The 246th Annual General Meeting of the Belfast Charitable Society was held on 24th January 2018.  It was an evening for recounting some of the great successes of the Society and its subsidiaries, Clifton House and Clifton Care Home in the last twelve months.  It was also an opportunity to elect our new President, Sir Ronnie Weatherup.

Sir Ronnie was educated at Queen’s University Belfast. He was called to the Bar of Northern Ireland in 1971 and took Silk in 1993. He was appointed a High Court Judge in 2001 and to the Court of Appeal in September 2015. He retired in June last year.

Sir Ronnie is a former member of the Judicial Studies Board, a former Judge in residence at Queens University Belfast and Visitor to the University of Ulster from 2004 to 2014.  He also served as an inaugural member of the Judicial Appointments Commission from 2005 to 2013.  The Society look forward to working with Sir Ronnie in the coming years.

The Society had a busy year, celebrating it’s 265th anniversary as well as continuing to deliver on its Mission and Strategic Aims.  Chair of the Society, David Watters, delivered the Activities and Achievements report for the year which included the partnership with Building Change Trust and Ulster Community Investment Trust in creating a £1M loans programme for the community and voluntary sector, development and delivery of the Barbour Fund, supporting NI Hospice, Giving NI and working with the Heritage Project at QUB.

David was also delighted to report on the continued development of Clifton House as a successful heritage and events venue.  Visitor and events numbers increased over the year.  Clifton House took part in popular cultural events such as Culture Night Belfast and European Heritage Open Days.  The archive was used by a range of third level students to enhance research skills and provide a basis for applied Masters projects.  Bespoke Heritage, Hospitality and Tour Guide training was rolled out to volunteers who have become key in delivering professional, high quality tours of Clifton House.

Clifton Care Home had a very successful year.  The occupancy rates remained at 98% with an extensive programme of activities to meet the need of all the residents.  The three RQIA inspections carried out delivered positive reports.  A comprehensive Policy and Procedure Review was completed and a new Staff Handbook introduced.  The operational management improved significantly this year with negligible debt owed and a very small deficit overall.

The Society continued to recognise the importance of focussing on tackling disadvantage and poverty.  In order to do this effectively it must be a creative, sustainable and robust organisation.  To this end, the Society conducted a wide-ranging Governance Review, carried out a review of the Strategic Plan and worked to deliver all financial reporting and monitoring on time.  Applications were prepared for funding opportunities and Belfast Charitable Society grants were monitored and reported on.

The Board of the Society agreed it had been a busy and productive year.  Thanks were extended to members, staff, volunteers and all the groups and individuals who had helped to make the year so successful.

After the business of the AGM was conducted, Diana Fitzsimons, Chair of Radius Housing, gave a presentation on her recent experience of planning for Belfast.   Diana is a RTPI planner and RICS development surveyor and has worked extensively in urban regeneration and housing development. Diana is also Visiting Professor of the Built Environment at Ulster University and a Belfast Harbour Commissioner. Diana spoke of the successes, failures and hurdles faced by those who are trying to plan Belfast for the next number of decades.  She explained how the last ten or fifteen years have delivered some of the most challenging economic and political barriers to successful and cohesive city planning.  However, projects such as the Odyssey and Titanic Quarter are proof that it is possible.  Diana certainly provided much to consider in terms of urban regeneration and planning for the future of the city.

The AGM enabled the Society to demonstrate the activities and work carried out to deliver its missions and bring it a step closer to achieve its vision. Significantly it demonstrated how the Society remains true to the ‘objects’ of its founding and modernised Acts of Parliament in pursuing charitable activities which advance the interests of those we consider to be disadvantaged.