Mr Gordon Baxter welcomed everyone to this inaugural Annual General Meeting. The Chairman proceeded to give the background to the formation of the ‘Friends’:
“Bellie Churchyard is the last resting place of many generations of folk from Fochabers and the surrounding area, a sacred place, but largely uncared for for many years. Moray Council cut the grass and tend the paths, but self-seeded Elder, Sycamore and Yew trees had been allowed to grow untended for many years. Up until the last year or so, ivy, bramble, moss and lichen covered many headstones.
My brother, Ian, and I undertook several years ago to try to do something about this unsatisfactory situation. The late Ian Baxter made a considerable bequest for Bellie Churchyard’s improvement and upgrading. It is with this in mind that an ecumenical body involving all the Church leaders of Fochabers has come together over the last eighteen months and works have already been carried out in conjunction with our friends at Moray Council to improve the overall condition of our little Churchyard and to involve the wider community to become involved in fund-raising for the ongoing maintenance of the Churchyard in future years.
Within the last year, a number of improvements have been made to enhance our little churchyard and its environs. A number of seats have been installed within the new cemetery area, ivy and self seeded trees have been treated for the removal from walls and headstones and hundreds of Spring bulbs have been planted.
Members of the Moray Burial Ground Research Group have successfully recorded all the headstones and, during their investigations, uncovered some 40 flat burial stones dating back to the early 1700’s. These recordings will soon be published by the Aberdeen & North East Scotland Family History Society, providing an easy reference for all who seek to know where their kinsfolk are buried.
I am currently working in conjunction with Mr Bruce Bishop of the Moray Burial Ground Research Group to produce a history of the Churchyard and its environs. Last year’s service in February which launched ‘The Friends’ raised in the region of £400 while a ‘Sponsored Walk’ from the gates of Gordon Castle, through the Castle grounds to Bellie Churchyard by pupils from our local primary schools last June raised a further £450 towards this fine cause.
With the help of our publishing friends at ‘The Fochaberian’, a flyer was distributed last autumn inviting readers to subscribe to the ‘Friends’. I am pleased to note that our membership is now growing healthily, with supporters from as far afield as Manchester. We hope to swell membership numbers after today’s happy gathering. It is also our intention to communicate not only to ‘oor ain folk’ here … but ‘oor ain folk’ in other parts of the UK and the rest of the world.
With agreement today to adopt a Constitution for ‘The Friends’, future plans include application for Heritage Lottery Funding. Members of ‘The Friends’ have already attended a meeting on applying for this particular type of funding and it seems that financial assistance is readily available for this kind of project.
I am sure you will agree that ‘The Friends’ have made a great start with plans to enhance our Churchyard for generations to come. Future plans include providing a shelter for mourners and visitors to the Churchyard and to incorporate a reference plan within the churchyard highlighting some of the prominent gravestones for the interest of those visiting the area or investigating family history”
Gordon Baxter, Chairman 2004