The Thatcham (Old Bluecoat School) Charity is a UK Registered Charity. Its Charity Number is 1106343.
It is also a Registered Company Limited by Guarantee. The company registration number is 06229774. The members of the charity are:
- Barbara Wootton – Patron
- Mark Thomas – Chairman
- Nathan Gregory – Vice Chairman
- Colin Heslop – Company Secretary and Treasurer
- Bob Dewey – Trustee
- Sheila Ellison – Trustee
- Malcolm Langford – Trustee
- Jeremy Cottam – Council Representative
The Trust meets five times a year in the building, or at a local venue.
Dates of 2020 meetings: Monday 1st June 2020 (AGM) 6th July 2020 (Trustee Meeting). Both these meetings will be held remotely until we are able to physically meet up again.
THE OLD BLUECOAT SCHOOL, THATCHAM Charity No 1106343
Chairman’s Report to Trust AGM – 1st June 2020
- This is my final Annual Report as Chairman as I have decided to step downas Chairman and Trustee at the AGM. I have been fortunate to have been appointed as chairman for the past 11 years. It has been a challenge but I am sure that the Trust’s efforts have been well rewarded and a building that back in 2004 had been reduced to a shell has become – or at least until the COVID 19 virus struck – a thriving community centre. My successor will be appointed from the ranks of the Trustees at the AGM, which will have to be a Zoom meeting on a date to be fixed.
- As stated in previous Reports. The Thatcham (Old Blue Coat School) Charity is a (CIO) charitable company limited by guarantee, which was incorporated on 13th September 2004.
- Its Directors, who are also Trustees, are as follows:
Mr Keith Benjamin
Mr Jeremy Cottam (Thatcham Town Council nominee)
Mr Bob Dewey
Mr Nathan Gregory
Mrs Sheila Ellison
Mr Colin Heslop (who is also Company Secretary)
Mr Malcolm Langford
Mr Mark Thomas (Vice-Chairman)
Mr Clive Williams (Chairman) (Until AGM)
4.The building, known as the Old Blue Coat school (OBS) is Grade 1 listed and is owned by Thatcham Town Council, who acquired it from West Berkshire Council on 28th June 2004 for community use. The building is subject to restrictive covenants.
5.On 1st June 2005, the Town Council leased the building, subject to restrictive covenants, to the Trust for a term of 99 years at a rent of £25 a year.
6.The building is insured with Zurich Municipal by Thatcham Town Council.
7.In 2008 Mr Paul Dick, the first Trust Chairman resigned and was succeeded by Mr Peter Allen on 19th November 2008. But sadly Mr Allen died on 27th May 2009 and I was elected as the Trust’s third Chairman on 25th June 2009.
8.The building was in a very poor state of repair in 2009. The A4 lies only a few feet from the building and salt gritting over many years had resulted in the south wall becoming impregnated with salt that works its way through the wall and eats away at the plaster. West Berkshire realigned the A4 where it passes OBS at a cost of £70K and this had helped to reduce the amount of salt being sprayed onto the building. But even so it was necessary to decorate the south wall at least twice a year, work which has been undertaken by Bob Dewey to whom our thanks are due.
9.The problem needed to be tackled and initially the panelling along the south wall was removed for an exploratory investigation. This showed that the problem could be tackled without having to dig up the floor, which in turn would have required an archaeological survey. So whatever secrets OBS holds in its foundations will remain there for the time being.
10.Although the floor could remain, refurbishing the south wall was still a major undertaking. Approvals were needed from English Heritage and the Planning Authority and all the plaster had to be removed and stonework repaired. Howard Waters of Mathewson Waters, Architects was our Architect for the project and liaised with our Vice-Chairman Mark Thomas. The contractors were Messrs Ellis of Shepton Mallet, who were the contractors for the external refurbishment and repair. The building had to be shut to enable the work to be carried out and the Trust made alternative room hire arrangements for regular hirers picking up any extra costs involved. But before the building could re-open once the refurbishment had been completed, COVID 19 struck and at time of writing this Report OBS is still closed. The one bright note is that as a result of closure the Trust have received a Govt grant of £10K and this has enabled us to pay the contractors’ bill of £15K, without having to empty our account…
11.Returning to the historical narrative, back in 2009 with the aid of 50% matched funding from the Greenham Common Trust, the building was then carpeted, seating was purchased and Bob Dewey and Malcolm Langford installed heating and improved the lighting.
12.The Trust then had the problem of attracting hirers. With just one toilet and no kitchen, the building was not suitable for many groups. However. Simon Witcomb, who at the time had his accountancy business in Thatcham, and was hiring the building for rehearsing his Beenham Wind Band, suggested that the building would be suitable for concerts. We all know of people who come up with bright ideas but then decline the opportunity to put them into practice. But Simon was not like that. Having put forward the idea and had it accepted he took it on himself to set about arranging a series of concerts. They were commenced in 2012 and have run on a regular basis every year since. The favourable publicity they attracted has resulted in many groups coming forward to hire the building.
13.Those attending the concerts were treated to tea and a splendid assortment of cakes, so much so that the concerts became known as the tea and cakes concerts.
14.Running the concerts did however place a heavy burden on two of the Trustees – Angela Bates (who has since resigned) and Bob Dewey. In view of this in 2016 the Trust accepted a proposal from Simon to take over the running of the concerts from the Trust. Simon formed the Thatcham Performing Arts Society to bring this about with Simon hiring OBS from the Trust and assuming responsibility for selling tickets and meeting the costs of performers. .Unfortunately from the Trust’s point of view Simon retired from his practice during 2019/2020 and has now moved away. So we have lost both a Treasurer and a concert organizer. Trustee Colin Heslop has very kindly used his good offices with his former firm to enable us to draw up our accounts but the search for a replacement Treasurer for Simon and a new concert organizer continues..
15.In 2013 and 2014 the Trust undertook a major fund-raising campaign to refurbish the building. In total £180K was raised, mainly from charitable trusts, particularly the Greenham Common Trust, who contributed £60K and the Veolia Environment Foundation, who gave a grant of £40K. . An Honours Board has been erected at OBS to say thank you. It lists all those who contributed £5K or more.
16.As a result of this successful campaign, the Thatcham Town Council let a contract on behalf of the Trust (thereby saving the Trust 20%) to Ellis & Co of Shepton Mallet, whose tender of £129K was low enough to enable all the work in Andrew Towsend’s Condition of Survey to be undertaken. Although coming in well below other tenderers, Messrs Ellis cut no corners and did a superb job on the contract. Work on site started in August 2014 and the contract was completed in Spring 2015.
17.A thank you concert was held on 25th January 2015, attended by the High Sheriff of the Royal County, Mr Christopher Khoo and no less than three Deputy Lieutenants – Mr Paul Dick, Mrs Caroline Boulter and Dr Christina Hill Williams. Mr Willie Hartley Russell (now also a Deputy Lieutenant), a direct descendant of Lady Winchcombe, who founded the Blue Coat School charity, was also present as was Mr Alan House, a great nephew of William House VC, probably the most famous Old Blue Coat school boy. Many Trustees and members of Thatcham Town Council and their partners were also present to hear the Manon Quartet.
18.Sadly our Patron Mrs Bobbie Wootton was indisposed on this occasion and the Honours Board was unveiled by Dr Christina Hill Williams,the Chairman’s wife.
19.The refurbishment was enthusiastically welcomed in Thatcham and the Trust received many plaudits.
20.As was anticipated the refurbishment led to a surge in bookings and until closure for internal refurbishment OBS was hired regularly for 40 hours a week, year round.
21.As part of the refurbishment project, the Trust had envisaged erecting a separate building to provide, toilets, kitchen, storage and possibly a meeting room. Howard Waters of Mathewson Waters was engaged and prepared a sketch plan, which was discussed with the planners. But both West Berkshire Council and Historic England advised that the proposed building should be sited at least 7metres from the existing building so as not to impact on its appearance. The Trust took the view that to build the new building so far away from the existing building would negate its usefulness. So that scheme was abandoned and the current intention is to re-model the interior of the building. A start has been made with the refurbishment of the southwall. The next phase will be to replace the toilet with one which a disabled person can use and to improve the kitchen area and storage facilities.
22.Sadly vandalism is a recurrent problem in Thatcham and since spring 2015, four times the north facing windows in the building have been deliberately smashed. The last and most serious attack took place over the 2017/18 New Year. The windows have been repaired and consent was obtained to install metal grilles to protect them. Consent was also obtained to install CCTV, though the Trustees initially decided to defer such installation in the hope that the grilles will serve their purpose and ensure there are no further attacks. Unfortunately there has now been a fifth attack not on the windows but in painting graffiti on the northern wall, so a CCTV camera was installed in December 2019.
23.A social for ‘The Friends of OBS; was held on 22nd February 2019 and the building was filled to capacity. New Trustee Keith Benjamin kindly secured the services of his daughter Victoria, who is professional musician to play for the assembled company and she was joined by her mother and two friends to form a quartet. It was a treat to hear them.
24.At the Friends meeting the Chairman announced the retirement of Trustee Angela Bates and made a presentation to her on behalf of the Trust. Since becoming a Trustee in 2010 Angela had taken on more and more of the duties of running the Trust viz, acting as Secretary, liaison with hirers and writing cheques and banking monies, to name but a few.
25.Angela was always going to be a very hard act to follow and not surprisingly no Trustee was prepared to step into her shoes. So we advertised for someone to work for the Trust for a modest remuneration and your Chairman is pleased to say that we have struck gold in finding Ali Watkinson, who is now the Trust’s administrator. I cannot speak too highly of her. She is both enthusiastic and efficient and already a staunch supporter of OBS.
26.My thanks are also due to all my colleague Trustees. It is invidious to single out individuals but my Vice-Chairman is taking the lead on the re-modelling project and is having to navigate what is an extremely tortuous process, enough to try the patience of a saint. Bob Dewey takes the lead on all practical maintenance problems. Nothing is too much trouble. He is helped by Mark Thomas and Keith Benjamin. Sheila Ellison and Jeremy Cottam have been very helpful as regards liaison with the Town Council and Colin Heslop has helped us to navigate a change of bank to Metro, as well as helping us with our accounts. Malcolm Langford is no longer able to attend meetings or help out with maintenance but no building ever had such a passionate supporter as Malcolm. Nathan Gregory first became a Trustee as a Town Council representative but when he ceased to be a Town Councillor and was replaced by Jeremy Cottam, he was asked to remain a Trustee in his own right, as his enthusiasm and many contacts are invaluable to the Trust
27.Finally I wish to say that it has been a privilege to act as Trust Chairman for the past 11 years. As most people know I live not in Thatcham but in Upper Basildon and it was only through the unfortunate premature death of Peter Allen my predecessor, that I was prevailed upon by your President, Bobbie Wootton, to take on the Chair. Bobbie and I go back to the days of the former Berkshire County Council, when she was a Councillor for Thatcham and I was the County Solicitor. I have always been conscious of not being a Thatcham man but have to say that no-one has ever held this against me and during successive years I have become very appreciative and admiring of the tremendous Thatcham community spirit. Thatcham has a history of continuous modern human occupation that goes all the way back to mesolithic times, making it the oldest such settlement in Berkshire and arguably anywhere in the UK. To have been able to play a part in preserving the oldest secular building in the oldest settlement in Berkshire, gives me personally great satisfaction and I thank you all for entrusting me with your confidence for the past 11 years.