Not all Bristol Quakers are aware of the existence and function of our Weekly Committee. Friends coming to us from other Area Meetings are puzzled by its name, and it does not appear in Quaker faith and practice Chapter 4. It is for this reason that we are attempting to set out here what Weekly Committee does.
Our Weekly Committee dates back to the 18thcentury; an appointed group of local Friends met weekly to consider appeals for financial help from needy Friends who were not in receipt of a weekly income, and to offer relief from funds donated or bequeathed to Bristol Monthly Meeting for that purpose. Most of these funds were allocated for specific purposes – helping female Friends in reduced circumstances, supporting someone, not necessarily a Friend, through a period of hardship, or launching a young man on his career by helping him to an apprenticeship.
Those funds, and their defined purposes, still exist today. For purposes of financial management, some have been combined and renamed by a Charity Scheme in 2012. In recognition of changes in society over two centuries, some have had their purposes extended or redefined. Weekly Committee still meets, once a month now, to consider requests for financial help, and to authorise grants or loans from the existing funds.
The membership of Weekly Committee should represent the whole of our Area Meeting. Each Local Meeting is represented by at least one member. At least two members should be Trustees, as Trustees are legally responsible for all funds administered by Area Meeting. At present neither Portishead nor Thornbury have offered a member. All members of Weekly Committee are appointed by Area Meeting in session. The business of Weekly Committee is conducted, as far as possible, in strict confidence.
Applications for help from Weekly Committee should normally be made by an Overseer, or Elder, on behalf of the person needing support. The application is passed to the Committee member representing the applicant’s Local Meeting, who then presents it to the Committee. If you are attached to Portishead or Thornbury Local Meeting, an application can be sent straight to Weekly Committee clerk.
The committee will discuss the application, and decide if a loan or a grant should be given. In order to reach that decision, they may ask for further information from the applicant, such as their ability to repay a loan in the future, the urgency of the need, and whether financial help could be obtained from other sources. The funds available to Weekly Committee are small, and their use must be considered carefully. The total amount currently available is in the region of £4000 per annum.
In most cases financial help can be offered. This may be in the form of a loan, guaranteed by two Friends, to be repaid over an agreed period of not more than seven years. In other cases a grant may be made. The committee then authorises Area Meeting Treasurer to make the payment. In exceptional circumstances regular grants may be authorised to alleviate long term need.
Bristol Quakers have always been active in charitable work. From the early days of persecution, when the River Street Quaker Workhouse provided refuge for families whose workshops had been destroyed and their tools confiscated; to later, when Bristol Quakers took a large part in establishing the Bristol Infirmary; and to modern times when local Friends are active in helping refugees and the homeless, we have seen charitable giving as an important demonstration of our beliefs. The work of Weekly Committee ensures that we do not ignore the needs of our own community.