2004 was undoubtedly another very successful year for the Friends, and indeed for Chelmsford Borough Council as the plans, meticulously prepared ahead of the application for Lottery Funding, became a reality. It is wonderful to see the restoration of the grand staircase underway - the final phase of the ground floor. On completion, probably in July, I am certain that the splendour will fully compliment the rest of the work that has been so painstakingly achieved during the last ten years. The official opening, likely to be during the Heritage Weekend in September, will be the appropriate time to record thanks, but I am convinced that the completion of the work on the ground floor of this magnificent building has given your Committee a goal on which to focus, and to spur its efforts to acquire items to not only beautify these fabulous rooms, but also, to add to their grandeur.
Pleasingly our income from membership subscriptions, donations, gift aid and interest have all increased, but it is our concert supper parties and other social events that have remained as popular as ever: we have sustained our reputation for first class, enjoyable entertainment and, more importantly, everyone has fun! Dare I say that the one downside of the House is that the rooms are not large enough, and on more occasions than not our events are over subscribed.
Detailed reports of all our activities have appeared in our regular newsletters, but for the record we enjoyed:-
All in all, 2004 was a very busy year for the Friends, with the events contributing £2,360 net to Friends' Funds - a notable increase of more than 50% on 2003. A year of hard work for your Committee, but without exception, each member puts a large amount of effort into the planning and organising that goes on behind the scenes and I am enormously grateful to everyone of them - without doubt this is team work at its very best. We also express and record our thanks to all those who have performed for us, often at little or no charge. Many thanks to you, too, dear Friends for supporting our raffles with increasing generosity.
Above all this, and producing nearly twice as much as 'Events' for our funds, Betty Woods and her fantastic team continue to produce home made cakes that attract more and more people to the House on the first Sunday each month. This year's takings are a record and the net receipts nothing short of incredible, especially as I recall that we were unable to serve teas in March. Betty has been in charge of teas for the whole time the Friends have been in existence: I am not aware of her missing any first Sundays, so although in the early phases of restoration to the House, when the monthly service would have been interrupted, and allowing for becoming increasingly busy - I estimate that the team has baked nearly 1,000 cakes! A truly remarkable example of dedication and commitment. Well done Betty and her team!
At our AGM last year the miniature replicas of Venus with the Apple were unveiled: I am pleased to record that members have shown a good level of interest and a further supply has recently been acquired. The price through the Friends to members remains at £15, but they are also now available in the House souvenir shop. The position shown in the accounts for 2004 belies a stock of about 50 statues. During the year we purchased on our own behalf a further five items for the House, and a sixth on behalf of Martin Easteal, as he wished to mark his retirement by donating an item of lasting value: after some careful research Stan Kaluza identified a fire basket for the Banqueting Room which is in French style of the early 19th century and in keeping with the marble mantelpiece and surround. The most beautiful of your Committee's purchases is the magnificent credenza, which is also in the Banqueting Room; the second credenza in the library almost matches the existing one, and we have been particularly fortunate to acquire a second identical pier cabinet, by the same craftsman, to the one already in the saloon. We remain alert for further additional items, and have recently updated our 'wish' list in view of the imminent completion of the refurbishment. Stan works unceasingly for us: it is his endeavours that have identified all our purchases this year and he has initiated any restoration work. We cannot always be successful in our bids at auction: this can be frustrating, however I thoroughly enjoyed my recent visit to Sworders in Stansted Mountfitchett, with Stan for the preview of a Country House Sale.
Our involvement with the Borough Council continued apace during 2004: Linda Palmer, the House Manager and I have a quarterly meeting at which we review both what has gone before and what is lies ahead - we both find this beneficial. More recently Sue Ireland, Head of Parks Services, and I have met together regularly as public interest in Hylands has increased, largely as a result of the removal of 400 trees and the swathe of rhododendrons as work on the re-establishment of Repton's landscape began. Frankly, I was not entirely comfortable initially, even though I fully understood, following the focus group consultations in January 2003, that the whole of the Heritage Lottery Funding was likely to be dependent on the inclusion of the landscaping in the scheme. I have written in more detail in our current Newsletter - suffice it to record here that my lingering doubts have been fully dispelled as it was wonderful to see the shimmering surface of the lake from the back of the House - that is, before the current phase was started and the lake drained so that it can be re-lined. Whilst some may not welcome seeing the A414 Writtle bypass from the rear of the House, I have received many favourable comments from those who drive along that road about how good it is to see the House surrounded by its lovely, open parkland.
At the end of 2004 membership stood at 508 (2003 - 450), but with the inclusion of an additional family member, the actual total was 582 (2003 - 544) - an increase of 7%, and today it stands at 589, including 32 Life Members. Sadly, but perhaps unsurprisingly, a handful of members have resigned over the removal of the trees - just a fraction over 1%. In 2004 ninety new members joined the Friends (16.5%) I wish to record my thanks to Brian Hinds, our Membership Secretary for five years, who continues to keep meticulous records for us and to deal with all correspondence and enquiries on a 'same day' basis.
Most encouragingly, 73.5% of our members have made Gift Aid Declarations, which has enabled the Friends to recover approximately £1,100 in 2002/3 and £1,750 in 2003/4 - an amazing total of £2,847 shown in the Accounts. It is estimated that the claim for 2004/5 will be to the order of £1,587, but in the meantime very many thanks to Ralph Hayden for continuing to undertake this task, which boosts our income in such a worthwhile way. Indeed, in 2004 Ralph single-handedly produced more than 10% of our income!! It is appropriate to remind members who submit Self Assessment Tax Returns that all or part of any refunds can be directed to approved charities. The Friends is such a charity: our special GIFT AID CODE being ZAH83ZG.
Our thanks to Patrick Bermingham for continuing to produce our Newsletter three times a year. I continue to receive plenty of feed back so I know that articles are well read and I thank you, our members for responding to my request last year for more 'copy'. The Editor also ensures that at least one article will produce a response in the next edition! It is, therefore, not surprising that our printing and postage costs have risen by over 40%! Thanks are also due to Vice Chairman, Vicky Parr for completing the establishment of our web site - www.friendsofhylands - which enables us to reach ever wider afield, not that we are ungrateful to either BBC Essex or the Borough Council for including us on their sites - quite the contrary. Communication is the name of the game.
On behalf of all Friends, I wish to thank all members and officers of the Council who supported our endeavours during the year, but special thanks to Sue Ireland and Linda Palmer, whom I have already mentioned, and their hard working teams for their dedicated help for all our activities: it is greatly appreciated by us all. My thanks too, to Tim Roper, our new Treasurer, who has not only taken over part way during our financial year but has also had to handle a record level of Receipts and Payments. Here I should mention that the Executive Committee, your Trustees, have recently reviewed, and renewed on the existing basis, the Accounting, Reserves and Investment policies of the Friends.
Looking to the future, it would perhaps be inappropriate for me to comment as I step down from the Chair in accordance with the Friends' Constitution, however your Executive Committee is well aware that the development of the Visitor Centre in the refurbished Stable Block will bring into play a number of opportunities to see our activities evolve: plans will be formulated in good time to encompass the changes so as to maximise on that which we value most - you continued support .
From the length of my Report, for which maybe I should apologise, you will be aware that 2004 was an extremely active year, and I have not mentioned every date - such as another visit by Mrs Roberts (Mrs Hanbury's niece) which was so wonderful, not least from an archive perspective. None of this would have been possible or worthwhile had it not been for your support - your very generous support which has grown so much over the past ten years. I had intended to do an analysis of what has been achieved, but I have been on my feet for long enough so may I simply record my thanks to all of you, to your Executive Committee, and to our President and Vice Presidents: it has been a real honour to serve as your Chairman, I have had a lot of fun and enjoyment, and I have made many new friends - my personal thanks to each and every one of you for all that you do. You are a great team who have given me excellent support. I know that I hand on to my successor, who I will support in any way he wishes, a dedicated, committed and hard working group of people, totally focussed on further enhancing this truly magnificent jewel in Chelmsford's crown - Hylands House and its associated park.
I bow out with one final wish - the continuing success of the Friends
Madam President, Lady Platt, as a token of my affection for you and the Friends, may I present you with this floral arrangement. Thank you for being an inspiration to us and presiding over all our endeavours for ten years
Richard Oscroft, Chairman
21st April, 2005