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Held using Microsoft “Teams” on October 10th, 2020

Jonathan Mann, Chairman of the Council of the Society, started the meeting at 2.0 p.m. He began with a series of “housekeeping announcements” to cover the unusual circumstances of holding a Virtual General Meeting and expressed his thanks to the capable hands of Amanda and Tony Randall for their technological support and MRFS for taking the notes. He requested that any questions be posed during the “Open Forum” part of the meeting and that questioners give their full names.

David Mitchell, President of the Society, then formally opened the meeting. He stressed that this was not an Annual General Meeting; there would be some features of a conventional AGM, but there would be no elections or other resolutions. David asked those present to remember in silence the TRPS members who had sadly died during the past year: Richard Hope (former President, Secretary and Director); Hugh Matthias (former Director and grandson of Sir Henry Haydn Jones), Sheila Care, Michael Davis, Sara Eade, Tony Harden, Mike Hynd, Doris Southgate, Ron Williams, David Williamson, Andrew Wilson; Peter Brown, Brian Bushell, Gareth Dancer, Lawson Little, Sally Roberts, Pam Voller, Sam Woodhouse and others.

David then introduced the virtual “platform party”: Jonathan Mann, Chairman, TRPS; David Ventry, Chairman, TR Co; John Robinson, Hon. Secretary, TRPS and Secretary, TR Co and Garry Mumford, Hon Treasurer, TRPS and Chief Financial Officer, TR Co. There were about 150 members in attendance1.

1. Report of the Council

Jonathan Mann presented his report, mainly covering the period since the Society year-end. He drew attention to similarities between the present day, facing an uncertain future but buoyed up by the qualities of hope and enthusiasm, and what faced the Railway seventy years ago. The impact of Covid-19 had to be acknowledged, yet much had happened in the last year, the Railway had not been at a standstill. Jon expressed his sincere and heartfelt thanks to everyone who had supported the Railway since it closed its doors in March, especially to those who had donated to the special appeal. Difficult times lay ahead, but thanks to the goodwill and generosity of the donors some difficult decisions could be deferred. Despite the pandemic much had been improved: at Wharf there had been refurbished displays in the NGRM, appropriate Covid measures had been installed and Trefri had now been bought and the tenants were generating useful revenue; at Pendre there were now female changing rooms, the ex-Corris carriage had returned, locomotive No 7 Tom Rolt was undergoing an overhaul, the Trolley had returned to service and the cottages in Frankwell Street, bought to secure the orchard, had now been sold to bolster the cash reserves; up the valley, Brynglas underbridge had been rebuilt and work there had restarted with suitable protection measures, the “Gate to Adventure” outside Abergynolwyn had been replaced and work had begun on the reconstruction of the watering point at Tŷ Dŵr. The Talyllyn had been runners-up in the Heritage Railway Association’s Annual Award for Large Groups for the Young Volunteers Training Scheme that had netted 83 new young members. Jon then moved away from the ‘no names no packdrill’ tradition and recognised the forty years service on Council by Keith Theobald as well as John Robinson’s work as Secretary, as he would be standing down at this meeting; their dedicated work over the years exemplified what was best about this Railway.

2. Company Chairman’s Report

David Ventry presented his report, commenting that there was not normally a report from the Company Chairman at the AGM, but as we were in exceptional times it was felt appropriate for him to highlight the priorities of the Boards of the Talyllyn Railway Company and Talyllyn Holdings Limited at the present time: survival of the Railway and ensuring the safety and mental and physical wellbeing of all our visitors, employees and volunteers. David commented that the future remained extremely uncertain and it was necessary to retain healthy cash reserves; unless supported by specific grants or donations, spending had been constrained as much as possible. As many employees as possible would be retained. The Board had been particularly pleased to see the work of the Training Team in retaining the interest and skills of the younger volunteers when their usual activities on the Railway had been curtailed. He also explained that the Board were meeting, virtually, far more regularly to review the emerging situation. He recognised the hard work over the years given by John Robinson to the Board and further formally thanked him. David closed by thanking the membership for their financial and practical help and their many messages of support. The Board were confident that, with the continued support, the Railway would survive the current pandemic; but that survival would not be without challenge or difficulty.

3. Chief Financial Officer’s Report

Garry Mumford presented his report, commenting that in his presentation he was going to concentrate on the financial impact of Covid-19 but would be happy to answer questions on the 2019–2020 accounts. His main message was that 2020 was a year of concentrating on cash and survival. At the time of speaking the Railway had suffered a trading income decrease of £556,000, or 66% down on normal projections; there had been over £220,000 of coronavirus related grant income – the largest part of that being from the Job Retention Scheme but money had also been received from the Welsh Government and the National Lottery Heritage Fund, plus over £115,000 donated as a result of the Virtual Visit Appeal. However, through not running trains there had been considerable cost savings. The maximum cash balance in the Railway Company was normally achieved in September. At the equivalent time this year the figure was about 35% of that in 2019, but a substantial loan from Holdings, which would be covered by the Virtual Visit Appeal, brought this up to about 75%. The cash reserves across the trinity of the organisation were in excess of immediate need; it had not been a good year and planning had been incredibly difficult but was centred on maximising income levels and preserving cash balances.

The future was uncertain: the Government furlough scheme would come to an end; there would be further cash burn from a lower starting point, and there was no certainty of demand. For 2021 demand and support were both still unknown. The present expectation was that the Railway would have to carry its own full costs, but further grant opportunities were being pursued; in the longer term there would be an impact on reserves, the fundraising capacity might be reduced and there might be long-term behavioural changes within the tourism market (which might result in more UK-based holidays). Garry was careful to stress that the Railway was secure in the light of what could reasonably be forseen at the moment.

4. General Manager’s Report

Stuart Williams joined the meeting from his holiday cottage in the Scottish Borders. He picked up from his report at the 2019 AGM. Hallowe’en 2019 was a very successful event; Bill Tyndall and Tony Baker had both reached 70 and so retired from the footplate. In December he had attended the Welsh Hospitality Awards, where the Talyllyn had been awarded second place. Also during the Winter, the ex-Corris Coach had gone away to Stanegate Restorations and Santa had been given a new sleigh. Stuart commented that, depending on pandemic restrictions, it would be nice to do something Christmassy for locals this year. In the Spring, Wharf had been given a very thorough refurbishment and spring clean. He also mentioned his visit to the Caravan, Camping and Motorhome Show. He had been to the National Portrait Gallery to give a presentation about the Railway’s legacy policy and work. Lockdown had come on 23rd March, and no trains could then be planned until further notice. This had caused a significant shift in the Railway’s marketing strategy. There had been a ‘feelgood’ feature in Horse and Hound about the donkeys at Rhydyronen. With the help of Ellis Jacklin, he had started an online feature called the Manager’s Weekly Walkabouts – to date these videos had been watched by 330,504 viewers with the overall total of Talyllyn online video views standing at 1,116,141 since March.

During lockdown, the revenue streams were carefully examined and changed to see what could be achieved within the restrictions. The Online Shop had remained open and, once restrictions were eased, the “tea train” parked in the platform had been surprisingly popular. On 1st August Liz Saville Roberts, MP for Dwyfor Meirionnydd, had restarted the Railway. Carriages had been modified with screens to allow 13 individual compartments per train to be booked. Despite the need for pre-booking, they often ran at capacity and there was a notable increase in secondary spend on the Railway. Catering became the biggest income stream so considerable time was spent in screening the dining areas and making them Covid-safe, resulting in a notable increase in revenue. There had been a very satisfactory collaboration with the Magic Lantern cinema in creating a drive-in movie theatre in the field below Abergynolwyn station. The Railway had entered into a joint promotion with Morris Lubricants, giving us half-price oils for a year.

A UNESCO assessor had visited the Railway in early October as part of the “Slate Industry of North Wales” UNESCO World Heritage bid, the results of which would be known in the New Year. Stuart made the point that the crystal ball was currently somewhat cloudy; great care was being taken in the operations and planning for next year.

5. VGM Appeal and Fundraising Officer’s Report

Before presenting the appeal, Ian Drummond gave a short update on the Corris Van, which was also being rebuilt; a presentation by Paul Inman would be distributed separately. Ian gave a short overview of the fundraising, thanking MRFS in particular with his assistance towards the Corris Coach appeal and methodologies used elsewhere within the fundraising efforts. The 2020 Appeal had been a great success and Ian wished to thank everyone who had contributed or helped in anyway with that. He then opened the 2020 VGM Appeal with a video featuring Chris Smith. The Appeal was for £6,500 to replace the ageing injectors used by all the Railway’s steam engines. Chris mentioned that the prototyping of a new design had been done by Pete Mintoft. Everything apart from the cover could be machined rather than cast; each injector would cost £700.

Ian commented that the target was to raise the £6,500 in 10 days; enough had been received in advance for one injector. He closed his report by reminding all present about the 2020 Appeal and thanked all contributors once more for their efforts during the past year.

670 Years’ Presentation

David Mitchell then asked Jon Mann to present a short retrospective celebratory photomontage of Talyllyn Volunteers over the past seventy years.

7Open Forum

David Mitchell then handed the meeting over to Jon Mann to negotiate the technology. Before moving on to the Forum proper, Jon made an announcement on behalf of Martin Lester: the Society content on talyllyn.co.uk was due for an overhaul and Martin invited comments from all interested parties.

Those questions which had been submitted in advance were answered first.

John Hajnrych enquired why, if the Railway were keen to reduce its carbon footprint, had the decision been made to fit diesel heating. Chris Smith responded that the storage heaters were becoming life-expired, making them a maintenance liability, and removing the heaters from the carriages for the summer took up a lot of staff time. Chris commented that the decision had been made before he took up his post, so Dave Scotson reaffirmed the position that the use of the storage heaters was becoming more risky with equipment age and added that steam heating was impractical,.

Fiona Covington wondered what the Railway’s three main objectives would be for 2021; what strategies would be put in place to see that these objectives were met? As he passed the question to David Ventry, Jon Mann commented that a rider to the question was concerned with volunteer involvement for 2021. David responded that volunteer participation was being examined for the impending rebuild of locomotive No 1 Talyllyn, the completion of the first rebuilt open carriage and also the completion of the underbridge project at Brynglas. There was also an ongoing need for marshals and carriage sanitisers.

Ian Faulkner enquired if the possibility of online or postal voting could be investigated for next year. Garry Mumford responded that the entire governance structure of the Railway was being investigated. The question and principle of “one member, one vote” was being investigated, but of course any change to the Constitution would have to be agreed by an AGM.

Graham Whiteley asked why the carriage doors were locked when in service. David Ventry responded that it was a Covid-19 control measure. It enabled regulated egress from the trains, encouraging social distancing.

Simon Carey had three questions: would the videos be available later via social media? (Jon Mann – yes); was it possible to donate via Paypal to any of the appeals? (Garry Mumford – no, as the costs were extortionate, but any card could be used via the website) and, “What time does the bar open tonight?” (1930).

Gethin Taylor asked if there would be an online element to AGMs in the future. Jon Mann responded that it was going to be examined.

Justin Adams asked for clarification regarding grants given by Talyllyn Holdings – in the published accounts £171,161 had been given in grants to the TRCo, but only £138,139 appeared as received in the Railway Company section of the accounts. Garry replied that the TR Co had received the full amount, but it was not recognised as income until it was actually spent.

Gethin Taylor asked what, generally, was the Railway’s cash burn over the winter. Garry suggested that it would be in the order of £100,000, but stressed that everything was in a state of flux and very variable. The final figure would be very income dependent. The cash burn through the furlough period was approximately £20,000 per month, but it was virtually impossible to make any binding predictions.

Gethin Taylor and David Collins asked very similar questions that were answered together: David enquired if there was any possibility of ‘part-booking’ the journeys to Dolgoch or Abergynolwyn and Gethin enquired if anything had been learnt from operating under the Covid-19 restrictions. Stuart Williams replied that compartment booking had proved to be very popular, and there was a market for a premium product – such as cream teas booked with the compartment. There was also a market for traffic to the intermediate stations, but it could not be catered for due to the need to sanitise each compartment. Once sanitising was not needed, then intermediate traffic would be examined.

Jane Garvey wondered when the volunteer accommodation might reopen. David Ventry replied that it might be in February 2021, depending on restrictions.

Gethin Taylor further wondered if, as the Railway was now selling round-trips only, the VAT position on ticket revenue would be affected. Garry Mumford replied that as we were running a timetabled service to other destinations we were quite comfortably within the HMRC regulations.

There being no further questions, David Mitchell paid tribute to John Robinson, who was stepping down as Secretary. There was a short retrospective, where John’s 24 years of work as Company Secretary were recognised. John thanked all those whom he had worked with, and stressed that he was confident for the Railway’s future. David Mitchell then introduced Andrew Simner, as the new Society and Company Secretary. Andrew paid tribute to John for his help while shadowing him for the past year and gave a short introduction about himself.

David Mitchell closed the meeting at 1529; in his closing remarks he thanked everyone for their help in these daunting times, especially to those behind the scenes; he thanked Amanda and Tony Randall for their technological help in running the VGM, and he also thanked the attendees. He looked forwards to interesting times in the future.

1 The metrics for attendees are somewhat complex: 59 “identifiable” identities; 88 anonymous logins; plus the “top table”.

Some of the anonymous log-ins might be repeats following interruptions, but there is also evidence of multiple members viewing a single screen. A justifiable approximation of attendees would be in the order of 150 people.