Chairman’s Report 2008

 ‘The Friends of Bellie Churchyard’
Annual General Meeting
Friday, 3 October 2008 at 8pm
Bellie Church, Fochabers
Chairman’s Report

The past 12 months have proved an exciting and rewarding time for the Friends in the continuing improvement programme at Bellie Churchyard.

In 2007, the Friends were delighted to commence Phase 2 of our ongoing upgrading programme, which included the successful erection and official launch in 2008 of a splendid stone cross signage at the entrance to the Churchyard, highlighting the site to passers-by and the fact that it has been a historic site since 1130.

A most interesting and informative plaque has also been designed with the help of an artist, John Tasker of Drybridge, depicting a plan of the churchyard, pointing visitors to a number of interesting and notable headstones, surrounded by a splendid assortment of illustrations. The plaque is soon to be erected at the gate of the Churchyard in a wooden framework for its protection.

The creation of a website by Colourjam, Buckie, to promote all these good works, and to bring news of the undertakings being carried out by the Friends to the many families with Fochabers connections at home and overseas, became another part of our Phase 2 initiative. An Awards for All grant of £2,504 has been received to assist with the funding of these projects. Membership stands at approximately 66 and as many are life members, there is no significant income from subscriptions. However, with the creation of a website, it is hoped to encourage donations through this medium.

The next stage of this Phase will be to work on a long-term planting programme which will further enhance the churchyard and the approach roadway.

I have had very positive meetings with our friends at Moray Council and Smiths Gore, the Crown Estate Office, who will be helping us to re-design the road entrance to prevent further damage being done by large vehicles who use the roadway.

Recommendations for a comprehensive planting programme have been received by members of the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh, who are now providing their expertise to the Friends and also to members of the Burn of Fochabers Woodlands Community Trust. Once again, the Friends will be working closely with Moray Council and the Crown Estate Office on these exciting new developments.

I am now keen to forge ahead with formulating a long term funding plan to ensure the future of the group, providing a reserve fund for 5-10 years ahead to carry forward to a new generation of office bearers. Future aims will be agreed, concentrating on projects which will further enhance the site e.g. a planting programme (Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh) and car parking nearer to the proposed new cemetery site. Thus, from the firm foundations already laid by our original group, we wish to ensure the continued financial stability in the years ahead.

Achievements to date in conjunction with Moray Council:

  • Removal of self seeded sycamore, elder and yew trees 2002-3
  • Improvement of paths and drainage 2003-4
  • The Story of the Old Church & Churchyard of Bellie 2004
  • Planting of spring bulbs and shrubs 2004-5
  • Repair work to broken and fallen headstones 2004-5
  • Car parking facilities for up to 20 cars 2006-7
  • Monumental Inscriptions publication 2006-7
  • Stone cross signage at entrance to Churchyard 2008
  • Illustrative Plaque to be erected at gate to Churchyard 2008
  • New website soon to be launched 2008-9

As well as the achievements listed above, we have taken part in a number of well attended initiatives held at Baxters Highland Village, such as the Graveyard Seminar, organised by the Council for Scottish Archaeology and the Family History Day, when interested groups from all over Scotland came to Fochabers to share ideas and promote their works in this field. The Friends have a great deal to be proud of up to this point in time.

My brother, Ian Baxter’s original legacy has been a wonderful catalyst in the creation of this wonderful ecumenical project. I am sure visitors to the Churchyard will agree that The Friends have achieved a great deal since the inception of the group and, God willing, will continue to make progress with further developments to enhance our historic Churchyard for generations to come.

Gordon Baxter, October 2008