Soll Council Information
MINUTES OF THE ANNUAL GENERAL MEETING OF THE FRIENDS OF THE SOCIETY OF OUR LADY OF LOURDES
Via ZOOM ON Tuesday 1st DECEMBER 2020 AT 20:00hrs
There were 20 Friends of the Society present.
The Chairman, Dave Farrow, welcomed all present and led the opening prayer.
Sheelagh Gardner-Thorpe, Imelda Wightman, Kiran Rajalingham, Paul Affleck
Minutes of the previous Annual General Meeting were approved without amendment.
No elections were heard as the nominations exactly matched the vacancies for Council.
The following were elected:
Lucy Wearing – Honorary Secretary
Sacha Hayward – Council Member
Ruth Rockey – Council Member
John Mitchell – Council Member
Katrina Roberts – Council Member
Liam Judge – Council Member
Kiran Rajalingham – Council Member
2020 was always going to be a challenging year as we made new arrangements for travel from the West Country. As forewarned and recorded in my Chairman’s comments for the 2019 AGM the practicalities and cost of operating a flight out of Exeter had become untenable
We therefore arranged an alternative group booking on an easyJet scheduled service out of Bristol.
The Society also made bookings primarily on behalf of our Massabielle group in Keighley of 60 seats with British Airways, and on behalf of Holy Family School with Ryanair.
Covid of course changed everything.
The processes of SOLL are sometimes perceived as – and sometimes are – ponderous, but in 2020 the Society moved with greater rapidity and decisiveness than most. Our participation in the two on-line conferences held by the Lourdes authorities for British pilgrimages this year significantly framed the discussions. The decision made to cancel the pilgrimage on 14 March was ahead of most others, including those who normally go at the same time as us, and was communicated by all media as quickly as possible.
We have for some time asked people to book early. At the time of the cancellation few carriers were providing refunds and it was obvious that those who showed faith in us by already booking faced a long wait (at best) for the return of their money at a time when personal finances would be tight. Therefore the Council voted for SOLL funds to be provided up front to enable immediate refunds – something that we arranged with our travel agent Tangney Tours (TT) who during the summer pursued reimbursement with carriers (including Titan Airways who operate our Stansted charter) and also utilized credit notes SOLL had received for other business enabling the Society to be reimbursed. They were under no obligation whatsoever to do so and it should be noted that a credit note is all that has been received by some clients with other pilgrimages.
- SOLL has been refunded for the Ryanair Group booking.
- British Airways provided a full and rapid refund.
- EasyJet has refunded Tangney Tours. this amount £6,300 has now been refunded to SOLL
- Titan Airways has refunded TT 50% of the amount paid and allowed the balance as a credit going forward. This means TT have £6,187.50 which they have now refunded to SOLL. In addition they (Titan) are holding £6,187.50 as a credit for travel in 2021 for SOLL.
So to sum up for 2020: we could come out with £0 liability or £6,187.50 as a worst case. At the start of this, it was £18,675.
Additionally, apart from the £234.52 commission of Ffestiniog Travel, the Eurostar Rail group booking has been refunded.
Recognising the financially parlous position of the shrine, SOLL has made a gift of £10,000 to the Sanctuaries.
In lieu of travel to Lourdes we conducted a very well received Virtual Pilgrimage with a reflection of relevance to each day that we would have spent in Lourdes kindly videoed by Archbishop Kevin and all the clergy who had intended to be on pilgrimage with us.
This is still available https://www.soll-lourdes.com/soll-virtual-pilgrimage-2020
We recognised much earlier in the year that “get out of jail” for covid lay in a vaccine. At the time of writing (9 November) it is far from clear when a comprehensive roll out will be completed.
Other pilgrimages have cancelled or deferred but we consider this is too early and the preference is to achieve a presence in Lourdes in 2021 albeit inevitably in smaller number than usual. It is unlikely that the schools will be able join us, and it is a big ask of the stamina of both medical staff and sick pilgrims to join us in 2021.
We don’t pretend to have the answers so we will ask our pilgrims what they wish and are prepared to do, and explain the criteria under which it is self-evident whether it is or is not possible for them to go to Lourdes.
To achieve this we have created a group to work up and communicate options under which some form of extraordinary pilgrimage could take place, and to deliver one of them.
- A letter and email to all asking which option(s) they would commit to supporting.
- These scenarios will clearly outline the constraints which would have to be met for them to operate e.g. the no. of nurses and carers prepared to go, cancellation if any form of quarantine introduced, etc.
- Travel as part of a wider UK group and stay-at-home communications to build solidarity will be included amongst the options.
Additionally we support overtures from our people to the South West to the Bishop of Plymouth to realign their pilgrimage date with ours.
We have interest from a school group from near Christchurch who are very keen to join us in 2022.
The future for now is extremely uncertain which will continue into the medium term, but beyond this there may be enormous pent up demand for pilgrims old and new to go to Lourdes.
Your Society now in its second century strives to meet and adapt to the needs of changing times.
Pilgrimage Chairman’s Report – Not present, no report.
Danny Murphy updating the meeting with proposals for some form of pilgrimage in 2021. (These are outlined in the Chairman’s Report above.) During Q & A it was stressed that SOLL will not travel to Lourdes should there be any risk of being unable to return home.
There is going to be a Zoom meeting held next week with Medical Officers from both SOLL and Lourdes to ascertain what steps are being taken in Lourdes to ensure it is a safe environment for SOLL to travel with our Sick Pilgrims to.
It was raised that one of the key problems would be flying to Lourdes whilst COVID-19 was still a threat DM stated that this was not problematic as airlines operate a special filter system.
Steve Kelly commented that currently he has a group of 15 people wishing to travel in 2021 but that none would travel without a vaccine for C19 being in place.
All travel decisions would be made by Dave & Maryann Farrow with John Perkins.
Hon. Secretary’s Report
Of course it was with great sadness our Lourdes Pilgrimage for 2020 did not go ahead this year but we had our virtual pilgrimage which was appreciated by many. Contributions to it were made by our Priests and young students. For 2021 we still need to decide if SOLL will make a Pilgrimage but there are many influences to take into account such as importantly our availability of Nurses who are on the front line fighting the pandemic in the UK and of course the vulnerability of our Sick Pilgrims to name but two.
We owe a great deal of thanks to those who are in the office team Ray, Wyn and Billie who keep communications open with our Pilgrims during the year and even Covid 19 hasn't hindered Ray's attendance so far. Sadly Wyn one of our stalwarts has not been very well this year and has not been able to attend so we remember her especially and wish her a return to good health and hope to see her once again back at the helm. I know her knowledge of all our Sick Pilgrims is an invaluable help to both Billie & Maryann our Chief Nurses.
This year thanks to John Perkins SOLL is now being brought into the 21st century on the banking front with the hope of achieving online banking. Currently Ray is working to produce Bank Mandates for both banks we use to enable this to happen.
Of recent times there have been problems with our telephone system resulting in calls dropping out. As we share a phoneline with the Church it would appear that it happens when we are both using the phone system. This is currently being looked into by Brian.
We owe great thanks to Marie-Helen Cooke who works valiantly and tirelessly to produce and edit our Pilgrims Way, it is a booklet that I know is warmly received by all those who read it. We are always looking for any relevant articles you may have for our website and Pilgrims Way this may take the form of write ups, information, articles of interest or of course, photos are always welcome. Do take the time to consider this & let the office have these at any time in the year as they will be forwarded to our Editors, new copy is most welcome, so don’t be shy!
This coming year will be one of many challenges. There are many decisions which still need to be reached and many hurdles to overcome so we ask everyone to remember us the Council in your prayers.
Hon. Treasurer’s Report
2020 has been a difficult year for all as Dave has already highlighted with Covid 19. This caused us to cancel many events planned including the May pilgrimage to Lourdes.
Much time has been spent by the trustees and Tangney Tours in negotiation with Airlines and Train companies to obtain refunds for booked tickets for our cancelled pilgrimage. I can now confirm all refunds have been received by the society. The only exception being the 50% credit note value £6,187.50 held by Titan Airways for the use against travel in May 2021.
With this turbulence in mind, I have decided that the draft accounts need a further review with the trustees in our January 2021 meeting. I would like to thank Mary Tomlin for her support in producing the draft accounts.
Some highlights from the current draft show a very healthy position for SOLL, with funds of 1,177m split between investments and cash in the bank.
A loss of 67k on our investments during the year leads me to propose to the trustees that an independent Financial Advisor be appointed to advise the best path forward in our investment strategy. This issue arises because we have funds in excess of the 85k limit for compensation in both banks, should either of them bank fail.
I believe Brewin Dolphin are working to the instructions that the Society has historically given them, but their current performance is below their own benchmark. I personally want to understand that our further investments are also in our best interest and not merely following what we previously decided was the correct decision. I will further propose to the trustees that the investment committee be extended to three trustees, currently Sacha and myself are authorised to instruct Brewin Dolphin.
I believe with the help of an independent financial advisor we can advance to a 5 year plan to how the Society can spend its money in support of its aims whilst it balances the short and long term goals of bringing people to Lourdes.
We are making very slow progress towards having online banking access to our bank accounts, a factor in the delay in producing year end accounts. We are close with HSBC. I would like to move as quickly as possible to online payments and receipts, to this end I have asked Alan Cook to incorporate the bank details in the Pilgrims Way magazine for Member/friends subscriptions. Cheques will still be accepted but I would like to start phasing out the use of cheque payments during 2021.
In support of the wishes of Archbishop Kevin McDonald, we need to invest in our website, we should become more communitive via our website, make it a working tool for the society and provide a link between the written word “Pilgrims Way” to become informative and interactive in 2021 and beyond. Because if in 2021 we are unable to get to Lourdes we the society should provide a leading light into Lourdes from the UK.
Brewin Dolphin recommend that a third person be nominated to the Finance Committee.
Allan Cooke requested that JP hold a meeting with Mary Tomlin, Catherine Casey and himself so that he can discuss the thinking and performance of B&D as SOLL’s accountants.
Decisions to be made on the above deferred to Jan 2021
Report on Fundraising Activities
Simon Chandler explained that SOLL is now on Amazon Smile which enables SOLL to gain 0.5% of any purchases made when buying from Amazon. There is a link on our website and Amazon pay monthly electronically into SOLLs account.
- MF suggested that we produce a card to promote this which could be given to family & friends.
- SC to send to Ray a ‘how to use’ guide so it can be distributed.
- Brian McCarthy to upload a link on facebook.
- An appeal for this Christmas was agreed to be organised as it is financially more successful than a raffle.
SC thanked John Mitchell for his assistance in setting up instructions and links on the SOLL website enabling the direction of donations to SOLL from use of Smile Amazon.
Any other business
DF thanked Mary Tomlin for her long service as Treasurer and Brian McCarthy who also reached the end of his term for his affable assistance on the Council and PC which has been long valued.