25th July 2011 AGM and Funding Issues

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Minutes of Annual General Meeting

Held on 25th July 2011 at 2:30pm
At Wherry Way Communal Room, Caister Road, Great Yarmouth
There were 23 members and guests in attendance.

David Wilkinson, Chairman, welcomed everyone to the meeting, and those present introduced themselves.

Apologies for absence had been received from Judy Morrow, Linda Cooper, Nelly Adhiambo (GY Voluntary Sector Partnership).

Also Terry Driver sends his apologies bas he is not very well. The group passes on its best wishes.

David began by presenting a special report, in which he informed the meeting that following the discovery that funds were missing from the Group’s bank account, it was found that the Treasurer, Mr David Mercer had stolen £1870 from the account, and as a result he was arrested on 19th May, when he was charged with theft. He was sentenced to 12 weeks in prison on 4th July. The money, a missing cheque book and other documents relating to the Group’s finances have not been recovered.

As a consequence, the Committee appointed Wendy George (NNAB) as temporary Treasurer and procedures have been put in place to ensure that there could be no further mismanagement of the Group’s finances.

This has obviously left the Group very short of funds. After the election of Committee Members, members would be invited to make suggestions for fund raising.

David then presented his Chairman’s Report. He reported on an active and interesting year, in which the newly-elected MP, Brandon Lewis had attended a meeting, and his researcher Lewis Roberts had attended subsequent meetings. Meetings had been held with Brandon Lewis and David Wardale about the on-going problem of the dangerous crossing on King Street. Eighteen members took part in Norfolk County Council’s Big Conversation, which led to the campaign to save the Sensory Support Unit from closure. In February some Members took part in the DLA consultation meeting at Christchurch, where comments were noted and added to the paper which the Disability Forum sent to the Department of Works and Pensions. Penny Cox and Linda Cooper joined the march in London and lobby of Parliament in May, to protest against the government cuts to essential services, and met with Brandon Lewis at Westminster. Sarah Morris, the Matron of the Ophthalmic Unit at James Paget Hospital had attended a meeting to answer Members’ questions and to update the Group on ways in which services for blind and visually impaired people at were being improved. She has been invited to return to the September meeting to update the Group on progress, and there was to be a Sight and Hearing Awareness training day for hospital staff on 26th July.

David concluded his report by thanking people who had supported the group during the year – Judy for minute-taking, Helen Johnson (Voluntary Support Partnership) for supporting the Group with NHS Small Grants and at the Belton Fete, Nelly Adhiambo (VSP) for helping look for future funding, Wendy George and Liz Kitchener (NNAB) for their on-going support, Penny Parker (NCODP), staff at Wherry Way for use of the meeting room, Ivor (Town and Country Travel) for transport to meetings, and Paul (HAPPI project) for support at meetings. In conclusion David thanks all Members and guests for their continuing support.

David was thanked for his work as Chairman and for his report.

Wendy George then presented the Treasurer’s report, which was not comprehensive due to the problems arising from Mr Mercer’s actions. In May 2010 the Treasurer’s report stated that there was a balance of £1813.45 in the account. On 14th April 2011 the balance was £2201.57, of which £1155.64 has now been spent on taxis, equipment, the website, site fee for Belton fete and membership of Voluntary Norfolk. There has been an income of £265.16, including a £200 donation from the Fitzmaurice Trust, £10 donation for the pitch fee at the Belton fete, and £55.16 raised at the fete on 17th July.

Wendy estimated that the transport costs for the AGM and the September meeting would be about £228, the insurance due in September would be £439.43, and the cost of carrying out CRB checks on signatories for the cheque book would be £40.50. The cost of printing more information leaflets would be £250, making a total projected expenditure of £957.93. This would leave £353.07 in the account.

Wendy reported that she had applied to NNAB for help with funding. Mr Child had put the request to the Board, who had agreed in principle but would need to see that the Group was making an effort to raise funds themselves before making any contribution.

Wendy reassured the Group that all possible measures had been put in place to safeguard the Group’s funds. The cheque book was kept locked away at NNAB and all cheques had to be signed in front of a sighted witness. The cheque signatories were any two of the Chairman, Vice Chairman or Treasurer.

David thanked Wendy for her report, and for taking on the Treasurer’s job at such a difficult time.

Ian Hardy was then invited to Chair the meeting for the election of officers and committee members.

Chairman – David Wilkinson – nominated by Shaun McGarry, seconded by Penny Cox,
15 in favour. David was re-elected for a further year.

Vice-Chairman – Shaun McGarry – nominated by June Stamp, seconded by Pat Clark.
14 in favour. Shaun was re-elected for a further year.

Treasurer – Wendy George – nominated by Pat Clark, seconded by Tim Poole. 16 in favour. Wendy was elected for the year.

Group Secretary – Penny Cox did not wish to be re-elected, because of other commitments and also because she felt that after 13 years, it was time for some fresh blood to take on the job. Penny briefly explained the job description – writing letters to the MP and Borough Council, arranging for speakers to attend meetings, liaising with different agencies about topical issues, and attending Committee meetings which were held between Group meetings. As there were no other nominations or volunteers, Liz Price nominated that Penny be re-elected, seconded by David Wilkinson. 14 in favour. Penny agreed to carry on pro-tem, on the understanding that she would be unable to attend all the meetings. It was agreed that if anyone subsequently wished to take over the job of Group Secretary, they could be co-opted by the Committee at a later date.

Although the Minute Secretary’s job was not an elected post, it was agreed that Judy Pritchard should continue to take minutes of meetings. There was an overwhelming show of hands!

Election of Committee Members. Linda Cooper had expressed her wish to stand down from the Committee. There were no other nominations, but after some discussion Ian Hardy proposed and it was agreed that this should be an Agenda item for the next meeting after members had time for reflection. David also said that anyone who thought they might be interested in joining the Committee would be very welcome to come along to a Taster Session before making a decision. He next Committee Meeting was scheduled for 10th August 2011 at 1.15pm at the NNAB office on Hall Quay.

Fund Raising for the Future

Shaun reported on the Group’s activities at the Belton fete on 17th July. It was a good day, curtailed early by a torrential thunderstorm. Many members had generously donated items for sale which raised about £39. He had made a Mystery Box, to give people an experience of carrying out a task without being able to see. It comprised of a hidden collection of items, which when fitted together and plugged in played music! This attracted a lot of interest and raised £15 in donations. This was available for members to explore at the end of the meeting, and could be used at future fund-raising events. David thanked Shaun and his family for all their help in collecting items for sale, transporting tables and support on the day, and Shaun expressed his appreciation for others who had helped out including the HAPPI Group and Helen Johnson. More help would be required if such a venture were to be undertaken in the future.

David reported that he and Penny Cox had met with the landlady of the Lady Haven public house, who was willing to put on a Charity Night at the pub on 20th August. She would organise a raffle, and it was suggested that the computer donated by Re-Cycle could be the main prize.

Wendy explained that the cost of transport was approximately £130 per meeting. Ivor had been asked to work out how much this was per head, and it was suggested that Door-to-Door be asked to supply a quotation for a similar service. Mr Childs (NNAB) had said he thought it was reasonable to ask members to make a contribution towards the cost of transport. In view of the current financial difficulties, those who used the taxi service were asked to vote by a show of hands whether they were in agreement, in principle, to paying towards the cost of transport to meetings. The majority were in favour.

It was also suggested that a voluntary contribution of £2 be made by those attending meetings, and the majority were in favour of this. The voluntary contribution asked for in the past was £1.

Ian Hardy suggested that it might be worthwhile contacting local government offices or other agencies which might have funds set aside to cover emergencies, explaining the situation which has arisen unexpectedly, halfway through the financial year, and seeking emergency funding to help the Group through its current financial difficulties. The Committee would explore this.

David said he had requested an application form to apply for a lottery licence to allow the Group to hold more raffles, for an outlay of £40. Helen (VSP) said that she thought this was quite a complex area and would need careful investigation. It was agreed that she and David would explore it further at their next meeting. Paul Bowerbank (Sensory Support Unit) pointed that there was only a one in 57 chance of winning £10 in the National Lottery

Shaun said that he had learnt through Penny Parker (NCODP) that the website www.localgiving.com enabled people to donate to chosen charities and wondered whether this was something the Group could explore. Also there was a scheme where customers shopping online at Amazon could link to Amazon through a named charity’s website, and a small percentage of the profit on sales would be donated to the charity. It was unclear whether the charity would need to be registered in order to join this scheme. It was understood that a Rotary Club had received £270 from using this scheme.

Following a generous donation from the Fitzwilliam Trust of £200 towards running costs, it was agreed that the Committee should seek Nelly’s help to apply for donations/grants from Saffron and the Co-op, and also write to local businesses asking for donations.

Ella Palgrave suggested forming a Lottery syndicate, and Tim Poole said that he had organised one in the past and would be willing to run it if people were interested. A show of hands indicated that 11 people would be interested in joining a syndicate, so this would be further investigated.

Penny Parker (NCODP) endorsed the Amazon charity link, and suggested a quiz night as a possible fund-raiser. She also said that the Coalition small grants programme would shortly be reviewed and that the Group would be considered. The Group should be seen to be making efforts to meet running costs to sustain its future viability.

It was also suggested that the Group could apply to organisations such as The Lions Club, Rotary, Masonic Lodge and help the Aged. This would be discussed by the Committee.

Shaun told the Group that David had expressed interest in undertaking a sponsored slim on behalf of the Group. David said he would like to have a short trial run before he made a commitment. Wendy offered to bring the talking scales to the next meeting.

The sweet shop in the Arcade in Yarmouth had donated a jar of sweets as a prize for the Belton fete but because of the inclement weather this had not been won. The sweet shop proprietor had suggested a graph on which people could mark their estimate of the number of sweets in the jar (between 100-400) at a cost of 50p a go. This would be pursued at the next meeting and any other fund raising events.

There was discussion about how more VIP User Group Members could be encouraged to come to meetings. There are approximately 50 people on the mailing list, yet only about 15 members (plus guests) attend meetings. It was decided to try to compile a database of Members’ details, including telephone numbers, to carry out a survey of members to find out whether all those on the mailing list still wished to receive newsletters, whether they would prefer to receive it in a different format and whether they had any ideas about improving communication or the work of the Group in general. Shaun would liaise with Liz (NNAB) but would not pass on personal details without the person’s permission. Helen and David would look into Data Protection issues.

Ian Hardy said it would be unrealistic to expect every member to attend every meeting, but thought that personal contact was a good idea, because people might wish to have some input to the group even if they were unable to come to meetings.

David then invited Paul Bowerbank from the Sensory Support Unit to address the meeting. He reported that the staff at the Unit had now reduced from nine to four, with the loss of four rehabilitation workers and one support worker, which has forced changes to the way in which the service is delivered. The local authority has a legal responsibility to carry out a full assessment of visually impaired people referred by the hospital consultant. This amounts to around 500 people each year. Of this 500, approximately half will need rehabilitation, and around half of those will need 4-6 rehabilitation sessions. This leaves between 100-150 people needing longer term support, and there are no longer enough staff with 1:1 skills to provide long term services. Care Connect can no longer make referrals. A leaflet about low-vision, initially produced in 2002 for optometrists, is now being used as an information/guidance leaflet by NNAB/Action for Blind and the Colleges of Education for people who would in the past have been referred to the Sensory Support Unit for information or rehabilitation. Between 12-15 patients are waiting for SSU services for over a month, and 87 have been waiting for over three months. Within a period of 12-18 months, more staff would be cost-effective.

Paul said that he would be introducing monthly drop-in clinics with a rehabilitation worker, one of them in Great Yarmouth. This was welcomed, and Shaun asked if Paul could let him have dates and details of the venue once they were arranged so he could let people know via the Grapevine newsletter.

Paul said that reduced staffing levels meant that rehabilitation was concentrated on a limited range of essential needs, especially outdoor mobility and safety in the home.

At a recent meeting in London of members of the Sensory Support network which Paul had attended, it was apparent that different local authorities have very differing perceptions of the cost- effectiveness of rehabilitation. Some areas are increasing provision, whilst others like Norfolk are cutting back on resources. Across the country there are 1.8m Personal Assistants working with disabled people, where Paul felt that enabling people to look after themselves through a rehabilitation programme would be a better investment. The policy was currently under review and a report was expected in February/March 2012.

Shaun asked Paul for advice about Personal Budgets. Basically, if through disability a person is unable to carry out tasks for themselves, Social Services have in the past provided a service. With a Personal Budget, the onus is on the individual to access help. This is manageable for people with the mental capacity to manage their own money, but works less well for older people and those with sensory loss.

Paul said that he would be willing to give information about the VIP User Group to visually impaired people in the Great Yarmouth area referred to him by the James Paget Hospital. The information leaflet was due for reprinting shortly, and Shaun would let Paul have some of these.

Any Other Business

Lewis Roberts had been invited to the meeting but had not attended. He would be invited to the next meeting to give an update on the Yarmouth Way crossing and progress with the campaign to introduce yellow and black scaffolding tape.

Following Linda’s concerns about hazards for visually impaired people of cars and other obstacles on pavements and grass verges, a representative of Norfolk County Council would be invited to attend the November meeting, and the Committee would liaise with Emily from RNIB about the national campaign. David would also liaise with Sandy, the NHS contact, about a response to Linda’s concerns about the increase in traffic on the Magdalen Estate following the opening of the new medical centre, and would provide an update either in the minutes or the next newsletter. Shaun would prepare a questionnaire to carry out a telephone survey of Members’ views about obstructions in public areas, lack of safe crossing places etc, before the November meeting.

David said he would include the MP’s contact details in the next Newsletter, and also send a copy of it to Brandon Lewis.

David expressed his thanks to Jo Howes and her team at DIAL for all their help and support following the discovery of money missing from the Group’s bank account.

David would email his contact at the Fire Brigade with a view to re-arranging their aborted visit to the Group’s meeting.

The next meeting would be on Monday 26th September at 2pm.

The meeting ended at 4:15pm.

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