Hastings Sierra Leone Friendship Link

Minutes of 2023 AGM

There were plenty of images of Hastings SL to see at this year’s AGM, to illustrate the reports on the recent trip, the schools’ sanitation survey and the Health Centre.

Minutes of the AGM held at St Barnabas’s Church, Hastings on 16th November 2023

Present: Christine & Richard Lane, Lynn & Richard White, Edwin Rew, Isabel Hodger, Ray Keene, Martin Copland, Derek Tomblin (chair), Roger Mitchell, Nola McSweeney, Jason Morton, Jo Havbro, Alex Frear, Robin Gray (minutes)

The agenda items are not quite numbered as in the agenda that was circulated, because of absences

  1. Apologies: Liz MacKay, Mandy Hinxman, Yvonne Johnson, Richard & Jacqui Homewood
  2. Minutes of the last (AGM) meeting. These had been circulated previously. There were no matters arising that were not covered in today’s meeting.
  3. Chairman’s Report. Richard is unwell and not able to send a report. However, the main events of the year were covered in the various reports.
  4. Treasurer’s Report. Martin provided the figures for the last full financial year together with the most recent update. 2022 ended with a balance of nearly £17,000. The auction had raised £907 and we received over £4,000 in donations, but significant amounts were spent on shipping costs, the video film (with future fundraising in mind), the Health Centre and the Schools Farm Project. 2023 has been a year of relatively light expenditure. We have had the usual fundraisers (including a spectacularly successful Music Quiz), and generous donations from the Church of the Good Shepherd and St Helen’s Church. The latter normally allows us free use of St Barnabas’s. In early November, we were holding funds of over £25k, which should help us as we plan what is feasible with regards to the Schools Sanitation Project and other commitments.
  5. Schools Report. See Isabel’s written report below. We have 12 school partnerships, with potentially  two more. Isabel has visited many of  the schools this term. As the British Council no longer supports travel costs, we must raise them all ourselves, some £1500 per traveller. The Link paid £600 towards one teacher per school, and a grant from Fonthill covered hotel costs. Otherwise, the schools and the teachers themselves raise the money. Fonthill may come up with a further £3k (for the return visit from SL teachers in June).

October Visit: To see the “AGM Schools Presentation”, click here. The presentation shows what is being achieved and what is planned for the future, and includes the amazing successes of the Schools Farm Project.  Isabel described the recent visit, with our teachers spending 3 days working in the schools while Richard Lane and Alex Frear, accompanied by Suffian Kamara, studied the sanitation situation. Our teachers also ran workshops with their Sierra Leonean colleagues. A new initiative, spearheaded by Joe at Edest, is teaching about the importance of trees, which we hope will be supported by the SL Ministry of Agriculture.  The theme will be exploited across various subjects in schools both here and in SL. Another important initiative will be the recycling of waste to make educational materials. Our teachers were very impressed by the keenness of Joe and others to try out new ideas.

Schools Farm Project:  The schools are now fully committed to the project, with Jeitta and Suffian playing a key role in visiting the schools frequently and coordinating activities. The crops produced now feed the children, some is given to the community, some is sold to raise funds for practical needs such as fencing, or for school materials, and seeds are saved for sowing the following season. (There is often more than one crop per year.) The project is now self-sustaining for some schools, and those involved report to the Link on progress via Zoom meetings. Isabel observed what an amazing success the project has been. Children are now more knowledgeable about where food comes from and enthusiastic about getting practically involved; and the community, too, is getting involved. Meanwhile, the project is having an impact on the partner schools here.

Roger suggested we should think about rewarding Jeitta and Suffian beyond just paying their expenses. Isabel has been able to give Suffian a laptop, to his delight.

Sanitation:  Richard L, Alex and Suffian visited all the schools. To see the AGM Sanitation Presentation 2023, click here. All schools have filled in a new survey questionnaire, and we can see how the situation has changed since the 2018 survey. Most have access to some water, though this is poor at Model Baptist School and Jui Lower. Although the toilets at Kelly’s are very fine, they do not actually flush and are not normally open. It was quite common to find school toilets locked. Disappointingly, there was even less availability of washbasins and soap than 5 years ago. Richard and Alex will meet Richard Homewood to discuss the way forward. The meeting agreed that whatever we are able to provide must be practical – long-drop toilets rather than flush toilets – and sustainable: we should build in provision for long-term maintenance.

  1. Health Report. See Christine’s written report below. The accompanying Health Centre Powerpoint  presentation (click here) shows the handsome triage & isolation unit provided by the Link. As admissions were not being properly organised, Christine arranged for the construction of a fence to channel arrivals via handwashing facilities. The presentation also illustrates the perennial problem of inadequate workmanship, with wall-tiles and ceiling-tiles coming loose. Christine foresees even greater pressure on the Health Centre, as Hastings is growing rapidly.
  2. Membership. Jacqui was not able to be present today. Immediately after Jacqui took over from Bill Evans, Covid 19 brought everything to a standstill and chasing up a membership list became irrelevant. Perhaps there now needs to be a debate about membership. Is a membership subscription necessary for the amount it would bring in? Should we make more of an effort to get all our supporters to use a fundraising platform like GiveAsYouLive or Easy Fundraising or to make regular giving through a standing order? Or does a membership subscription encourage a sense of commitment and ownership? The matter was referred back to the Trustees.
  3. Fundraising(a) Cryptic Quiz. Nola has already paid in £150 for sales of the (£1) printed version, with quite a lot more to come, and on-line sales have produced a similar amount so far. Anyone who could sell a batch of sheets should contact Nola for a supply: nolaandjim@talktalk.net. Robin reported that there are now 3 payment options for the website version, and a good number of takers have opted to pay £5 or £10 rather than just £2.

(b) Wine-tasting (December 9th). Lynn reported that all is in hand. The number of bookings is going well, though we are still short of the maximum 36. Anyone interested (or who has friends who may be interested) should contact Lynn on lynnwhi@live.co.uk .

(c) Big Quiz.  Roger and Robin are negotiating for use of the Ark Alexandra hall again, probably for March 15th or 22nd.

(d) Ken Brooks’ talk. Roger is negotiating with EHSAA for the venue + catering, in May or June. It would be a family event, starting with Ken’s talk about the Old Town, then a clued hunt around the area based on the talk, and finally a fish & chip supper. Perhaps we could get local firms to sponsor the event. (Since the meeting, there has been a very generous offer of sponsorship from Ashdown-Hurrey.)

  1. Election of Officers.(The list of Trustees in the minutes that were circulated should, of course, have included Christine Boulton-Lane who chairs the Health Working Group.) There were no offers to take over as Secretary from Robin, though he is very keen to stand down after 20 years. Anyone who could not be at the AGM but who would consider acting as Secretary should contact Robin on secretary.hslfl@gmail.com. It was proposed (by Roger, seconded by Edwin)  that as recently retired local figure whom we know would make an eminently useful addition to our Trustees – perhaps as Secretary. The vote was carried nem con and Roger, who knows him well, will make the approach.   There were no other nominations or offers, and the meeting voted nem con to re-elect the present Committee en bloc (Proposed by Ray, seconded by Edwin).
  2. AOB
    (a) Yvonne has accepted an invitation from Roger to come down to Hastings for Remembrance Day 2024, to lay a wreath on behalf of our twinning link.
    (b) Lynn spoke for us all in thanking Isabel for the extraordinary work she puts in on the schools’ consortium, the visits and the SFP. Isabel herself thanked the teachers, without whose energy, generosity and enthusiasm the school partnerships would not work. Martin recorded his gratitude to Yvette, who is endlessly helpful in getting funds over to SL. The meeting thanked Robin for his work on the secretarial side.
    (c) We recorded our gratitude for the support of our Patron, Peter Penfold, who sadly died this autumn. (We have sent our condolences to Mrs Celia Penfold, and hope that the Link will be represented if there is a memorial service to Peter at some point.)
  3. Date of next meeting. The choice of a date for the next ordinary general meeting was referred to the Trustees, who meet on February 1st.


1. Education Report

The schools in our partnerships

All Saints CE Primary Academy                                               Edest

St Paul’s CE Primary Academy                                                REC Kossoh Town

Christ Church CE Primary Academy                                        Kankalay

Guestling Bradshaw CE Primary School                                  Maynard

Battle Abbey Secondary School                                                 Kelly’s Vocational College

Battle and Langton CE Primary School                                   Jui Lower

St Leonards CE Primary Academy                                           Model Baptist, Grafton

Sacred Heart RC Primary School                                             REC Hastings

St Mary Magdalene RC Primary School                                  Beckley

Sedlescombe CE Primary Academy                                        REC Jui Upper

St Peter and St Paul’s CE Primary School                                Glory

Ore Village Primary Academy                                                 St Mulumba

Despite the fallout from covid and flu, our school links remain strong. We warmly welcomed Ore Village Primary Academy into our school partnership link and now have a possible 13-14 partnerships. We regularly exchange news with our partners in Sierra Leone. We had our first face to face Teachers Meeting in December 2022  after nearly 3 years. It was so good to see everyone again and it was a very productive meeting.  Since then, we have been meeting regularly, culminating in the first exchange visit for 3 years, which took place in October. (See below for more detail).  There is no more funding from the British Council, so we are having to be creative in finding the money to continue these visits. We are very grateful to the Fonthill Foundation for its contribution towards the October visit, to the teachers for all their fund raising, and to the link for its contribution. Global Learning still continues in our UK schools. It is an important part of the curriculum, and having a partner school and enabling these visits, makes it more meaningful and helps to bring it to real life.

Our joint schools project for this academic year is ‘Protecting Our Future’. This was launched during our visit with the focus on planting trees. Simon and Corinne organised for each school to receive a tree to plant, with the intention of our UK schools doing the same. We are also looking at ways to recycle waste to use as resources in both countries.

Our International Pupil Council in UK is meeting regularly again led by Mandy Hinxman. One very exciting meeting during the year brought IPC members from both countries together through a Zoom link where the children could actually see each other for the very first time.  UK children held a competition to design an IPC badge, and the badges  were presented to the SL IPC members during our visit.  Both countries ICP groups have also discussed what our joint project should be and what activities might be good to do in their schools. Some teachers in SL have been showing children how to make good use of waste materials to make resources for learning and playing.

Our School Farms Project has now completed its third year. The 2023 School Farms Project launch took place in May, with 30 schools now participating in this amazing project. Our aims for 2023  include looking towards sustainability, including the local community, developing skills in practical agriculture for more pupils and working towards possible livelihoods in farming. Some of our schools now feel they can sustain their farms without further funding. Some are getting help from their local community and all are giving their students more opportunities for practical farming. The group is so large now, we have appointed an Assistant Project Manager, Suffian Kamara, to help Project Manager, Jeitta Kanneh, run the project and visit schools. In October while we were in Sierra Leone, schools  held an exhibition to display their harvests. This was held at the Twin Town Centre in Hastings. Schools taking part brought some of their pupils to answer questions about their year on their school farms, as well as examples of their crops. The 2024 project will be launched in the spring when the rainy season starts. Meanwhile, some crops can be grown through the dry season, such as cassava, and the farms continue to flourish. The enormous success of this project has inspired some schools in Hastings UK to develop their own school gardens.

October visit to Sierra Leone

The visit was very successful. The group was so supportive of each other, we had some good laughs and well as some focused activities with schools. There was a mixture of older and younger, experienced travellers and new to Africa people. It was the perfect mix, and everyone listened patiently to my risk assessments every morning!

12 teachers, 4 HSLFL members and Yvonne Johnson travelled together. Our timetable included

  • Joint training workshop
  • Headteachers workshop
  • Work in schools for teachers,
  • Visits to schools by Isabel, Corinne and Jeitta
  • Sanitation Meeting and visits to schools by Richard, Alex and Suffian
  • Reflection meeting
  • International Pupil Council meeting
  • School Farms Exhibition

It also included

  • A cooking lesson
  • Visit to the Chimpanzee Sanctuary
  • Lots of eating out courtesy of Yvonne, Mimi, Francis and Abie, and the school teachers
  • A visit to the beach
  • A visit to Francis Mason’s new project
  • A visit to Freetown, sight-seeing and shopping
  • A meal out, treating our partners for all their hard work, support, friendship and care during our visit

Not bad for 8 days in between long travel days!

I would like to say a huge thank you to the following people without which this visit would not have been possible.

These include Yvonne Johnson and Yvette John from the London Association, Frances and Abie Mason, Jeitta, Suffian and Letitia, and 247 coaches for their reduced cost of UK transport.

What we achieved

  • Rebuilding of relationships for those of us having travelled before.
  • An understanding of life and culture of Sierra Leone, which will be passed on to children, schools and the communities of Hastings UK.
  • Relationships across the ocean that will continue to flourish through Whats App and further visits, which will strengthen all the communities understanding of Global Citizenship.
  • A sharing of teaching and learning strategies which will benefit children and teachers in both countries.
  • An appreciation of what we have in UK, and also what SL has that we lack.
  • The start of our Joint Schools Project, ‘Protecting our Future’
  • An update on the Sanitation Project
  • Some first hand experience of the success of the School Farms Project including butterflies
  • Information about the TTC to share
  • An experience never to be forgotten, and relationships between the UK group that will continue to grow.

Isabel Hodger 14/11/23

2. Health Report

 After three and a half years the Health Centre was, as I expected – busy!  This was my  first time to meet our new In-Charge,  Karthy,  and to see the new Triage and Isolation Unit – we had left Hastings in February 2020 with plans for its erection and although photos had been sent it was good to see it being used – although not necessarily exactly as I had imagined.

To enter the Health Centre now it is necessary to pass through the new Triage area having washed your hands first.  A rope had been erected to execute this but it did not stop people entering the compound without hand washing but I am pleased to say that after talking with Karthy , a carpenter attended and we now have a wooden fence in place of the rope.

After a full inspection of the Health Centre, it was good to see it being used – sometimes to full capacity and to note that the extension to the buildings paid for by HSLFL over the years helping to alleviate the pressures put upon the Centre by, amongst other things, a rapid increase in the population of Hastings and its environs.

However, sadly I noted there is still more to be done which, at this time due to lack of funds, the Link is unable to assist with.  It was disappointing to note that the ceilings in many parts are leaking – even in one area of the new Triage & Isolation Unit.  In some areas this has been caused by the solar panels being placed on the roofs and in retrospect these should have been erected in the outside back area.  The incinerator has broken and a new area is being prepared.  The showers (provided some time ago by another charity) no longer work and most of  the outside toilets were not in working order.  Overall, there does appear to have been a lack of maintenance (no doubt caused by lack of funds plus, sadly, things not being built to last)

I was given lists of items and work required for all departments – but I have explained that at the moment we cannot, as the Link, do anything to assist.  I am hopeful that in the future we can raise some funds in order to assist with these requests.

I had been given some cash which had been donated by friends of one of our Health Committee and together with further cash we were able to purchase items which were desperately needed including blood pressure monitors- they did not have one which was working properly;   cleaning products and second-hand scrubs for the staff.

The Maternity Unit appears to be working well.  I witnessed the birth of two babies whilst there – one a complicated breach birth.  It was again pointed out that the tiles in the delivery room which we paid to be updated a few years ago had fallen from the walls.

Christine Boulton-Lane,  Health Committee HSLFL