Chair’s Report To the 20th AGM
The year since the last AGM has been busy, with a lot of activity on Hudson House management, on attempts to reopen Reeth filling station and on dealing with changes of various kinds in our operating environment.
The management of Hudson House is always challenging. But I am pleased to report that we are making progress on a number of fronts. We have completed repairs following the flood in the visitor centre last summer, installed a new oil tank and a new future proof telephone system which should result in lower call charges. The Reeth Dales Centre units and the Barn have been fully let, and the gallery almost continuously booked over the spring and summer. We have also worked with the Orchard group to reach an informal understanding on how we handle bookings for use of the community Orchard to avoid damage to that precious resource. I would like to thank Jill May our administrator and Nick Caldwell our operations director in particular for their work on these things. We have also built a new website, agreed new safeguarding and equal rights policies and started the process of updating the lease of the first floor to Together Housing to make it more fit for purpose. I would particularly like to thank Helen Guy and Penny O’Regan for their help with this.
This brings me on to the filling station. During the year we have kept in touch with the vendors and in the spring we were able to reopen negotiations. Unfortunately the vendors pulled out again within a few weeks. The good news however is that during the year we have also been in touch with potential private investors and we understand that one of these may now be making progress. Our priority has always been to see the filling station reopen for the benefit of the community and so we will do what we can to help any community minded investor to succeed. Tony Oldershaw has led our project team on this, and I would like to express our thanks for all the work he has put in.
On the issue of change, as many of you will know, the Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority announced earlier this year their intention to withdraw from Hudson House. This was prompted by a combination of serious budgetary challenges and more visitors accessing information online rather than in visitor centres. But I want to pay tribute to the fact that National Park have listened to the representations Yvonne Peacock, Richard Good and I made on behalf of the community and I believe agreement can now be reached on a way forward which keeps our local Ranger based in Hudson House and in which the National Park will also support the creation of a volunteer-led visitor centre here next year. This still has to be confirmed by the full Authority, hopefully at its next meeting later this month. But if it is, I think that would be a fair and reasonable outcome.
I should at this point say a huge thank you to our volunteers who have engaged positively in discussions about what we might do. Volunteers have for example visited several other successful local information centres and we are aware of some exciting new possibilities. But what I want to make clear is that whatever we do, it must be safe, rewarding and acceptable to our volunteers. I should also mention the work Karen Campbell has been doing to encourage and support our volunteers over this year. There is a long way to go – but if we do it right, we could end up with something better for the community as well as visitors at the front of house.
The other change to mention is that earlier this year, Hudson House was accepted as North Yorkshire’s “Community Anchor Hub” for this area. This status attracts some significant new funding to be used to strengthen the local community. We are working closely with Reeth and District Community Transport and the Stronger Communities team at the new North Yorkshire Council to identify the areas on which we should focus. At present we think the priorities should be on reducing social isolation, supporting our growing population of young families and improving local emergency preparedness. But we would be grateful for any views you might have.
Change often sends rumours flying. So I’d like to make clear that our finances are stable, with healthy reserves, and there is no suggestion with any of the changes that Hudson House itself is at risk. This year for example, we were able to hold our license fee increase for our partners significantly below the general level of inflation.
Finally, I wanted to let you all know that I am stepping down as chair. I will remain on the Board. But I am pleased to say that Nick Caldwell has agreed to take over as chair, and I believe he has the energy and vision to take things forward.
So it only remains to say thank you to Jill and the Board, to all our partners and volunteers for your patience, kindness and support.