Running through Lillian Quinn, like the writing in a stick of rock, is the belief that “Problems are made to be overcome.” Finding solutions has been Lillian’s life work, from when she ran the family’s steel fabricating business in Manchester to negotiating with the Inland Revenue over gift-aid donations in a jar in St Swithin’s Church, Launcells.

Lillian, who has recently celebrated her 84th birthday, has all the wisdom of her age but the energy, quick wittedness and determination of someone decades younger. She has been on the PCC at St Swithin since 1975 and at the helm of its finances as treasurer for over 30 years.

“The PCC is a good team. We’re not a club, we’re here to serve. We have strong lines of communication, from our members on the Diocesan and Deanery Synod, to the congregation, all of whom get regular, easy to read accounts showing exactly what money is coming in and going out.”

Of the church finances, Lilian says, “I run it like a business. It’s no different.” But the Lillian way of running a business is with a warm heart and a cool head. And it works. It is quite astonishing that for a church with a regular congregation of just 15 and 30 members, and an electoral roll of 80, they never fail to pay their MMF, their accounts are enviable and engagement of the community enthusiastic.

Lillian shared a story of how, as a young woman running the male-dominated business, she’d realised that the delivery men were regularly stopping off at the bookies on company time. She gave herself time to think how to deal with it, then called a meeting. She suggested they change their way of working from the traditional hourly rate to profit-sharing, introducing a bonus scheme for completed jobs that involved everyone. They all agreed, profits went up and any new employees always came with the recommendation of existing employees as they didn’t want to have anyone who wouldn’t pull their weight. All of that is much more interesting when you put it into the context of Lillian’s diminutive size, the nature of steel fabrication and her belief that planning empowers.

St Swithin’s Church, Launcells

Likewise, the St Swithin annual fair is overseen with Lillian’s eye for incentive, profit and planning. It has grown to around 45 stall holders, is a huge community effort and raises around £11,000. But, as Lillian says, “Fundraising isn’t just about raising money, it’s about getting everyone involved, and all my ideas and efforts would achieve nothing without the support of our willing volunteers.”

Lillian explains how everyone has to apply and pay in advance for a stall. “Once they’ve paid they can choose their spot, which means they pay quickly. I then use that money to advertise with posters, in the local press and the newsletter and ensure it gets into every holiday accommodation centre in the area way ahead of time.” Lillian also encourages the stall holders not to man their stalls on the day, making more space for all the customers her promotions have enticed. She runs a central till, records the items, the sellers and the amounts, paying out everything owing within days of the event.

It’s worth mentioning at this point that Lillian’s second career, after the family business was bought out, was in tourism and hospitality. With her husband, they owned and ran Red Post Inn in Bude, turning the land that came with it into a camp site. The Inn had had its licence taken away in 1906 by some prominent local Methodists, but, as Lillian pointed out, there had been a building there since 1531 and was built by monks from Hartland Abbey, the same monks who built the original St Swithin church. “And that was good enough for me,” says Lillian who got the licence reinstated.

Lillian took the same approach with the camping business that she does today with the church.

“Don’t expect people to just come to you – go out where they are and bring them in.”

She made contact with travel companies in the north of England and set up schemes to bring the people down. In the same way, she makes sure the parish newsletter not only gets into all the local tourist accommodation venues, but is sent to people up country who might be planning to visit the area. A lot of people who have been associated with St Swithin subscribe to the newsletter – that could be those who have been married there, had a Baptism or just visited and asked to stay in touch. A newsletter even goes out to a family in South Africa!

Lillian also makes sure that everyone who has been baptised, married or had a family funeral in St Swithin is reassured that they are being thought about and prayed for by being sent a card at Christmas, Easter and particular anniversaries. This takes meticulous planning but means that the wider community support for St Swithin’s Church is huge.

Meeting Lillian is like spending time with a little dynamo. She is full of life, enthusiasm and ideas. Passionate about St Swithin, its community and ability to keeping going. If anyone would like to know how to strengthen the balance of their own books, take a leaf out of Lillian’s: “Planning is power and problems are there to be solved,” would be a foot-note to each one.