Chairman of the Trustees Report

My first year as Chair of the Tustees has been eventful, but first I must pay tribute to my predecessor Norman Hart, who guided the Freemen with his wise and measured counsel. Norman had also served as trustee for many years and in the period under review continued to provide sound advice.

As 2018 came to an end Norman decided to retire as a trustee, though I know he will continue to maintain his interest in the Freemen of Durham.

That same affection on for the Freemen applies to Alan Ribchester and George Oliver who have decided to retire formally as Trustees. Alan played a major part in the development of the charitable arm of the Freemen, while George has done sterling work with our public relations and media profile.

We welcomed Richard Scothon at the beginning of the year as a new Trustee who brings legal, financial and business expertise as well as some craft experience from earlier in his life. In 2019, the Trustees will be looking to further strengthen their numbers.

Without doubt the most pressing matter considered during 2018 was the planning applicait on submitted by Keir Developments for the construction of a new civic headquarters on the Sands. This application, at the time of writing, has yet to be considered but has aroused considerable public interest and comment. The Freemen of Durham have an historic interest in the Sands and though no longer the landowners retain a legal interest in its use.

Following consideration of the application, presentations by County Council officers to the Trustees and Wardens and further discussion with the applicants, Durham City Freemen formally objected to the erection of office headquarters and associated car parking on the Sands. We await further information on the planning process.

Less contentious is the ongoing work of the Freemen as we continue to support apprenticeships, provide financial assistance to local organizations and promote the study and interpretation of the City’s history.

In particular, our work with the University including the sponsorship of an apprentice in their heritage programs continues to prosper. We are anxious to provide practical support to the County Council in their ambitious plans for the development of the Town Hall as a heritage destinaon for visitors. The guilds is inextricably linked to the guildhall and the wider building.

The Freemen were again able to provide financial support to the 2018 Remembrance Day Parade, a particularly poignant occasion, given the centenary of the armistice. Awards were also made to Durham Pointers without whom the city’s tourism offer would be the poorer; Durham Area Disability Leisure Group; and St Nicholas Church Recovery Group, whose work in supporting alcohol or drug users is highly valued.

Finally, on the social side it was a pleasure to host a visit from Berwick Freemen, while the Annual Dinner in October was its usual convivial affair, enlightened by an entertaining speech from George Patterson, whose working life in craft and academia was appreciatively received.

I expect 2019 to be no less eventful.

Patrick Conway

Treasurers Report

Managing finances in 2018 has been a roller coaster experience. The first 6 months saw stock markets maintaining their earlier gains. However, uncertainty over US interest rates, trade tariffs and Brexit saw most markets end the year 10% lower. It was decided in November to take some profits and reposition part of the portfolio with a balance between income and growth.

Income levels for the Freemen’s investments have held above 4%. Cash reserves are healthy, but the continued uncertainties both home and abroad have led me to recommend a defensive approach to investments.

The Freemen continue to support local charitable and skill-based initiatives through the charitable trust, and all returns and reports to the Charity Commission are up to date.

Stewart Atkin