This has been a successful year for the Society, with well-attended meetings, a slight increase in membership and a satisfactory financial result. I am most grateful to the officers and committee members, who have worked very well together to achieve these outcomes.
The major innovation of 2017 was the Community Fair, held in January at the Village Hall; over 50 of Haddenham's clubs and societies were represented and over 400 residents attended, packing the village hall for the whole afternoon. This Fair, the suggestion of committee member Mike Mingos, represented a real service by the Village Society to the village community. We are most grateful to the Beer Festival Committee, who provided generous funds for the event, to the committee members who worked hard to make it such a great success and to all the participants. We intend to repeat the event, in association with the Parish Council, in the autumn of 2018.
Otherwise, we have held a number of interesting and entertaining talks, attracting audiences of between 50 and 100; there have been a few hiccups with the audio and visual facilities in the Community Library and we are working with the Trustees of the Library in the hope that these problems can soon be resolved. We have repeated our enjoyable St. George's Day dinner in the Green Dragon and have helped in general enjoyment of the Village Fête by providing Pimms and other drinks. Finally, we have again assisted the Witchert Chorale at their annual Christmas concert in St. Mary's Church and are again grateful for the donation to our funds that has resulted. The only unsuccessful activity, despite the best efforts of Brian Bowman and Jim Robinson, has been the annual summer walk; following low attendances for several years, we have agreed not to repeat the walk this year.
Behind the scenes, Richard Hirst and colleagues have worked as a Planning Group, scrutinising applications for housing developments and formulating our comments on the proposals. We have worked closely with the Parish Council on these matters and have achieved several substantial changes to the detail of proposals in the design, layout and materials of houses, even if we have not been able to moderate the flow of such applications, which now threaten to provide in the next year or two all the housing envisaged, in the Neighbourhood Plan and the Vale of Aylesbury Local Plan, to be built over the next decade. We have also made representations to the National Infrastructure Commission (NIC) about their proposals for a new settlement near Haddenham in conjunction with the development of the Oxford-Cambridge corridor. We are grateful to David Truesdale, Chair of the Parish Council, for agreeing to speak to the AGM on these matters. There will also be a report from the Haddenham Safe Walking and Cycling Group about their activities; the Group is an informal gathering of interested people which reports both to the Parish Council and to the Village Society.
Haddenham faces several challenges. The housing developments now taking place or being planned will increase the size of the village by about 50% and therefore bring between 2,000 and 3,000 new residents. If the proposals by the NIC result in the upgrading of the A418 to an expressway as part of an Oxford-Cambridge road and then attract a new settlement of 4,500 to 6,000 houses, our village would change out of all recognition. It is already experiencing, with many other communities in the south-east, the effect of high living costs in London, with more commuters, often with young families, coming to live among us. These developments are not necessarily negative, but they will demand a response.
The committee of the Village Society considers that it is therefore sensible for us to consider what our rôle should be. The Society is over 50 years old. It has never been mainly a preservation society, although it has always campaigned to preserve the historic character of the village. It has tried to maintain the friendliness of a village, in which neighbour helps neighbour, but also to enhance it through a wide range of activities and actions, as well as working with the Parish Council in such matters as the Neighbourhood Plan. It does not have the statutory responsibilities of the Parish Council and is therefore free to pursue what it thinks to be the best interests of the village at any one time.
But what in particular should we do? We want the thoughts and suggestions of members, but here are some questions which we can consider at the AGM and thereafter. Comments to firstname.lastname@example.org would also be very welcome:
How should we interact with other clubs, societies and organisations in the village?
1. In recent years, our programme has concentrated on matters of interest to the village or talks by villagers and we have not sought to duplicate other activities such as U3A. Is this the right approach?
2. Should we seek a more active role through such events as the Community Fair and try to act as the voice of the 'voluntary sector' in Haddenham, publicising and supporting its work?
3. Should we increase or decrease, or maintain, our focus on planning and development issues?
4. Should we campaign, though not on a party-political basis, on issues affecting the village, such as the funding and organisation of the NHS, the proposed closure of children's centres or the funding of the library?
5. How much focus should we put on transport matters, including walking and cycling?
6. There are a number of activities in Haddenham which support older residents or those who might be lonely or isolated. Are there other such activities which the Society might initiate or organise?
7. What should we do to welcome new residents to the village (and perhaps encourage them to join the Society) through events, visits or other activities? Should we consider sponsoring and supporting particular incomers — as Haddenham did with Belgian refugees one hundred years ago?
We will have an opportunity, at the AGM, to discuss these and other questions and the committee will then make proposals, which may involve some changes to our constitution and charitable objectives. If so, those will be carried through by the appropriate formal procedures.
Finally, the Society is entirely dependent on the members of its committee to carry out its work. We very much need, and will greatly welcome, new members and I hope that people will be prepared to put themselves forward, or to suggest others.