Friday 10th October 2003

The following is a précis of the events at the recent Annual General Meeting - members of the railway will receive the minutes in full with their next copy of 'Semaphore' magazine.

Bob Hitchings opened the meeting by asking those present to stand for a few moments to remember David MacLachlan and Malcolm Gayton, long time members of the railway, who had passed away this year.

Bob started his Chairmans Report by stating that this was for the year up to January 2003.  Work on the change over from Company to Charitable Trust was continuing, especially the Accounts, and special thanks were given to the Trustees and Mike Archer-Smith for their work.  The members had continued to work on a number of projects - refurbishment of the goods shed roof had been completed during the winter and more tarmaccing of the yard had taken place, which had been well received by visitors.  Funding had been received for the first two of the station barge boards, and this had improved the visual attractiveness of the building.  The main work, however, had been at the site of our new Avon Riverside station.  The railway path had been diverted, inspection of the River Avon 'Holmead' bridge had given it a clean bill of health and track had been laid onto the site of the new station.  The Heritage Trust had continued to develop and earn money, and members signing up to the 'Gift Aid' scheme at no cost to themselves had resulted in several thousand extra pounds being made available which would otherwise not have been there.  Grants from South Gloucestershire Council, the Shell 'Better Britain' scheme, plus others, had all helped with the development of the Avon Riverside site.  Last but not least, the Avon Valley Railway had had an extremely successful year, with over £40,000 being coveted to the Trust.

Dave Cole then gave his Business Development Managers report.  The trading side of the company had been demanding, and Dave gave thanks to all those who had given their time to help the railway run successfully.  For the first time ever the Railway had a £250,000 turnover, with some £40,000 profit from that turnover.  This current year looked like being at least on a par with the previous year.  The recent Thomas weekend had beaten the figures for last year with train revenue of £22,000, £4,000 taken in the buffet and £6,500 in the shop - a total of some £32,000 for one weekends operation.  Looking towards next year, Dave stated that the main event would be the opening of Avon Riverside for the 2004 season, then the Railway would be looking seriously at improving facilities at Bitton, in particular covered accommodation and a new catering and toilet block.

Mike Archer-Smith then presented the accounts, a shortened version of which had been sent out to members - the full version (copies of which were available if required) ran to some thirty pages.  During the year we had increased both turnover and profit, and had a better assets over liabilities figure.  The railway had a strong balance sheet and had a strong future ahead of it.  In a question from the floor Mike Vout stated that in previous years Mike Archer-Smith had been less than happy with the railway's financial position, and asked him based on a score out of ten, what did he think of the present years situation.  Mike Archer-Smith replied nine out of ten - the only reason he didn't give ten out of ten was that there was always room for improvement!!  The minutes were subsequently approved by the members present at the meeting.  The members also re-appointed the railways Auditors and Solicitors.

The election of Trustees saw John Mann standing down, and thanks were given to John for his work in the past.  Paul Baulch had offered himself for election to the position of Trustee - Paul had been heavily involved in the railway in the past with regards the museum side of things, and with one of the major charitable aims being to provide an education/museum policy for the railway the Trustees had no hesitation in recommending him to this position.  With no other nominations, Paul was duly elected as a Trustee by the meeting.  M Archer-Smith asked whether there would be a rotation on the Trustees who also served on the Trading Company Board - Bob Hitchings replied that the Trustees were looking at this as it was felt there was a need for rotation.  With no other Business duly advised in advance, the official part of the A.G.M. came to an end.

As usual, after the mid meeting break, there was a session of 'Open Forum'.  Bob Hitchings opened this by saying that the railway had had a very successful year, but the pressures of facilitating this was taking a toll on regular members, and we needed to look at the strain being put on people due to the rapid progress now being made.  It was pointed out that British Railways had run Bitton for around twenty years, whilst the AVR and it's previous bodies had now been at the station for thirty years.  This situation had not been ignored by the local councils who were keen to see that the preservation side of the railway was properly archived for future generations.  

Bob then detailed the plans for the coming year.  It was planned to open Avon Riverside at Easter 2004 - our bank had agreed to make available up to £35,000 as a loan if required in order to achieve this aim, but with the present income (and a hopefully successful Santa Special season), it was hoped that we would not need to take up this offer.  All equipment needed for the new station was now available to us.  Joint boat operations, including visits to the Avon Valley Country Park, were also due to be introduced for next year.  There had been a lot of public interest in these joint ventures, but the railway needed to tread carefully in what would be the first year of such an operation.  Unlike Oldland Common, Avon Riverside would need to be staffed regularly, and we needed to address the public facilities (catering and toilets) available at Bitton to cope with the hoped for increase in passengers.  Covered accommodation, with a building erected adjacent to the goods shed, would also need to be incorporated into future plans, with both the Railway and the Council mindful of the need for any additional buildings to be in harmony with the current goods shed.  We would also be looking at putting up the remaining barge boards, extending the main, down platform and carrying out work on the up platform.  

Questions from the floor then followed, with the following responses being made:-

* Details of the progression for footplate crews from cleaner to driver would be made available.

* The railway needed a management policy on the car parking situation, which would undoubtedly become more congested next year as the railway attracted more visitors who would be likely to stay for a longer period of time.  The use of special parking, such as used for Thomas days, might need to be extended.

* The railway could operate its planned services without the need for fixed signalling, but plans might need to be drawn up for operations in future years.

* More paid help would be necessary in the future, in particular for administration, thereby releasing time for Dave Cole to concentrate more on Business Development.

* We needed a Volunteer Coordinator to consult with volunteers both new and regular, and keep everyone abreast of forthcoming plans.  A more direct approach to attracting working members recently had proved worthwhile and should be expanded on in the future.

* Lottery funding was not proving an easy option for us as it needed to be tied in to exceptional historical items, not just the restoration of another steam locomotive or item of rolling stock.  A traditional Lottery application could cost £20-£30,000 to draw up but the railway was looking at the possibility of putting in a 'Short Track' application, which would reduce this cost - small grants from other bodies appeared to be the better option at the moment.

* We still needed to discuss future plans for covered accommodation and improved catering and toilet facilities with the Planning Authority, however it was hoped to be able to show members the sort of things we were looking to achieve.  It was, for instance, unlikely that we could now use the shed purchased from Radstock as the planners were not happy with it's shape and size.

* There were no immediate plans for a building on the Avon Riverside platform, but we may need to do so in the future, however vandalism at such a remote site would be a problem.

Bob Hitchings concluded the meeting by stating that the success of the railway had been down to the efforts of the members, in particular a small team of people working extremely hard, and more volunteers were needed.

Tuesday 15th April 2003

The meeting started at 19.55.

Apologies for absence were received from D Cole, J Fibbens, G Lockyear and M King.

The minutes of the Annual General Meeting of 11th October 2002, and the adjourned Annual General Meeting of 10th January 2003 were proposed as a true record by C Tilling, seconded by J Miles, and agreed by the members present.

R Hitchings stated that the reason for this meeting was for the members to confirm the Trustees proposal that our Accounts should now be audited by Burton Sweet, rather than Evans & Partners. Burton Sweet had more experience of dealing with Charities who were aligned with a Trading Company. There was no animosity between Evans & Partners and Burton Sweet, and the Trustees wished to express their gratitude to Evans & Partners for their work in the past on behalf of the railway. M Archer-Smith pointed out that the proposal stated the company as Burton & Sweet, whereas it should be Burton Sweet. With this amendment A Matthews seconded the Trustees proposal that we change our auditors, this being agreed unanimously by the members present.

The formal part of the meeting was therefore closed at 20.15, and an Open Forum session began.

A Matthews expressed concern that new members were not being introduced correctly - there were still little teams of people that prevented new members joining them. M Godden agreed with this, and said it would be nice if full integration could happen. R Hitchings stated that the railway was now a seven day operation and we needed to take members, new and old, along with us. D Godden gave an example of one married couple who had turned up at the station and one of the Trustees had taken the time to show them around - it was now likely that one or both of them would be joining us as working volunteers. In reply to another question, R Hitchings stated that there was a need to use professional bodies for training purposes in the future and we already had some contacts for this.

T Osborne asked when the next Semaphore magazine would be out. A Wray replied that the Trustees had made a decision to change the format of the magazine, and we were also using this opportunity to obtain quotes from different printers. Once this was completed there would need to be more in-depth discussions with the printer chosen as to how to proceed, however it was hoped that the magazine would be out within two months. A Matthews praised the 'Semaphore Online' website which was a good way to keep members informed. A Wray added that visitors to the website and almost doubled in the last year with around fifty to sixty people logging on to it most days.

R Parsons asked for an update on the work being carried out on the Ferrum loco 'Karel'. J Miles said that the more the loco was examined the more jobs that were found needing attention and it could be out of service for most of this year. K Goodway added that in light of this efforts were being made to hire another loco and it was hoped to have some news on this shortly.

R Hitchings closed the 'Open Forum' part of the meeting by saying there was a growing need for volunteers during the week at Bitton.

After a break the meeting was handed over to Peter Goodchild who gave an illustrated talk on Fry's, who started out in Bristol 275 years ago, making them the oldest chocolate manufacturer in the world. They later opened their Somerdale factory at Keynsham and had an extensive layout of sidings, some of which were re-laid at Bitton in the early days. Whilst there were only a few slides of the railway system, the historical slides shown by Peter of Bristol in particular made for a fascinating illustrated talk. At the end of the talk bars of Fry's chocolate were handed around to all those present.


Friday 11th October 2002

The following is a précis of the events at the recent Annual General Meeting - members of the railway will receive the minutes in full with their next copy of 'Semaphore' magazine.

The meeting opened at 19.50, and after apologies for absence the minutes of the last AGM were accepted as a true record.  The only matter arising was confirmation that the Trust had sent letters out to private owners and negotiations on this matter were still ongoing.

In the Chairman's report, Bob Hitchings, of the Avon Valley Railway Heritage Trust, informed members that the financial year had changed from 1st April 2002 to 31st January, therefore figures given covered only a ten month period.  In that time the Directors of the Trading Company had worked closely with the Trustees of the Heritage Trust.  There had been a lot of work involved in the setting up of these two organisations, especially with regards the new bank accounts etc.  As a result of becoming a Trust the railway had been able to gain rate relief from the Council.  Much time had been expended on installing a new computer system that could handle and interact with both sets of accounts. Consequently there were three sets of accounts being prepared for this year; the old Bitton Railway Company, and the new Avon Valley Railway Heritage Trust plus the new Avon Valley Railway Company Limited.  Bob ended his report by thanking Trustees and members for the work that they had put in over this period - it had resulted in the Trustees being confident that the Charity organisation had been set up correctly.

Draft accounts were then presented to the meeting.  It was stressed that these were not the formal accounts as the amount of work needed on the three sets of accounts had meant that these were still with the Auditors and this meeting would need to be adjourned until January 10th for members to officially accept the accounts.  In reply to a question from the floor M Archer-Smith confirmed that the Trading Company transferred it's profit to the Charity, although it was noted that the ten month period covered included both the Santa Specials and a Thomas Weekend, therefore could not be exactly compared to an equivalent twelve month period.  Even so the Trading Company had transferred some £33,000 to the Charity, and in response to a further question M Archer-Smith confirmed that he was considerably happier with the financial situation of the railway now than he was twelve months ago.

The current Auditors and Solicitors were elected to represent the railway again for the coming year.  There were no motions for discussion duly advised, no new trustees put forward for election, or Any Other Business duly advised.  The meeting was therefore adjourned until January 10th.  Bob Hitchings stressed the need for members to attend this meeting as a formal quorum was needed to agree the accounts, and it was likely that further information on the railway's progress would be given at this time.  The official part of the meeting ended at 20.35.


In Open Forum Bob Hitchings informed the meeting that the Trustees and Directors were actively developing a Business Plan, but stressed that in the future the railway would abide by two rules - not to spend more than they could afford and not to spend money on the same things twice. The Business Plan would need to be feasible, affordable and achievable. The Railway would probably have a Quarter of a Million Pound turnover next year, and although being primarily volunteer run it was now a seven day a week business.

Plans were being developed for a Heritage Centre at Bitton, with the Goods Shed being the focal point, and the Trust were engaging the services of a Heritage Industrial Architect to help with the details. Work was continuing at the site of the new station 'Avon Riverside', with around £30-35,000 already spent. The total cost will be in the region of £100-150,000. The railway would need to recoup this expenditure in revenue from it's train services and accompanying attractions such as boat rides, and with this in mind was looking towards an increase in operating days next year.

A survey of the River Avon bridge had been carried out and although the official written report was still awaited there did not appear to be any major work that would stop us laying track over the bridge and further developing the Avon Riverside site. We were also in discussion with Bath and North East Somerset and Bob warned that going further on to Bath would be another challenge with the need to produce feasibility studies and consultants reports -  at all times the railway needed to portray a professional image.

Our present available coaching stock was limited, and required frequent shunting to provide the different needs for operating days and special occasions such as Wine and Dine services, therefore the railway was actively looking at strengthening our fleet, and what vehicles we do and do not require for future use.

Since being a Charity the railway had received a number of grants which would help to repair the rest of the goods shed roof, continue the tarmacing of the car park and improve the toilets. The railway had also received a number of bequests from both members and the general public - these would mainly go towards the cost of new barge boards for the station.

In response to questions from the floor Bob answered that the area in front of the goods shed would be tidied up for Christmas; the litter on the line to Oldland Common would be cleared by South Gloucestershire Contractors (although there was no maintenance on a regular basis) and it was still planned to build a locomotive storage and restoration shed although this still needed the agreement of South Gloucestershire Planners.

Ken Goodway then gave a report from the Trading Company, the directors of which meet monthly and also have joint meetings with the Trust, thereby maintaining lines of communication. Ken stressed that as the railway grew there would need to be more commitment from members otherwise there would be more necessity to employ people. The Buffet was now open seven days a week and this had been a success. Our Business Development Manager was attracting new custom for the railway and we were receiving many letters of congratulation from companies, organisations and individuals about the services we provided. The future for the railway looked rosy if we could keep the momentum going, but more volunteers were needed to achieve this. In answer to a question, Ken stated that the Company was now making a provision for pensions for its employees.

Dave Cole stated that the trend was now very encouraging with many events fully booked ? there was no need to advertise as capacity was the problem, not getting people to attend. Last year our surplus had been £7,000 whilst this year it had risen to £42,000. Our liability had gone from minus £42,000 to plus £13,000 and we had just had our best Thomas weekend ever with £19,500 in train fares and £5,000 taken in both the shop and the buffet. Thanks were given to all members who had helped achieve these figures over the last year.

There followed a short discussion on whether Senior Citizen membership should be offered at 60 or 65, confirmation that members were members of the Trust, not the Trading Company, and an appeal for help on the Santa Specials before the meeting closed at 21.50.

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This page last updated by Tony Wray on 13/10/2003.