Minutes of Mereworth Parish Council meeting held 28 April 2020


PRESENT -– Chairman – Jenny Thorogood, Katherine Eykelenboom, Andrew Wells, Michael Bound, Ted Murray, Carol MacBride, Gill Kirby (Clerk),
KCClr Matthew Balfour, Jon Regan (part-time)
Apologies – Rene Bennet, TMBC Clr Mrs Ann Kemp, TMBC Clr Piers Montague

1. Declarations of Interest – none

2. Minutes of the Parish Council meeting and Planning meeting held on 24 March 2020
These were agreed as a true record
Matters arising – (AW) noted that a car had been parked opposite the rectory for at least
two months. There had been no more talk of car sales in The Street.

3. Reports from Members of the Public – none

4. Finance
(i) Bank reconciliation and ratification of cheques for signing
Bank reconciliation as at 31 March 2020 was approved and bank statements
verified. Reconciliation and cheque payments as listed were ratified. Action Clerk

(ii) Approval of Annual Governance Statement 2019-2020 – this had been circulated and
was approved Action Clerk

(iii) Audit of Accounts 2019-2020 – Audit papers had been prepared by Clerk along with
End of year Statement of Accounts – these had been circulated and were approved.
Clerk explained that the Internal Audit was still to be completed and instructions on
how to undertake this were awaited from KCC Audit. Action Clerk

(iv) Donation requests – (i) British Red Cross (ii) Air Ambulance – It was proposed by
(MB), seconded by (JT) and agreed unanimously that under s.137 LGA 1972 a donation of £50 be made to Air Ambulance. No donation to British Red Cross.
Action Clerk
(v) On-line Banking – forms downloaded and completed by Clerk – it was resolved that
the authorized signatories in the current mandate for the Parish Councils accounts be changed in order to progress this. Councillors had signed the forms and these had been submitted to Natwest. Awaiting progress report from Natwest. Action Clerk

5. Any other matters for discussion
1. Volunteer help group – this had been set up to help vulnerable residents and was co-ordinated by Michael Bound. The group was open to volunteers and people needing help in both Mereworth and West Peckham and had 50 volunteers. So far only 7 requests for help had been received and these had been dealt with the same day or next day. Volunteers had taken on delivery of The Record to allow the usual delivery people, who may be vulnerable, to stay safe.
2. PCC Report – (AW) reported that the churchyard grass was mown on 27 April, the extra cut outstanding from 2019. They have raked up the grass between the north wall and the gravel path and we could ask them to do the same with a metre or so south of the path. The church remains closed though Robert Earl, churchwarden, inspects it internally and externally once each week.
3. (AW) asked if it might be worth writing to the Police and P&CC yet again commenting on motorbikes on the roads round Mereworth. Reduced traffic over the past weeks, but motorbikes more noticeable than usual.

6. Date of next meeting – 26 May 2020 7pm by electronic communication – This will be the
Annual GENERAL Meeting of the Parish Council

At this point Jon Regan and Matthew Balfour joined the meeting

County Councillors Report – KCClr Matthew Balfour said that it was extraordinary to be conducting the meeting virtually and that KCC were doing a lot of meetings in this way. KCC were doing all possible to support people in Kent at this time. They had distributed 700,000 items of PPE and supported Care Homes, Care Workers and others who have to go out in difficult circumstances. Clr Balfour felt that residents of Mereworth were less vulnerable than other places and hoped that if there were any problems they would get help. If there were any problems then please get in touch with him and he would point them in the right direction to get help. He felt that communities were coming together very well. And noted that the food service in Wateringbury was very successful.

(JR) referred to several scamming emails received recently and asked that people always look at the email address to check that it is coming from who it appears to have been sent by.

The following written reports had been received:

1. Report by Clrs Mrs Ann Kemp and Piers Montague on behalf of the Borough Council

Since our rather surreal unopposed election to be your Ward Councillors for the next four years, we have tried to represent our seven parishes to the best of our ability. Taking on board local concerns and doing anything we can to help achieve the best outcomes.

This year seems to have been completely taken over by the Local Plan and the roll-out of the new Waste Collection service.

The continued delay and necessity to go out for a second consultation on the Local Plan has proved frustrating for all, and made for some difficult decisions in our day to day planning regime. We are now hopeful that the appointment of a new inspector and the setting of dates for a preliminary hearing (currently 19th May), mean that soon progress will be made. However, we are mindful that many things will be once again put on hold due to the consequences of the Corona Virus.

On the planning application side we have had a few successes, including the decision not to place the quarry in Ryarsh. Other applications, though opposed, have been granted approval, highlighting the difficult situation the Council is in without a 5-year supply. We will continue to be vigilant in highlighting potentially contentious applications and ask for your assistance is ensuring we make any required call in request within the strict time limit.

The roll-out of the waste contract, unfortunately, did not go as planned. This was a great disappointment to us all, we appreciate that some residents have not received the service they are due, but hope that at last things are settling down and the new service is beginning to prove a success. Certainly the huge increase seen in recycling proves that residents are engaging well and we thank you all for that.

Although finances have been tight and some large savings have continued to be necessary, we have been able to maintain our frontline services and have ended the year on a positive note. The Council has increased its supply of temporary accommodation, reducing the need to place those with an emergency housing need in less suitable bed and breakfast accommodation. The latest figures also show a drop in the number of homeless people on the street which is no doubt due to the continuing good work of the Council’s housing team.

However, we must not be complacent as more and more savings must continue to be made and the uncertainties of the next few months will no doubt be a huge drain on all our resources.

We look forward to working with you all for the next twelve months and hope that you and your families stay safe during this difficult time. We continue to handle any queries as normal so please do get in touch if we can be of any assistance.

2. Annual Reports of Village Organisations and Bodies

1. Mereworth Village Hall – Report provided by Rene Bennet
As I write my final ever Chairmans report pending my retirement in July we are obviously in lockdown due to the Corona Virus with the hall/pavilion and Pre-School all shut. What effect this will have on the future viability of the two sites is unknown with no Pre-School, football or fete income although it is projected that the Hall can survive with no income until Christmas based on the current reserves which are held.
However, this will be the responsibility of the new Committee headed by Jenny Thorogood as Chairperson.
During the year we welcomed Annabel Smithies as the New Booking Clerk who has done a great job although it is noticeable that there has for various reasons been a drop in the number of regular hirers using the hall.
Repairs to the roof and porch were undertaken during the year and the floor in the main hall was refurbished. Whilst quotes for the painting of the main hall were also obtained these have been currently held over.
Use of the football/cricket pitches/pavilion continue at weekends albeit at a reduced level. The facility continues to lose money which has been an ongoing issue for many years and the Parish Council continues its regular advertising campaign to increase its usage. A Pop Up Café run by Jenny Thorogood and Jackie Bland used the pavilion on a number of occasions although I am not aware of any future plans in this regard.
A Re-Building Cost Valuation report is currently being prepared by Felix Collins (one is already held for the hall) to ensure that the insurance cover in place is accurate for the future.
FINANCIALLY:- it has been a challenging year with ever increasing costs for regular inspections/certifications and servicing to ensure both sites meet all Health & Safety requirements however it is very pleasing to report that an overall profit of £336.44 has been achieved at 31/3/20. A full financial review of all fees will be undertaken for formal approval at the AGM on Tuesday 28th July 2020.
I will close by expressing my very special thanks to my Treasurer and Secretary Graham Matthews and Helen Card who are also retiring at the AGM in July both have made a huge contribution to the committee over many years. My thanks also go to the Tote collectors all my fellow Committee members the Parish Council & Fete Committee for their hard work and financial support throughout the year
2. Mereworth Lunch Club & Charity Lunches- Report by Sue Darbyshire:
The Mereworth Lunch Club has met on ten occasions since last April. With an average number of 26 attendees, a two course meal, tea and coffee (not to forget After Eights!) is still proving very popular. £5 per head, which includes a raffle ticket, manages to cover costs, and provide a free Christmas lunch, with crackers and a present.
Sadly, we have lost some old friends, but also gained new ones, and we plan to continue the Club, which meets at 1.00pm on the 2nd Tuesday apart from August, as soon as we are able.
Enormous thanks go to all the cooks, and to those who prepare and clear up afterwards. It is always a cheerful occasion, and a chance for neighbours to catch up while enjoying a delicious lunch. We hope that all our friends keep well and that we shall meet again very soon.

3. Neighbourhood Watch – Report from Ted Murray
The neighbourhood watch scheme now has 12 members including Kurt Conroy who is the co-ordinator for West Peckham and not including me as the co-ordinator for Mereworth.
There have been two reports made in the last six months. The first about a suspicious character selling door to door in the village and a second about a car parked, possibly abandoned in Beech Road. Fortunately, neither resulted in any criminal activity or condition.
We have not seen much of our PCSO, Wendy Stanley, at the monthly Council Meetings as she has been very busy. The group is under strength and they are currently recruiting. Wendy herself has decided to take early retirement and will leave the post at the end of April. We do not, as yet, have a designated replacement.
E-watch newsletters are circulated every Tuesday and Friday giving highlights and lowlights of crime and criminal activity across the County. Additionally ad hoc warnings, mostly concerned with scams involving electronic devices of all kinds, are circulated regularly.
Before the coronavirus pandemic restrictions I had received the promise of some Neighbourhood Watch signs to post in and around the village. These are not currently accessible but suggestions for locations would be welcome in readiness for when they are available.

4. Mereworth and Kings Hill Scout Group – Report from Mike Darbyshire:.
We are living in strange times, with the most recent term’s activities having been curtailed as a result of the virus pandemic. We are now struggling to come up with a budget, and a plan of activities for the next year – and thereafter.
We have a current membership of 169 Beavers, Cubs, Scouts and Explorers. We also have 36 members of the leadership team, in uniform; additionally, we have a number of non- uniformed skills instructors. Our finances are quite strong, with a healthy bank balance, and apart from our capitation fees to the Scout Association and the training and uniform needs of our leaders, we do not have substantial ongoing costs to cover. Having spent around £4,000 on our equipment in the past year, we do not have significant capital expenditure in prospect. Our Summer programme is likely to be curtailed until a date to be nominated, and Summer camps and barbecues will probably be cancelled. Our base case for the Budget is for us to restart “normal” activity levels in September.
Our concern must be directed toward sustaining the membership of the Group. In case there is severe unemployment in the UK, and many of the parents find themselves redundant as a result, we are looking at our subscription levels, and the savings we might make in the programme. In this regard, we are rather amazed to be told that the Scout Association is seeking an increase of £5/head for the coming year – it might have been expected that savings could be made to reduce the cost for parents. This may be debated yet within the scouting community.
In the past year, our Group Leader, Kathryn Frankling retired, having been with us almost since the beginning 23 years ago, and we now have a non-uniformed Group Manager, Sarah Harvey, who has been in post for over 6 months now. It is because we have three experienced Assistant Group Leaders, who form a committee of advisers for Sarah, that this slightly unusual structure is permitted, though the practice is becoming more common.
Our leaders arranged an active programme for the past year, with camps and other forms of outdoor activity offered to all sections, some of which were over-subscribed; three of our older scouts went to Japan for the World Jamboree in July/August, and two of our leaders went also. It is understood that they all had a good time, having come back with lots of tales and many new friendships. Members of the Group participated in the annual Poppy Appeal before Remembrance Sunday, which raised over £6,500 outside the supermarkets at Kings Hill – another record!
We hope to continue successfully in the coming year.

5. Allotments Committee –Report from Michael Peach, Chairman. In the past twelve months one plot holder has been evicted for failure to tend his plot in accordance with the cultivation levels contained in the Tenancy Agreement. Two plot holders did not renew their Tenancy Agreement.
As of now all plots have been let and rent has been collected in full.
The general appearance and tidiness of the plots has improved, although it has to be said that with the social distancing requirements announced by H M Government, a few have not tended their plots as frequently as normal. I am confident that when the situation changes things will improve.
The Association had plans to renew the perimeter fencing around those plots in the central area, numbered 15 to 18. We were ready to proceed to order materials but our efforts were thwarted by the Covid-19 outbreak. This will be revisited as and when the pandemic situation improves.
The Association AGM in early April was postponed. No election of officials could be held and with the agreement of all members the current committee remains in place until a further date for the AGM can be arranged.

6. The Record – All of the 2019 editions of The Record were of 36 or 40 pages with a good proportion of interesting and entertaining editorial content. Financially there was a surplus £125 for the year, down on 2018 due to higher printing costs and reduced revenue from advertising and donations. Subscriptions were higher, however, and we are continuing to see more being made by standing order which gives some encouragement that they might continue.
The editorial side of The Record has seen a shrinking of issue size in the last two months, led largely by a lack of village activities and a consequent reduction in promotional pages usually provided. The May issue was down to just 28 pages, but only one paying advertiser has withdrawn.
We are very grateful to our regular contributors, advertisers, donors, subscribers and distributors, and in particular to the printer, Anmar, who can turn an urgent issue round in 24 hours.
Richard Jones, Mark Siggers and Michael Bound
The informal management committee

7. Parochial Church Council – report from Robert Earl and Martin Willgoss, Churchwardens
Church Governance -The Easter vestry meeting was held on 7th April with 17 members of the congregation present. Martin Willgoss, who was still within his three-year term of office, agreed to remain as churchwarden. There were no valid nominations to fill the other vacant post of churchwarden. Subsequently, at a special meeting of parishioners on 2nd June 2019, Robert Earl was elected as second churchwarden. During the last 12-month period, the full PCC met on seven occasions, with the standing committee meeting between to discuss urgent matters. The PCC currently has nine members, including Betty Earl a Licensed Lay Minister, a treasurer, a secretary and two other elected lay members. The only paid positions are the children’s choir director and his assistant when the director is unable to attend choir practice. Andrew Wells continues to represent the PCC on the Malling Deanery Synod. A limited number of individuals manage all aspects of the church, report back to the PCC on progress and any recommendations as required. We are always on the lookout for volunteers to help with the various interesting and companionable tasks needed to ensure the smooth running of our church.
The PCC made no major policy decisions during the year but continued to develop and implement safeguarding, hygiene, health and safety procedures. Our PCC Secretary masterminded many of these initiatives.

Benefice Changes and Interregnum – On 1st August 2019 the parish became part of the new benefice of Mereworth, Wateringbury and West Peckham. The three PCCs continue to operate autonomously, but the churchwardens meet regularly to explore areas of common working. The rectory for the new benefice is Mereworth rectory.
Patricia Dickin, our Priest-in-charge for the last seven years, announced in May that she was taking up a new post in south Gillingham, Kent. At the very end of her incumbency she was appointed rector of the new benefice and she left on 4th August. Although the interregnum did not officially start until her licensing in the new parish in December, Mereworth has effectively been without an incumbent since early August. The benefice is currently seeking a rector to fill the vacancy left by Pat. Four representatives have been elected from the benefice to agree a parish profile and to take part in the selection process for a new rector. Robert Earl represents Mereworth.

Services – Our regular pattern of 9:30am Sunday Services is first Sunday BCP Mattins, second Sunday CW Family Communion, third Sunday BCP Communion, and fourth Sunday CW Family service (with the Mereworth Young Singers’ choir in term time). The fifth Sunday in the month is a joint benefice service; when held in St Lawrence’s it is a CW healing and eucharist service. The liturgy committee, in liaison with the other two churches has managed to find priests to cover our Sunday services and we are indebted to Canon Brian Stevenson and Canon Alan Vousden for their willingness to officiate at St Lawrence’s. Thanks, are also due to Betty Earl who continues to take Mattins services and to preach. We are still without a full-time organist, but most services have been covered by Stephen Thomas and Ian Payne. Our thanks go to Stephen Thomas for his continued development of the Mereworth Young Singers, and for taking choir members through the Royal School of Church Music award scheme. In 2019 the choir focussed on the Songs of Praise service, with some special music, and, at Christmas, on taking a leading role at the widely-praised Nine Lessons and Carols Service as well as carol singing in the village.

In the year we have had four Baptisms, five weddings, four funerals, and four interments of ashes. Our Christmas period was busy with a traditional Christmas Carol service, a Christingle (thanks to the timely intervention of Jenny Thorogood), and a midnight eucharist led by the Bishop of Tonbridge. During the year we held our annual Rogation Day walk to West Peckham, a Harvest Thanksgiving service, our annual VC service with the Sea Cadets, a St George’s Day service, and a well-attended Remembrance Sunday service. In addition, on 26th January 2020 we held a Holocaust Memorial Day service to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz.
This year has been a difficult year for us all, with the formation of a new benefice in the absence of a rector, stretched resources, the need for additional training for volunteers in food hygiene and safeguarding, and implementing new diocesan guidance on, among other things, safeguarding. We are seeking volunteers to help us share the burden. We hope that through closer ties in the new benefice we may be able to merge some of the common functions of the three PCCs.

Other Church Activities – After ten years in the role, Douglas Bratt stepped down as tower captain. Barry Evans was elected to replace him and lead our enthusiastic team of bell-ringers. We thank Douglas for his faithful service over the last decade and welcome Barry into the leadership role. A quarter peal in Douglas’s honour was rung on 1st February.

Quinquennial Inspection, Maintenance & Repairs
The major works under the Third Quinquennial repairs survey of September 2015 has been completed, leaving only relatively minor work to do mainly in the tower. This threw up major challenges with the access issues predominantly with ladder access, bird netting and safe working conditions; and until these have been resolved, access has been restricted. We have obtained quotations to redress the tower issues, and some funding has been secured from the Friends of Mereworth Church and The Friends of Kent Churches to which we are extremely grateful. Additional funding is still being sought in order to allow for the works to proceed. The repairs to the clock, which will cost between £6,000 and £14,000, cannot be done until access arrangements to the tower have been improved. We have had our five-year electrical survey, which resulted in some modifications including the installation of additional lightning protection. In addition, following a visit from the Diocesan lightning consultant, we installed additional surge protection to the electrical system to protect the building. Our next Quinquennial inspection is due in September 2020.
We had to make the difficult decision not to continue with the external lighting of the church at Christmas. This decision was two-fold, firstly that the lighting has always been of a ‘temporary’ nature and after receiving recommendations from both the five-year electrical survey and the diocesan lightning consultant it was felt that the temporary lighting system should be removed. Secondly with the church’s limited funds the PCC agreed that it could no longer fund the operation of the lights throughout the festive season. The PCC did obtain a quotation from a recommended church lighting company for replacement lighting, which, including design, local authority and Highways authority approval, ground surveys and installation would cost in excess of £20,000. The project was therefore not deemed viable at this time. The temporary lighting is due to be fully removed as part of the tower improvement works.
There were no changes to the inventory of movable articles in the church during the year.

Publicity – We continue to rely on free local advertising and word of mouth. Our thanks go to Mark Siggers for allowing us to put articles and advertise events in the Record, and to Karen Cresswell for publishing a church section in the Kings Hill Directory. We also thank Valerie Crafter who continues to maintain our website with the most eye-catching posters and who keeps the information current and up to date. Facebook continues to be a good source of updating the community about various events and activities and our thanks go to Emma Northcott who keeps a watchful eye over its management and control.

Fundraising – Many fundraising events have been held during the year, and are programmed again for the coming year and we thank all those who give their time and effort. Music events at St Lawrence’s bring people from a wider area and bring an extra income as well as pleasure. An impromptu free concert to mark the feast of St Lawrence in August featured pianist Richard James and singer Rowena Ashby; it raised £427 in donations for the Friends of Mereworth Church. We have also benefitted from the annual Ride and Stride event and our thanks go to Andrew and Tessa Wells who generously donate to the church the proceeds from teas sold at each of their Open Garden days. We rely on support from so many people, such as sidespersons, tea makers, the cream tea makers and helpers, cleaners, and those who manage car parking and signage, flower arranging, and general maintenance, including churchyard maintenance. Once again, we have to thank Valerie Crafter for organising the spring and autumn Craft Fairs along with Viv Bennet, our PCC secretary. Our thanks must also go to Steve Card who has prudently managed our finances and has secured funding to cover the unexpected commitments that have arisen this year.

Church Use – We are delighted that the church is being used for the benefit of the village and we have welcomed the ‘Last Wednesday of the Month Coffee Morning’ which is now in its second and most successful year.

Walking Group – A popular church walking group was set up in 2019 and completed seven interesting walks in and around Mereworth and the local area. The group will continue meet during 2020.

The March Gift -Valerie Crafter and Douglas Bratt were the 2019 recipients of the March Gift from the Lady Le Despencer Charity.