk all of course via Zoom. We had a broad range of applicants from as far afield as south Essex and Thaxted, but eventually we appointed a fully qualified clerk, Petra Palfreyman from West Mersea. Petra shadowed David for a month in January, and has already proved herself to be a very efficient and competent Clerk. I know she will be an asset to our village. Although we have spent many subsequent hours chatting via zoom we are all looking forward to meeting Petra face to face for the first time very soon!
A major event we had to cancel was our commemoration on the village green of VE Day, which would have included a short service of dedication for our new “Lest we Forget” bench – purchased with the help of BDCs district councillor’s grant via Cllr George Courtauld. Our thanks again to George for his support. We still intend to purchase a memorial plaque. As the bench was erected in 2020 we may want to reflect on the loss of life through the pandemic too. Again your feedback would be appreciated.
On the topic of the village Green we are still in discussions with ECC concerning the pavement opposite, and the destruction of the Green by HGVs. At a physical meeting on the Green just before lockdown, ECC produced a new scheme which did not meet with our approval. It also required the Secretary of State’s permission to remove a slice of the village green with the need to find a piece of highways land to be given up to the parish in compensation. At a recent zoom meeting with ECC highway officers and County Councillor Jo Beavis, consideration was given to the wall and pavement being repaired with more robust materials, which would in effect damage the vehicle rather than the brickwork. This would require consultation with the heritage department as the wall sits within our conservation area. If a way could be found to use these materials then the end result could be achieved in a much shorter time frame. Requesting Sec of State approval along with its accompanying paperwork, consultations, design and financial implications could take up to 4 years to resolve. Obviously we are very keen to see the wall and pavement repaired as it is a severe safety issue so we will keep up the pressure on Highways over the next few months.
Lockdown has of course affected the progress of the development behind the village hall, though the word progress is somewhat optimistic. The original outline planning permission has expired and we understand that the developer will be submitting a full planning application within the next few months. There has already been some works carried out to confirm boundary lines. We are still expecting a pre application meeting with the developer. We will continue to work on this project in the hope that we can satisfy everyone’s concerns, but we do need to see this reach a conclusion soon. We are aware that the area behind the hall looks shabby and unkempt but we are naturally reluctant to spend funds on improvements, only for building works to destroy all our efforts. We did however receive an ECC Councillor’s grant through Cllr Jo Beavis which has enabled us to install a new picket fence at the front of the hall and to repair the solar light on the corner. Our thanks again to Jo for supporting us in this project.
We did not increase the precept this year although our finances took quite a hit. Over budget spending on benches and pond clearance together with a drop in village hall income meant that we carried a £4000 deficit into this new financial year. We know that many residents have felt the financial burden of the pandemic, so we thought it prudent to use our reserves in these exceptional circumstances.
We have been pleased to see the increase in the number of residents using the Nextdoor social media app. This is the quickest and easiest way for us all to stay in touch so please encourage your neighbours to join. Remember too that if you prefer you can apply filters so that you need only receive White Colne posts, rather than the full neighbourhood wide information. We have 150 members representing approx 120 households, just over half way.
As you are aware all parish councillors are volunteers and I thank them all for their time and commitment throughout the year. In particular my thanks must go to Jim Bond who has worked diligently as Vice Chair and has made my position as Chairman so much easier. But there are also others in the community who give their time for the benefit of us all. Our thanks to Mike King who has continued his monthly safety checks on the village hall, and to our team of four who regularly check the defibrillator: Lynne Brown, Dan Truby, Claire Derby, and Sarah Clarke.
During the first lockdown Scott Bolton decided to step down as a councillor and we were sorry to see him go. Scott became an important member of our team and was always ready and willing to help and support any project or event. In March we were delighted to co opt Carol Wada onto the Council. A long time resident of our village and an allotmenteer as well, Carol brings a wealth of experience to the table.
Our district councillors, Gabrielle Spray and George Courtauld have continued to support us through the year with many appearances at our zoom meetings. Their input is much appreciated. Our thanks too to county councillor Jo Beavis who as well as attending our zoom meetings has worked particularly hard for us in the background on highways matters and the development behind the hall.
Finally I hope as Covid restrictions are slowly lifted we can all look forward to a summer of fine weather, good health and perhaps a special event or two to help us all celebrate the end of a very difficult time for us all.
Continue to take care and keep safe.
May 5th 2021.